Amplifying Student Voices in Archives and LIS: DERAIL Forum Launches at Simmons College

This is a guest post written by Des Alaniz, graduate student at Simmons College School of Library and Information Science. 

What do radical archives and radical archival practices look like? Why is the archival profession so overwhelmingly white and what impacts does this have on our profession’s ability to promote truly inclusive practices at the collection and professional levels? These are some of the many questions that have emerged in my conversations with other archives and LIS students on my campus, and on March 26th students and professionals will come together to address these issues at Simmons College for the first-ever Diversity, Equity Race, Accessibility and Identity in LIS (DERAIL) Forum.

Although there is a rich literature on the role of social justice in archives dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, we still lag behind librarianship in directly addressing the ways in which our professional organizations and academic departments are highly racialized spaces that perpetuate oppressive and exclusionary practices. Our assimilation into Library and Information Science programs, although an administrative necessity at times, can actually submerge the unique position of archives in perpetuating and participating in oppression through control of institutional “history.”

My path to archives has been shaped by a commitment to pursuing social justice in my work. As an undergraduate researcher and volunteer, my exposure to archives immediately involved an understanding of the socio-political aspects of archives as institutions. When I began my formal education in archives more recently, I realized the importance of individuals in furthering conversations about critical approaches to all aspects of archival processing and the overwhelming whiteness of the profession. Moving beyond wonder at the fact that the Society of American Archivist’s 2004 A*CENSUS survey found less than 10% of archival practitioners identify as “non-white”, we need to be asking how our professional practices actively exclude practitioners, students, and users of color from entering our profession and using our collections.

Spearheaded by the efforts of second year Simmons SLIS student Joyce Gabiola, DERAIL is inspired by, and in solidarity with, the 2015 LIS Education Symposium organized by students at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The Forum is intended to create a student-centered space to learn from and with our academic peers and imagine alternative strategies and futures for LIS and archival practices. It is no coincidence either that DERAIL emerges at a time where students at all levels are organizing and protesting against the systemic racism and lack of support for students of color on campuses across the country. Integral to DERAIL is the idea that these conversations are important as a way to learn from and with each other and that student voices are particularly important in addressing innovative ways to move beyond limited understandings of diversity and inclusion that perpetuate oppressive conditions for students and particularly students of color.

Although DERAIL is centered on students, we recognize that many students are either current or future practitioners, and view DERAIL as a way of bringing folks together to address the critical issues of diversity and anti-oppression in various institutional environments. Within our academic programs and professional environments, outside the work of a dispersed network of professional and faculty allies, there are few resources to directly engage with social justice frameworks and critiques of our professional practice beyond tweaking individual assignments to reflect individual student interest. In fact, much of the critical conversations surrounding anti-oppression work in archives and other information environments take place online, whether at the excellent In the Library with the Lead Pipe or in weekly twitter chats via the #CritLib community.

DERAIL then is also about rallying the Simmons student and recent graduate community in all their various locations (whether at the SLIS Boston campus, SLIS West at Mount Holyoke, or distance-learning students across the country) to gain a better understanding of our common ground in addressing the various facets of what social justice in archives and libraries really looks like. Presentation topics range from race, archives and campus communities to the language of diversity initiatives to disability consciousness-building, and the inclusion of online moderated discussions on the day of the Forum will allow participants and presenters to interact in real-time. The full schedule of presentations will be on the DERAIL Forum website later this month.

We hope that you will join us on March 26 via live-stream by registering here as a virtual participant. You can also join the conversation by following us on twitter @derailforum or sending us your thoughts via e-mail at

Des is a queer, biracial latin@ pursuing a dual degree in Archives/History at Simmons College in Boston, MA, and serves as the DERAIL Forum Communications Coordinator. Des is interested in cultural and community archives, social justice in archival practices, and social movement history.


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