Ask An Archivist: An Interview With Dominique Luster

Join us as we celebrate American Archives Month by Asking An Archivist! Inspired by #AskAnArchivistDay, we sat down with five archivists to ask them about what they do—from “what is an archivist?” to “What’s the most creative public use you’ve seen with your collections?”—and explore daily challenges, successes, and everything in between.

Stay tuned because we’ll be sharing one full interview per week starting on #AskAnArchivistDay on October 13!

This is the title card for an interview with Dominique Luster by COPA member Katherine Barbera.

For our second installment of this mini-series, we’re excited to share a conversation with Dominique Luster, Founder and Principal Archivist at The Luster Company. Katherine Barbera of the Committee on Public Awareness sat down with Luster (virtually) for a video conversation on September 2, 2021.

Dominique Luster is one part archivist -one part researcher – full parts natural haired bourbon connoisseur, with a dash of genealogy for taste. Dominique has been working in the cultural heritage and memory fields for nearly 10 years. In this time, she’s come to be known as a champion for Black history and Black-centered storytelling.  After working at universities, libraries, and museums across the country, she came to understand that history is not merely a listing of events in chronological order. But rather, a meticulously curated phenomenon of power. All too often, the stories of marginalized communities are suppressed, oppressed, erased, or forgotten. With this as a north star, Dominique started The Luster Company to rechart that path. The Luster Company is an outpour of spirit by way of helping individuals and organizations uplift, honor, and tell stories that represent the lived experiences of the Black diaspora.

Video Interview

Transcript

Barbera [00:00:02] All right, we are good to go. I’m Katherine Barbera, an archivist and oral historian at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’m also a member of the Committee on Public Awareness for the Society of American Archivists. Today, I have the privilege of interviewing Dominique Luster.

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, Dominique. We are really excited to talk to archivists for #AskanArchivist Day this year. So, I have a couple of questions for you. Feel free to answer them however you choose. And I’m excited to hear what you have to say.

Luster [00:00:42] All right, thanks for inviting me.

Barbera [00:00:46] So what is an archivist?

Luster [00:00:49] An archivist is an individual who works with memory and history through its records, and that can be a person’s records, an organization’s records, a company’s records. But it is someone who works with memory and with history, and history record keeping through the vehicle of working with the documents, photographs, maps, oral histories that are left behind.

Barbera [00:01:32] So, with that in mind, how and why did you start working in archives, what got you interested?

Luster [00:01:42] I was a theater lighting design undergraduate student, actually, and I think many people know that, but I worked in lighting design for years before I got into archives, like in and out of school, before school, after school, all over the country. It was a really cool thing. And then when I came back from my Fulbright, I needed an on-campus job. And so there were student jobs available in the special collections library on campus. And it was actually I didn’t realize at a time, but I thought it was just an on-campus job. But it was a part of a program called The Learning Lab, which was managed by Stacie Williams, who’s in Chicago at this point. And it is an incredible program because none of the students in the program were history or English majors. It was all a variety of different students, pre-med students, pre-law students.

I was a theater student and what they did was to align subject specialty collections based on our interest. So, there were a lot of skills that we needed to be taught in terms of just processing. But the interest was connected to your major or to whatever you were interested in. So, for example, the very first collection that I processed was a playbill collection and I was a theater major. So I had a lot of knowledge and information about the plays and the playbills and the playbill company and all of this information.

But I had no idea how to process. I didn’t even know what processing was. The idea of what a subject that was, I think took me like a month to actually grasp because it just didn’t make sense. There was a lot of criticism, the technical aspects of the archival world that I had no idea even existed. I remember one day being like, oh, people have given this like, oh my gosh, this is the thing. And it just kind of opened up a whole other industry to me that I didn’t know about—library science.

I just didn’t know it existed. And I think that’s my own ignorance at the time. But I had a lot of mentors early on who kind of helped shape the career path following that first initial seed at the university special collections library.

Barbera [00:04:04] Interesting that you started out in theater, I had no idea. I really like hearing about archivists’ trajectory to the field. Everybody has a different story.

Luster [00:04:15] Yeah, thank you.

Barbera [00:04:17] It sounds like you’ve worked with a broad range of collections and materials over the years. What is the craziest thing that you found in a collection?

Luster [00:04:29] I found 20 dollars once and I have found hair, I have definitely processed collections where I have found like baby hair or like women’s hair that was like in a ribbon. And I think it was, if I remember correctly, I think it was like an early 20th century collection. I think was very it’s very, very common at that time to extend your sweetheart in the war a lock of your hair, and then the women would tie it in a ribbon. So I found that.

And then I think I’ve also found like a little of, like, baby’s hair, just like a little tiny lock of baby hair that was tied in a little ribbon. I think those are actually pretty standard. I think most archivists have those kinds of stories.

The craziest thing I think I have found is a pipe. Once I found a pip—like a smoking tobacco pipe—and I found the tobacco, that was great. And I remember we tried to take them to the supervisor, and at the time he was like, “Cool, I just I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with this but I will figure it out, I’ll just and it’s just kind of set it to the side and like, don’t touch that. We’ll figure it out.”

Barbera [00:05:51] What was the context? Do you ever figure out what the pipe was from or why it was in the collection?

Luster [00:05:58] I think it just belonged to the donor. It was just part of the donor, a situation in which the family kind of gathered up all the things in the office and all the things, you know, out of their study and whatnot and kind of donated it to the repository and maybe they just didn’t go through it very carefully. It was an incredibly mixed materials collection between manuscript materials, photographic materials, published book materials. There was a lot of things in there. And, so as I’m just kind of going through the boxes, I found a pipe. And then, as I kept going, maybe a box or two later, I found like a little baggie of the tobacco. And just like one of those little that little plastic bag.

