I Have Always Thought I’d Be Here: Post-SAA 2017 Thoughts & Feelings

I have a lot of thoughts and some feelings. This was a good year, but one that felt odd, and a little sad, but mostly good and more honest, but with a long way to go. I ventured into badge ribbon-making as my own tiny act of protest, people seemed to dig it. Next year, buttons – you can leave buttons on your bag all year long! If you ever want to do something similar, I used http://www.pcnametag.com/ and it set me back about $130.

This time I didn’t spend the usual close-to-a-full-week in and around the conference. Part of that was because they changed the structure up a bit to accommodate the 1-day forum/unconference, “The Liberated Archive” and so some of the usual Wednesday section meetings were on Friday, so I didn’t arrive until halfway into Thursday, when the conference was already in full swing. There were some amazing presentations it sounds like I missed – Artists as Ambassadors in particular. The presentation covered some of the work that artists are doing as part of Portland’s Artist-in-Residence program to create art with archival material that speaks to gentrification, displacement, police surveillance, the experience of immigrant communities in the city, and it sounds like a lot of other work that uses archives and the historical record to confront ongoing and historic injustice through creative works. Really bummed I missed this one.

I did get to attend Radical Empathy in Archival Practice, which was a punch in the gut – in a good way. It was a series of lightning talks followed by breakout discussion. If I tried to summarize them all and say what I loved about each one, that would be a whole blog post in and of itself – so I encourage you to get thee to the Twitter and search the combined hashtags “#s301” and “#saa17”. Then (or first, choose your own adventure!) read Michelle Caswell and Marika Cifor’s “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical Empathy in the Archives”, which was the basis for the discussion. In particular, I’m thinking about Giordana Mecagni’s presentation about how archives selling the rights to primary source collections to Gale and other vendors is explicitly against our code of ethics – compounded by the issues that we’re doing so with materials on black liberation, lgbtiqa+ rights activism, and other activist archives. What does it say about us that we’re willing to literally sell out the records of people and organizations whose explicit missions were/are all about getting free? (hint: it says we’re essentially colonizing the work of liberation movements) Also, and this didn’t come up this time – but related, what does it say that some of the databases we purchase and use (ahem, Ancestry) are full of materials digitized by unpaid prison labor?

This was also the year that Jarrett Drake dropped a bomb on the archives profession (again, in a good way) with his Medium post “I’m Leaving the Archives Profession: It’s Better this Way.” If you haven’t read it already, read it, and then listen to Fobazi Ettarh’s keynote for the Women in LIS “Pushing the Margins” symposium on “vocational awe.” Then read the text of Chris Bourg’s Triangle Research Libraries’ Network 2017 talk, “NC* is a no-go: bathrooms, libraries, and the limits of welcoming.” Fun fact: our conference got a mention because one of the attendees overheard folks snickering about the all-gender bathrooms – on the same day that our 45th president issued, via Twitter, a statement that transgender members of the armed forces, would no longer be eligible to serve in the military. A week after our organization’s Executive Director issued a statement of concern about having our conference in Austin in 2019 due to pending legislation that would restrict bathroom use for transgender and gender nonconforming people.*

To quote the phenomenal Michelle Caswell (and thanks to Joyce Gabiola for the tweet!):

I can’t say enough good things about Walidah Imarisha’s keynote that opened the Liberated Archive Forum on Saturday. For some context, I went down a dystopian fiction rabbit hole right after November 2016 and read most of Octavia Butler’s works, among others. This culminated in me buying Octavia’s Brood, which Imarisha co-edited, and when I found out she was doing the keynote, I managed to barely restrain myself from fangirling all over her in person (I did a little bit via Twitter). She brought together her work in archives, community organizing, activism, histories of white supremacy/racism/exclusion in Oregon/the Pacific Northwest, and science fiction/fantasy in ways that I can’t articulate nearly as well as she did, so I’ll edit this post later to add in video, which I’m told is going to be posted soon.

Literally, every single one of the Liberated Archive Forum sessions in the AM looked interesting, save maybe 1 or 2 – if anything, while I appreciated that the forum made space for a more unconference-y time at the end, I would have loved to see that time shortened and more spread out with two sets of sessions. Really, I would have loved to see the entire conference be structured around this theme, which I know some folks advocated for but which ultimately didn’t happen. I also would have loved to have seen more community members up/out front. The session I went to on the Plateau People’s Web Portal was 1 archivist and 1 community member who split time fairly evenly for presentation + questions (1 other community member who was going to present couldn’t attend), I heard that several other presentations were dominated by archivists over community members. Not cool.

A lot of my thoughts and feelings around these issues were wrapped up in a conversation between me and two of my favorite people, which ended up with both of them saying: “I literally never thought I’d be here.” Not just in the profession, but like – in a nice hotel, drinking a cocktail, not living paycheck to paycheck. My first thought was: “I always thought I’d be here.” I have never doubted, for a minute, that I’d be in that space, or that I had a right to be there, or that I’d eventually get there, even when I was staying in a Motel 6 in Emporia to finish library school, or when I was in a crap contract position with no benefits. Never.

I know what that looks like – and I could see myself in that position because right now, “success” in our profession looks like me, sounds like me, and presents to the world like me. And that’s the problem.

*corrected: I had initially read coverage of the bill (SB6) incorrectly – as of the time I posted this, the bill has passed the Senate, and is on its way to the House, but it hasn’t yet been voted on by the House.



One thought on “I Have Always Thought I’d Be Here: Post-SAA 2017 Thoughts & Feelings

  1. Diana says:

    I’m sorry you missed our Artists as Ambassador’s presentation, too! If you have any questions about it, please let me know. You might also want to find Kathy Carbone’s dissertation on our artist-in-residence – her scholarly research and discussion makes what we are doing intuitively, sound so much better! ~Diana


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