Guest author: Valerie Szwaya
MSLS Student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Society for North Carolina Archivists and the South Carolina Archival Association held their annual conference jointly at the Mint Museum Uptown in Charlotte, North Carolina from March 30-April 1, 2016. This years theme was “Advocacy and Engagement: Demonstrating the Value of Archives.” Participants discussed collaboration, community engagement, advocating for the profession, and education about archival collections.
Wednesday, March 30 consisted of three pre-conference workshops held at the Mercy Heritage Center. Their descriptions can be found here.
Thursday, March 31 began with a keynote address from Dr. Seth Kotch, Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities in the Department of American Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, on the subject of digital sharing entitled “The Collector, the Community, the Reel, and the Real.” He discussed his participation in the Media and the Movement Project, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, that looks at the role of journalists and media throughout the Civil Rights Movement. Despite not being an archivist himself, he recognizes the function of the archivist as being essential to his efforts.
As a researcher for this project, he is attempting to digitize and make available a variety of different materials owned by community members. His talk highlighted the number of potentially valuable resources not contained in institutions. He believes that archivists, researchers, and community members can form partnerships that may help preserve these materials “in perpetuity.” In the meantime, he insists that digitization is still an essential first step to preserving content. By emphasizing the importance of non-predatory collecting and decentralizing archives, we can begin to “embrace a variety of archival outcomes.” Kotch believes this will allow professionals to begin conversations with underrepresented groups that account for the “real value” of materials within communities.
After a short break, the conference resumed with a vendor exhibition followed by two concurrent morning sessions. I attended Session 1A, “Kids These Days!: Archival Programming to Engage Youth from K-12.” Kathleen Gray from Charleston County Public Library, Barrye Brown from College of Charleston, Virginia Ellison from South Carolina Historical Society, and Carol Waggoner-Angleton from Augusta University discussed ways to reach youth through archives and special collections.
The highlighted efforts ranged from traditional programming (class lectures and school visits) to more creative efforts like Charleston County Public Library’s Sherlock-ed in the Library, Augusta University’s Kid’s University, and the Avery Research Center’s South Carolina Black History Bugle– an educational magazine designed to reach every 5th grade classroom in the state. All participants hope these efforts will help create a more public face for their archives, develop relationships with young adults in their service communities, and use archival methodologies to encourage students to engage with primary sources.
After lunch in the Mint Museum’s beautiful Grand Room, the conference resumed with two concurrent afternoon sessions. I attended Session 2B, “Sharing the Love: Generating an Archival Perspective in Community Groups.” The panel was led by Chaitra Powell from UNC Chapel Hill, Kelsey Moen and Elizabeth Grab from UNC Chapel Hill, and Colleen Daw and Wickliffe Shreve (recently graduated) from UNC Chapel Hill. The three talks highlighted advocacy, outreach and sustainability within community driven archival initiatives.
Chaitra discussed her advocacy efforts as related to the Southern Historical Collection’s work on the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance. Kelsey and Elizabeth discussed outreach efforts related to the Learning for Artist’s Archives Program, a collaboration between graduate fellows, archivists, and artists in the community aimed at making artists think about themselves archivally, learn why archives might help them in their current practice and in the future, and teach archival skill development. Colleen and Wick discussed sustainability with regards to the Fort DuPont Hockey Club project (that I am currently involved in), a partnership with a philanthropist in the Washington D.C. area who founded a hockey club for disadvantaged youth. They discussed our steps for assessing and digitizing his extensive personal collection of audiovisual materials, challenges of working with those outside of the archival community, and limitations of ongoing student projects.
The second afternoon panels were followed by a breakout poster session. A full list of participants in the poster session and descriptions of the posters can be found here.
Thursday’s programming ended with concurrent lightning talks and another panel session. I attended the lightning round. It consisted of five separate presentations by Dawne Lucas from UNC Chapel Hill, Shaunta Alvarez and Patrick Rudd from Elon University, Caitlin Christian-Lamb from Davidson College, Richard Cox from UNC Greensboro and Gene Hyde and Colin Reeve from UNC Asheville. The talks were extremely varied and ranged from the relatively new notion of the “embedded archivist” and ways to move beyond “one-shot” archival instruction, to online resources and expanding the use of the Digital Library of American Slavery, to matching students with materials through special collections “Speed Dating.” The talks were a great way to briefly provide examples of ongoing interdisciplinary collaborations between librarians, archivists, programmers and teaching faculty.
Friday, April 1 consisted of a half day of programming. The keynote address was given by the esteemed William R. Ferris, Professor of History at UNC Chapel Hill. The address, “The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists,” gave an intimate look at his own life history and his relationship with the archival profession. Ferris has spent his life traveling extensively around the American South researching, photographing, and collecting the stories of workers and artists.
In his presentation he highlighted some of the individuals he has met including: Eudora Welty, Alice Walker, Pete Seeger, William Dunlap, Sam Gilliam, Maude Gatewood, Rebecca Davenport and countless others. Through these encounters he insists that “the story is the key to the South,” and that archives “weave together narratives like a patchwork quilt.” His extensive set of personal papers and photographs currently reside in Louis Round Wilson Library and new acquisitions are added frequently. Ferris announced his new book of 100 unreleased color photograph coming out this summer. A book signing in the Atrium followed the talk.
The day ended with two final concurrent sessions. I attended Session 4A, “Highlighting Materials That Document Underrepresented Groups.” Stephen C. Smith from Spartanburg County Public Library, Andrea L’Hommedieu from USC Columbia and Beth Bilderback from USC Columbia presented on ways to document and highlight materials from underrepresented groups. These included adding descriptive metadata to help increase visual literacy in photographic collections, using oral histories to engage new audiences, and increasing outreach and promotion of archival collections through partnerships with Small Press Projects.
I found the conference and its programming incredibly cohesive and successful. All of the presentations I attended touched on the same themes of expanding the professional definition of “archivist” and encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration. I believe participants came away from the conference with a renewed sense of the importance of forming partnerships within both institutions and their larger communities.