Barbera [00:06:44] I have never found a pipe, but I have certainly experienced where it’s obvious they took whatever was on the desk and it all went into the box. We find all kinds of interesting things, sometimes eyeglasses or other personal materials or personal effects that they probably didn’t mean to include, but the entire contents of the desk or whatever it was.

Luster [00:07:06] They kind of just take the drawer and dump it into a banker’s box. I think if anybody ever is watching this and they’re like, “oh, I have a family member and we’re wondering about what we should do about their awesome materials.” You should call us and we will be glad to help you. Call your local archivist because it’s not always necessarily about just dumping everything into the box.

Contrary, I think, to popular belief. And let me know if you feel differently. But, contrary to popular belief, archivists are the best weeders of anybody that I know. I think there’s a misconception or there’s a perception, public perception that archivists, we keep all the things like we keep all the history or librarian, like we keep all the stuff and we have our boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff, which is true.

But, that stuff is like meticulously curated and I think any processing archivist has experience with whittling down a collection that might have started with 50 linear feet worth of boxes. But at the end of the day, you might have 40 feet or 35 feet. And so I think there’s this public perception that we are the keepers of all the things that we could just if you donate it to your local library, historical society, then they just keep all the things. That’s not true. Call us first because we will weed it and we will take out all of the extra things, all of the like, easily findable, published materials, a lot of those personal effects. We will give it back to you. We don’t want it.

Barbera [00:08:37] I completely agree with that, as we have to be really selective because you can’t collect everything. It’s just an impossible task. And so we’ve become very good weeders. And I think sometimes that surprises folks, exactly as you said, that we do. We’re very good at determining, alright, this is what we keep and this is what we don’t.

Barbera [00:09:06] So we’ve talked about what the craziest thing you’ve found is, do you have a favorite item or perhaps the most mysterious item from a collection that you worked with?

Luster [00:09:23] So I don’t know if I have a favorite item, I definitely favorited, I guess, the the Teenie Harris collection, while I was working there. I think it’s just such a special collection, the entirety of it.

It’s, you know, almost 80,000 photographic negatives. So it’s not like one thing in the collection. It’s the entirety of it kind of as a whole is very special. So it is probably, I don’t know, for life might be my favorite collection. It’s just an incredible body of work. But I don’t know if I could pick a favorite image out of it, I think that be way too hard. If you’ve seen any of the images in the Teenie Harris collection, it’s hard to find a favorite. So there’s that portion of the question, and then I want to make sure that I remember the second part of the question.

Barbera [00:10:19] If you found a mysterious item that had a story or something that really stood out in your mind from a collection.

Luster [00:11:58] One of the most mysterious things I’ve ever found were posters. They were assigned as a part of a project, posters from a blackface minstrelsy show collection. And it was through the kind of midsouth like the Kentucky region.

And it was the first experience that I had had with like up front and personal portions of that history. So it wasn’t necessarily a topic that I wasn’t aware of, but it was a topic that we often teach from a far distance in this country. There are, I guess, the education structure around blackface minstrelsy. It’s maybe very filtered, and when you’re working with the show posters, there’s no filtering, there’s no distancing. It’s very like it’s you and the posters. And when you start digging into the companies and you start researching the history behind the venues or the companies themselves or the troops that would do these shows.

And further, I would actually say when I found when I was looking into a particular poster that was an African-American troop doing blackface. Now, that was something that I wasn’t necessarily aware of. It wasn’t a cultural aspect that I was very familiar with. So it was very surprising and mysterious that this whole culture existed, that I had no idea.

Barbera [00:13:41] That sounds like quite an intense experience. It was kind of a new one in terms of direct exposure to primary sources that, like you said, there’s often some distance from.

Luster [00:13:59] Yeah, absolutely.

Barbera [00:14:01] Do you have any thoughts for those who are encountering collections like that themselves for the first time?

Luster [00:14:15] I do. And I would say because it often ties into the work that I do now is very up close and personal with the Luster company. It is the storytelling of people who are interested in Black narrative in whatever format that may take, and we can’t guarantee or promise what form that will take [phone ringing]

We can’t guarantee or promise what form that will take or what we’ll find, and it can often be jarring or surprising to say the best, upsetting to say the most, just distraught, I think is also a word that happens.

But when you come when patrons or when clients are in everyday individuals who started out searching for, say, their ancestry and they are descendants of the enslaved, they often there’s this catch point when you have a name and a plantation and a price and a slave owner name. And when all of those records become very real and you can often even—I can give you the address of where that plantation, that house is now, if it’s still standing, when you get down to those details and they’re very, very real and you say here is your mother’s name and that mother’s name and that mother’s name and that mother’s name, who was born in 1842, is an enslaved woman on this plantation. And here is how much she was like when you have all of those details, it becomes very real and very upsetting. There’s not really a separation from it.

Luster [00:16:03] Sometimes it hits you right then and there. Sometimes it does take a while. I’ve seen people respond down the road maybe a week, maybe a month later. You just kind of have to breathe through it, whether you’re an archivist or not. I have found, especially with Black archivists or Black clients working on their ancestry, there is a certain strength that comes through the knowledge and you have to go through it. You just can’t you can’t go around it. You kind of just have to push through it and just let it sit. And it does move. It’s not immovable. The feelings are not immovable. They just move slowly. And if you just accept that that’s the case and know that you’re doing just fine, you’re just letting it move at the pace that it moves. It does kind of wrap in a way that allows you to find space and breath and just kind of ease that you may not have felt at first.

Luster [00:17:11] So I guess it’s a long, very convoluted way of saying that all things pass, all things get not easier, but become more normalized. I think the more that we say their names, the more that we accept them in our hearts and in our minds and in our spaces when you’re dealing with difficult material. It’s going to upset you. It just you kind of have to allow yourself to be upset and let it move through at the pace that it’s going to move through if you try to force it it’s not something that you can force, especially when you have record books or when you have deed books. Those are very difficult when you have. Like, I don’t know, slave records from army enlistment, things like that, they have a certain effect on the individual and it just have it will move slowly, but it will move.

Barbera [00:18:13] I really appreciate what you just shared about that experience and how much care and attention it sounds like you’re placing, in your current work, around the folks that you’re working with and how you engage your audiences and help them through the process of working with materials that may be difficult or upsetting. So along those same lines, in your current work, how do you engage your audiences if you could expand upon what you said a little bit?

Luster [00:18:53] So this is the how I, there are places in one’s own business that one can always grow and improve. and engaging with audience is certainly one of them.

I’ve come from a career of having a marketing department, or an outreach and education department or all of these things, editors and all of this extra amazing support. And when you are in the entrepreneur space, you do all the roles like you are the main person and the support person, and the customer person and the marketing person and you are all the things and I definitely something that I want to be able to do is to connect and reach out to the community here, and, and be more present to show up more online to show up for out in the world. And to engage, I really want to get engaged in social media, but I struggle to engage in social media personally. And so from a business standpoint, I’ve seriously struggled to engage. But I am working on it. And you know, anybody has any tips or tricks on how to engage better out in the world, with audiences who are interested in history.

So that’s the other thing is that building a business, and engaging with people in a virtual space that is very immediate, and has a lot of instant gratification, forming and shaping an interest in historic records, particularly in those that uplift the Black experience. It’s not immediate, it’s not instantly gratifying. And as I think many archivists can attest to doing the work, it can take a long time.

So whether it is processing a collection with a personal client, or doing an ancestry, genealogy, genealogical work with a client, or helping the local community’s school district prioritize their records, it all takes a lot of time. We could be working on school district papers for four months, and there just may not be a lot to talk about in the meantime.

And so how do you engage. And this is something that if anybody has tips and tricks out there shoot them my way, but shoot them my way on Instagram, because if you send them my way on Twitter, I probably won’t see it. I’m on Twitter, I tried to be more active on Twitter, I know I need to just set aside time to be on Twitter. But we’re all just being honest today.

Barbera [00:21:32] A lot of archivists can relate to the tension you’re describing between the immediacy of social media, and the slow and careful nature of archival work that often characterizes what we do every day. You don’t see the results of our work right away. It may take weeks, it may take months, sometimes it takes years to find whatever it is you’re looking for, or to process a collection, or to provide access to that collection. And so I appreciate that you shared that tension because I think a lot of archivists feel that.

And actually, it really hits home for ask an archivist day because that is part of the reason we’re hosting this event is to give archivists like you and others a platform to engage with audiences in a medium that they’re familiar with, but also be transparent about some of the challenges that we face or the interests that we have or just the day to day struggles of the work that we’re doing. So I really appreciate that you shared that. That was perfect.

Barbera [00:22:48] You’ve talked about some of the different collections that you’ve worked with over the years. And because #AskAnArchivist Day has an outreach focus, what is the best or most creative public use you’ve seen of collections or of a collection that you’ve worked with? It could be either, but a public use that you’ve seen, that you went, oh, that’s really interesting. Or, wow, that was really impactful.

Luster [00:23:18] Let me think. Because I’ve seen a lot of cool things. Am I allowed to say something that I’ve done that I think has been one of the coolest thing since sliced bread?

Barbera [00:23:37] Yeah, absolutely. Go for it.

Luster [00:23:39] I don’t necessarily want to toot my own horn, but I will say previously I had the opportunity to partner with one of the local high school teachers, and it was a 9th grade civics class.

This teacher, if I had a teacher like this when I was in high school, I probably would have become an archivist. I don’t know, 2 years sooner than I did. I mean, it’s she’s just she’s just absolutely amazing. Her students adore her. The school I mean, she was absolutely fantastic. And she taught high school world civ. And she taught it from the vantage point of activism and personal responsibility, and so I got to partner with her for many years, I think we probably co-taught this class for three or four years. And so it was fantastic.

It was a class on change agents and social change. And so what we did was we would bring in materials from the Teenie Harris collection in these prints. So we had access to hundreds of prints like matted prints from previous collections. And I would go through them after reviewing with what syllabus was and we would go I would go into class and I’d have my prints, but I would put them on the easel. So actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. She would put up a Teenie Harris image on the board, on the projector, and it was really zoomed in. It was zoomed in. Let’s say it’s a 4 x 5 negative. It was zoomed in on like 1 inch. And the students gave feedback on what it was. It’s a clock or something. It’s a calendar. And then she zooms out a little further and that gives them a little bit more context.

So they start adding on pieces of information, starting to make inferences. She zooms out a little more, a little more. And so with each zooming, the students kind of add on what’s going on with this photograph. So then we take that photograph and I have my first print. So I reveal the first print and they’re connected. The students don’t quite know that it’s connected yet, but they are connected. And so we I give them only what’s necessary to understand the photograph. As the archivist, I know the back story, the cut line behind it, the people in it, but I don’t mention any of that. I let the students kind of start putting things together based on context, clues between the photograph that they’ve seen on the screen and the photograph that’s standing in front of them. I also get them out of the seats and like, come closer, come look at the photograph. You can interact with it. So we have a discussion. What do you see? What do you infer? What do you see? What do you observe? What do you infer? And then we add another print. OK, so now you have to and then we add another one and another one.

I think eventually we end up with four or five prints and it actually we hope we don’t give them context. That’s not necessary. We let them figure it out based on their own inferential skills. And it’s to kind of noodle that out of them. But by the end of the class, we’re having conversations at the 8th and 9th grade level on redlining, gerrymandering and gentrification. It is a great class. It always leaves me on fire every single year. And we would do it for every class period that day. And in the kids came to know that this was this was a thing in the school that this lady comes in with her prints and and we would change it up based on what was going on in the world, because we could always connect a current day event to something in the Teenie Harris collection from 50, 60, 80 years ago.

So we would have these very rigorous conversations around really complicated topics at the 8th and 9th grade level. Based on what do you see, what do you observe, what do you infer? And we would zoom out from one photograph to maybe like 5 or 6 and the kids do all the work. And it was amazing.

I was always blown away by things that they would teach me. It was it was a really cool way to kind of integrate, whether it was a Ahmaud Arbery or the census or other forms of gentrification that were happening in their neighborhoods, whatever it was that was in the news that they were hearing on social media or whatever was going on in the news at the time, we were able to connect to the collection in a very direct and clear way. It wasn’t a stretch like they could see it. So they’re now making connections to their own neighborhoods, to their own families. And it was very it’s still by far one of my favorite teaching with primary sources activities.

Barbera [00:28:42] Sounds like an incredible experience. Yeah, I love the activity you just described, it sounds really, really great. Well, thank you for sharing your time today. It’s been really great to hear about your experiences and the different collections that you’ve worked with over the years. And that class sounds fantastic.

If folks watching this want to see some of the collections that you’ve mentioned, where would they find them?

Luster [00:29:14] So a couple of cool places to check out. First and foremost is the Teenie Harris Collection at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. It is an absolute gorgeous photography collection. Still to this day, my main squeeze. I absolutely love that collection.

There are also really fantastic collections, if you’re interested, at the Schomburg in New York as a part of the New York Public Library system. If you are also interested, feel free to check out the African and Africana studies collections at UNC Chapel Hill. And there’s also a few collections at Duke as well. They have two really fantastic collections in the triangle there. There are really great, fantastic collections everywhere.

The final one that I’ll mention is in Washington, D.C. at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. I think we’ve shortened it to NMAAHC. I’m not sure if other people have done that, but I certainly have. But they absolutely have a great collection and they also have really wonderful tools in their personal what’s it called—they have this lab that they will actually help patrons digitize and conduct family oral histories, digitize your family photographs and help you kind of take the reins in your family to help you do that work. They do all the metadata like, their labs in D.C. are very, very helpful and expansive to just the everyday individual or to any family who’s looking to kind of get help from archivists. Feel free to contact me or anybody with COPA. Anyone with SAA we’d be happy to help you out. And thank you so much.

Barbera [00:31:08] And for the work you’re doing now, if folks want to learn more about your business, what is the name and how do they get in touch with you?

Luster [00:31:17] Absolutely. If anybody is—the way I describe it is the Luster Company is your partner if you have a passion for Black storytelling as much as I do. And that’s about it. Those are the only requirements if you have a love and an interest for Black stories, Black history, Black storytelling in any way, shape or form. Give me a call. You can check out the website at “thelustercompany.com” and you can follow along on any social media platform at the Luster Company. Dominique[at]thelustercompany.com if you want to email me. The “thelustercompany.com” for the website or on any social media.

Barbera [00:32:03] Great. Thank you so much, Dominique, it’s been very fun hearing about your experiences and all the collections that you’ve worked with over the years.

Luster [00:32:12] Thank you so much for having me.

Art as a Representation of Native American Resiliency: Samantha Manz on the Minnesota Historical Society’s Native American Artist-in-Residence Program

This is the latest entry in our Archives + Audiences series, which features the perspectives of archival audiences – scholars, journalists, filmmakers, artists, activists, and more – for whom archives have been an important part of their life and work. In this post, COPA Member and Archivist, Angie Piccolo interviews Samantha Manz (Cherokee Nation)  about the Minnesota Historical Society’s Native American Artist-in-Residence program (NAAIR.) Manz is the collections associate for the Minnesota Historical Society’s Native American Collections and program associate for NAAIR.

AP: Please tell us about your program.

SM: The Native American Artist-in-Residence program is funded by the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies and we work with Native American artists from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. They don’t have to be tribal enrolled members, but they do have to be affiliated with a tribal nation. When I say artists, we’re not working with fine arts artists, we’re working with people who are learning about traditional arts, such as beadwork and quillwork.

This year we have an artist who is learning how to make traditional Dakota dugout canoes and birchbark canoes. A few years ago, Denise Lajimodiere (Ojibwe) learned how to birchbark bite, which had almost been lost. So we try to work with artists who are working with the type of traditional art form that is almost lost to the community.  

In a pre-Covid world, we would have two artists-in-residents, but this year we have three artists who are studying jingle dresses, canoes, and quillwork. In addition to the artist-in-residency, we have the Encouragement Grant and this supports younger and upcoming artists. The Encouragement Grant allows them to visit the Minnesota Historical Society Collections and buy supplies.. We try to provide a lot of feedback for artists too, because a lot of them are community members and applying to the NAAiR program can seem intimidating and discouraging. And if they are rejected, then they won’t want to reapply and that’s not our goal. 


Framed square birchbark biting design of a large floral flanked by many dragonflies. Made by Denise Lajimodiere, Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, in 2015-16 during her time as a Minnesota Historical Society Native American Artist-in-Residence. 2016.108.7 (Accession Number)

Over the years,  we have acquired pieces from different artists. We allocate $7,500 per artist for MNHS Collections to acquire contemporary items.  For example, April Stone (Ojibwe) is a black ash basket weaver and we only have one piece from her in our collections. She made a traditional Ojibwe black ash burial basket. We were able to buy several smaller pieces from other artists. So it depends on the artist. 

Additionally, part of the artist’s contract includes public programming. In the past, artists have conducted three public programming events, but this year we are only requiring two public programs. Artists can host public programs on their reservations, community centers, and at MNHS.

When people come to these events, we have them answer a few questions of what they learn and then we keep track of all of that. Right now, the program is shifting to thinking less about the artist’s interactions with the community and more of how we’re impacting the community on a whole. Sometimes for artists, working with their community means taking on an apprentice and teaching them. So we’ve had a few artists in the past who’ve had an apprentice who’s learned from them and came with them to look at our Native American collections.

Sometimes the artists go and look at other museums, like the Minneapolis Institute of Art. One year we had an artist who went to the American Indian Museum in DC, and looked at their collections. We try to combine collections research with traditional Native American art. So they’re learning from the collections, we’re learning from them, and then they’re going out and teaching the rest of their community.

 AP: What are some challenges that are unique to this program?

SM: I think right now, especially with Covid, it’s harder. In the past we’ve been able to go out to community members, like different reservations in the area or in South and North Dakota, and do application workshops and answer questions, which is harder to do in Covid. So that’s one challenge and the other challenge is whether or not we’re able to support them with what we have in our collection. So I think those are the two biggest challenges. Also having to reject artists even if their work is beautiful and we love it. It’s harder to get them to reapply, especially because they’re community artists versus fine art artists who are used to applying for such big grants. So we’re trying to bridge that gap between what’s a community artist and how we define artists.

AP: What do you like most about your job?


Table accent fully beaded with plants indigenous to the Great Lakes region. Made by Minnesota Historical Society’s Native American Artist-in-Residence Jessica Gokey, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. 2015.35.1 (Accession Number)

SM:  I really love interacting with the artist when they come in and look at our collections, the things that we learn from them, and what they learn from us. I think it’s a really great opportunity to see how these objects are living in a lot of ways because there’s so much knowledge within objects. Particularly with 3D objects, there’s so much cultural knowledge within them, as well as traditional knowledge.

The artists are able to learn from objects in ways that non-Native artists can’t. That goes for really any artist who comes in to look at our collections. They’re able to teach us things about what they know from their community, and then we add it to our database. I think it really shows that the objects and collections are living and we can learn from them in the same way that they can learn from us.

AP: What are some of your goals for the future of this program?

SM: I think in a lot of ways, how can we continue to help grow this program? What do we want it to look like in the future? Do we want it to continue to grow? How do we want to capture community development? I would love to see more work within the Twin Cities as well, and particularly with the youth. I think we have so many great Native organizations and in the Twin Cities where we can work on combining art and sovereignty and getting people more involved on a day-to-day basis versus just having the artist. I would love to do more community engagement with it.

AP: What do you hope people (both the artists and audience) take away from this program?

SM: For artists, it’s great to see them take this grant and then continue to apply for other grants and have other amazing opportunities and showcase their work in other museums and continue to show in contemporary and more mainstream institutions. I think it’s great to see Native artists participate in some of these mainstream museums that we don’t see and for people to see native artists on a daily basis. For the Native people who feel disconnected, they are able to take these opportunities to learn and grow in their communities and cultures and reconnect with them. 

For non-native people to be able to interact with Native artists and learn more about native history, Native arts and see that on a daily basis and see that represented fully. There’s all these representations of Natives as stoic and daunting. I think having those representations challenged is great and to see the vibrancy of the material culture really shows how resilient Native communities are.

Link to the webpage: Native American Artist-in-Residence Program | Minnesota Historical Society (mnhs.org)

Ask An Archivist: An Interview With Bridgett Pride

Join us as we celebrate American Archives Month by Asking An Archivist! Inspired by #AskAnArchivistDay, we sat down with five archivists to ask them about what they do—from “what is an archivist?” to “What’s the most creative public use you’ve seen with your collections?”—and explore daily challenges, successes, and everything in between.

Stay tuned because we’ll be sharing one full interview per week starting on #AskAnArchivistDay on October 13!

This is the title card for an interview with Bridgett Pride by COPA member Rachael Cristine Woody.

For 2021 #AskAnArchivistDay and our fist installment of this mini-series, we’re excited to share an interview with Bridgett Pride, Reference Librarian for the Manuscripts Archives and Rare Books Division as well as the Arts and Artifacts Division of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Rachael Cristine Woody of the Committee on Public Awareness sat down with Pride (virtually) for a video interview on Friday, June 25, 2021 to talk about becoming an archivist, the stereotype of archivists as gatekeepers, and more.

Bridgett Pride is a part of the inaugural class of fellows Rare Book School for Cultural Heritage, focusing on Black collections and zine making. Bridgett received her MLIS, and a MA in History from Simmons University in 2018. She was a part of the Diversity, Equity, Race, Accessibility, and Identity in LIS (DERAIL) forum, and served as the 2018 project manager. Bridgett was awarded the 2018 Kenneth Shaffer Outstanding Student Award for student leadership. She studies American women and their intersectional identities with gender, race, and class in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Video Interview

Transcript

Pride [0:00:03] Hi my name is Bridgett Pride, and I am the reference librarian for the manuscripts archives and Rare Books division, and the art and artifacts division of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black culture.

Woody [0:00:20] Thank you. And our first question for you is how slash why did you become an archivist, what’s your origin story?

Pride [0:00:30] So I wanted to become an archivist, because I was a literature major and then a history major, and I was always very frustrated by the complicated nature to which I’m doing any type of research was when I was looking for Black voices, particularly the voices of Black women who are also Queer so basically I was looking for myself. And so I decided that the best way to solve that problem was to make sure that those voices were elevated and accessible. And so I went to library school to do that and do that every day now at the Schomburg Center.

Woody [0:01:25] I love that answer. Thank you. Second question for you. How do you engage your audiences?

Pride [0:01:33] As the reference librarian of two research divisions of a public library but an archive within a public library, I have the wonderful opportunity to get to teach. So I have classes that come in from a New York from Philadelphia from New Jersey, who are curious about learning about the Black diaspora.

And so that is truly one of my favorite parts of my job is getting to work with. First time researchers, whether they’re in the fourth grade, they’re college students, or their graduate students and getting to teach people the magic of the archive what is inside and watch their faces light up when they find out that they are allowed to be there and encouraged to be there, and just unveiling all there is to learn, and all of the different topics that can be covered within an archive, and so just being the bearer of such wonderful news and introducing people to how to access that type of knowledge is just such a fun thing to get to do and can be really engaging because you can do that in so many different ways.

I’ve had the great pleasure to be able to do that during the pandemic virtually, I’ve done it in person, and just making connections with first time learners in whatever way is the most accessible to them at the time.

Woody [0:03:16] I particularly love that because traditionally archivists, the stereotype is like gatekeepers, you know, keeping it keeping the treasures behind closed doors, and how you’ve described your role and the work that you’ve been doing, it’s like you were throwing those doors wide open, get them off the hinges.

Pride [0:03:36] Yeah, like the Archivist for everyone, and like the fact that I work in a public library makes it so much easier. Like, it’s against the mission to say no. So really having the opportunity to roll out the red carpet. And like come hang out with us, whether that’s like at a public program where we’re singing and dancing like on Langston Hughes ashes or if we’re in the reading room engaged in study. There’s so many different ways to engage.

Woody [0:04:15] My third question for you. What’s the best or most creative public use you’ve seen with your collections.

Pride [0:04:23] For this I have to shout out my colleague Katie out to Tubman, who is the Director of our Junior Scholars Program. And so she works with students from elementary school to high school, where they engage in group study of materials at the Schomburg Center. And every year they produce some sort of project or exhibit. And this past year, the students engaged and creating this means that documented their study of the autobiography of Malcolm X.

These young scholars blew my mind with these thoughtful pieces that they had created, from reading Malcolm X’s edits of his autobiography that we hold, and really connecting with him on a personal level. By being exposed to his papers at the Schomburg. And they created a digital exhibit which anyone can look at.

It’s called, “By any means necessary,” and is available on the Schomburg Center website and just watching these young people and how they processed, like some heavy topics, and these revolutionary ideas is just fascinating to me. And just the fact that we have programs like that in an archive where young people are encouraged to come and engage in this way is so important, and I would love to see more activities like this happen in archives.

Listen To Stories From The 2020 “Finding Aid to My Soul” Storytelling Event.

To help you get excited about this week’s A Finding Aid to My Soul Storytelling Event, take a listen to these great stories from the 2020 virtual event, also hosted by the one and only Micaela Blei.

Jessica Newell: Gladys Redux

Micaela Terronez: This Time It’s Personal

Melissa Barker: Murder Saves the Day

Kathy Marquis: An Unlikely Match Made In The Archives

Ethel Hazard: The Search History Of My History Search


And join us for the this year’s A Finding Aid to My Soul, Storytelling Event Celebrating Archivists, Oct. 6 2021, 12:00 pm CT.

Join SAA in celebrating the diversity and commonality of the archivist experience! Five storytellers—Sasha Griffin, Tricia Campbell Bailey, Hannah Palin, kYmberly Keeton, and April Anderson-Zorn—will share true stories about their funny, heartfelt, and surprising encounters in the archives. This free event, sponsored by the Committee on Public Awareness, will be hosted by two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner (and former Moth director of education) Micaela Blei.

Time: Oct 6, 2021 12:00

Register at this link https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0pd–oqDMrE9w5WjAOQ2PXfY05MkAVrs1G

Sponsored by the Society of American Archivists Committee on Public Awareness.

#AskAnArchivist Day October 13!

Graphic: In voice bubbles in different colors (aqua, gray, dark blue, red) questions surround text #AskAnArchivist Day October 13: What do archivists do? How can teachers incorporate archives into the classroom? How can I donate materials to an archives? Why are archives important? What's the oldest item in your collection? How can I preserve my family photos? What should I do to make sure my emails don't get lost?
#AskAnArchivist Day October 13

What Is #AskAnArchivist Day?

On October 13, archivists around the country will take to Twitter to respond to questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist

It’s an opportunity to:

  • Ask questions about archives and get an response from multiple archivists/institutions
  • Let archives and archivists know what you’re interested in
  • Learn about different kinds of archives by following the #AskAnArchivist hashtag on Twitter

How can I participate?

  • CREATE a Twitter account if you don’t already have one. Get started here.
  • Ask questions about archives on Twitter
  • Include hashtag #AskAnArchivist
  • Include an institution’s and/or individual archivist’s Twitter handle (e.g., @archivists_org) if you want to direct an answer to a specific organization or person. Not sure who to ask? Use this this year’s list of participants to retweet or tweet questions
  • Retweet good questions someone else asked, include a specific Twitter handle if you want to direct question to specific organization or person

If you are an archivist, special collections librarian, or work in a cultural heritage institution, take advantage of this opportunity to join with archivists from around the country to talk to and hear directly from the public on October 13.

If you or your institution plan to participate, please email SAA Editorial and Production Coordinator Abigail Christian with your Twitter handle so we can add you to the 2021 list of participants. For more details on promoting and participating, visit #AskAnArchivst Day.

“A Finding Aid to My Soul” A Storytelling Event Celebrating Archivists on October 6!

A Finding Aid to My Soul, Storytelling Event Celebrating Archivists, Oct. 6 2021, 12:00 pm CT, Sponsored by the Society of American Archivists Committee on Public Awareness.

Archives Month Kickoff

Join SAA in celebrating the diversity and commonality of the archivist experience! Five storytellers—Sasha Griffin, Tricia Campbell Bailey, Hannah Palin, kYmberly Keeton, and April Anderson-Zorn—will share true stories about their funny, heartfelt, and surprising encounters in the archives. This free event, sponsored by the Committee on Public Awareness, will be hosted by two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner (and former Moth director of education) Micaela Blei.

Time: Oct 6, 2021 12:00 PM CT

Register at this link https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0pd–oqDMrE9w5WjAOQ2PXfY05MkAVrs1G


Want to hear more archivist stories? Selections from past Finding Aid to My Soul events can be found on the Archives in Context (season 3) podcast.

Debunking the Myths Surrounding the “Deserted” Village of Allaire

This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society.

The Historic Village at Allaire is a living history museum named posthumously for its founder James P. Allaire. The museum interprets an iron-producing factory town during its peak year, 1836. The village offers a variety of craft demonstrations and activities such as blacksmithing, hearth cooking, and carpentry. 

 In this latest post, Archivist and COPA Early Career Member, Kristi Chanda, interviews Felicity Bennett. Felicity Bennett is the Museum Collections Coordinator. Her role is both an archivist and handling museum collections. For the first time in the museum’s 60 year history, there is a full-time paid staff position whose sole purpose is to look after the collection. The role was usually handled by volunteers or added to other positions in the past. In her new role, she is looking to further professionalize the museum and organize the collections.  

KC: Who was James Allaire and what was his significance to Allaire Village?

FB: James P. Allaire is our founder for the Allaire Village, and during his lifetime it was actually called Howell Works. He was a steamship engine manufacturer, and he had an office in both New York City and Monmouth County, New Jersey, where we’re located. What we were doing was harvesting bog iron, which is a renewable source of iron, and smelting that down into workable iron. It was basically a forge used to manufacture all the parts for the engines that would get shipped to New York for boats.

KC: What types of materials are in his collection? What items are particularly interesting to you?

A 7-page Deed from James P. Allaire giving property to his second wife Calicia.

FB: So, in addition to the museum collection, our archival collection has more of his business documentation, such as his deeds. He did purchase a lot of land from local farmers and everything to build this kind of manufacturing town.  We also have some of his personal papers, photographs and other things of that nature. I would say the most interesting to me is the personal papers of his son, Hal Allaire. He was just kind of an eccentric man and he lived here after the village forge shut down. He basically turned into a recluse and kind of let everything become deserted and in ruins. There were still people living here and he did entertain quite a bit in the house, but he was more interested in letting everything return to the forest.

KC: What are some misconceptions surrounding Allaire Village? What information from the collection helps free some of these misconceptions?

FB: So, there is the misconception that it was deserted or abandoned because the original title for our museum was the Deserted Village of Allaire. A lot of the forge and businesses shut down, but there still were people living here, and  there’s never really a gap in ownership. So we do have in the collection, we have a lot of the deeds saying who owned it and when. We also have a lot of photographs showing people doing something similar to motor tours.  Because during the turn of the century that was a really big public tourist activity. People would get in their little cars and drive on tracks because it was a new adventure at the time.

KC: So, I remembered when I searched Allaire Village online, it was listed as a haunted historical site. I heard about you all receiving inquiries from paranormal investigators.  

FB: Those websites are very inaccurate a lot of the time. As far as the history goes, I saw one saying how Hal was a child ghost, that he was a little boy,  and he died when he was in his 50s. So, definitely not a child. I have seen stuff confusing his [James’] two wives. You have to be careful using websites because one, ghosts aren’t real, and a lot of the history isn’t correct. 

KC: Is there additional information that you would like to add about the collection?

FB: We do continuously find more information by going through our archive. I think that’s really interesting how we can continue to learn just based on what we find, like reading someone’s old diary or something.

KC: Is there anything specific that you’ve learned like any of the materials?

FB: So we’re actually putting together an exhibit about the later years of the village. I had never known the name of who owned the village between Hal and Brisbane and who sold it to the state. I recently found out that it was a man named William Harrison, who was a friend of Hal, who purchased it and paid off taxes and then sold it.

KC:  I remember when learning about Arthur Brisbane, there was a lot of misinformation surrounding his contributions.

FB: Brisbane was a huge newspaper editorialist and did a lot with Hearst newspapers and magazines, which are still around today. I forget off the top of my head which ones are still owned by them,  but I know it’s a lot.

KC: What do you hope visitors would take away from their experience at Allaire Village?

FB: My hope is for visitors to be engaged with history and to see the relevance between life in the village and today. There are a lot of parallels in how people live then and now. This is really the start of the industrial revolution and a lot of the industry and businesses visitors see in the village had a direct impact on societal and economical changes that happened over the last century. I also want to see more people get involved in local history, because there’s always really interesting things to learn. 

An Interview with Micaela Blei, Award-Winning Storyteller, Educator, and A Finding Aid to My Soul Host!

The Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) is collaborating again with our favorite professional storyteller, Micaela Blei, for our archivist and archives-centric storytelling event, A Finding Aid to My Soul, on October 6, 12:00 pm — 1:00 PM CT.

Micaela Blei, PhD, is a storyteller, educator and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She’s a two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner, former Director of Education for The Moth and former third grade teacher who has told stories, taught storytelling workshops and hosted shows around the world. She gives keynotes and research talks on storytelling and empathy at conferences and universities nationwide. Micaela’s stories can be heard on The Moth Radio Hour and podcast, the acclaimed podcast Family Ghosts, and many others. You can find out more about her upcoming online courses and hear more stories at micaelablei.com

Check out our first interview with her in 2019.

This is your third time hosting COPA’s A Finding Aid to My Soul. Last year we took this event online for the first time. What surprised you about last year’s event? What do you think the benefits are of an online event? 

It was a surprise how well it worked! I was nervous at first: it was our first time working together for a show that was fully online. But I was thrilled when people shared their reactions— that they found it meaningful, connecting and most of all fun. I think the benefit of an online event— and this isn’t news to us, now that we’ve been doing things online for over a year— is accessibility. It was amazing to see people logging in from all over, who might otherwise not have made it to a live event.

You offer coaching and storytelling workshops to all kinds of groups. What is it like working with archivists? 

I find archivists to be really fun to work with, partly because of my own personal fascination with libraries and archives! I worked in an archive as an undergrad (at Beinecke, for the amazing Pat Willis) and it has always felt like the career I never had. Also, archivists understand stories! You all are immersed in stories all the time, and you’re communicators in so many modes— to the public, to stakeholders, to the people whose archives you are stewarding. In short— you’re my favorites.

Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding your work as a storyteller and educator? 

Just that I’m thrilled to be back working with SAA and I truly can’t wait to work with some new archivist tellers this year!


Listen to a story by Micaela Blei, Arielle Petrovich, instruction and outreach archivist at the University of Notre Dame; and Kira Lyle, grad student at the University of South Carolina on Archives in Context podcast, Season 3, Episode 2: Finding Aid to My Soul, Part 1.


Don’t forget to pitch your story! Last week our call for stories for “A Finding Aid to My Soul” Virtual Event went out.

Pitches are due August 31. Selected storytellers to be notified by Sept. 5. 
Pitch it here! 

PITCH YOUR STORY! Call for Stories for “A Finding Aid to My Soul” Virtual Event on October 6

“Storytelling provides safe conditions for daring decisions.”

—Micaela Blei
Graphic with pink angles and yellow circles on purple background. Text in yellow and pink. See caption for text.
Pitch Your Story! Call for your unique, moving, or humorous archival stories for “A Finding Aid to My Soul” Deadline: August 31, HTTPS://SMR.TO/P67427

When did you decide that you wanted to be an archivist? What was your first encounter with an archives? How did you handle a challenge in your work? What is a unique, serendipitous, moving, mysterious, special, or humorous experience you’ve had as an archivist?

If you would like the chance to share your story, then pitch it to us! In 100 to 200 words, tell us about your archives story. (Please don’t give us a cliff-hanger; you should summarize the whole story.) Great pitches will let us know what happened, what changed for you (or the world!), and what was at stake.

During “A Finding Aid to My Soul,” archivists from a variety of institutions and experience levels will share 5-minute true, personal stories of their connections to archives they have encountered. The virtual event—on Wednesday, October 6, from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm CT—will be hosted by award-winning storyteller and educator Micaela Blei (The Moth, Risk). Sponsored by SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness, it is part of American Archives Month and will be recorded.

We’re looking for a wide range of voices to share their experiences. Absolutely no storytelling or performance experience necessary. Bonus: Micaela will be available to support you as you practice your story. 

You may think that your story is not “dramatic” enough. We beg to differ! We want to hear stories with high stakes as well as small, intimate stories of the work you do and the personal ways it connects to your life. If it mattered to you, it will matter to us, too. (If you need some inspiration, listen to selections from past “Finding Aid to My Soul” events on the Archives in Context podcast.)

Pitches are due August 31. Selected storytellers to be notified by Sept. 5. 
Pitch it here! 

Want to listen to more? Selections from past Finding Aid to My Soul events can be found on the Archives in Context (season 3) podcast.

Advocacy and Outreach Opportunities at the Archives*Records 2021 Annual Meeting

The SAA Annual meeting begins next week, though on-demand sessions were available starting Monday, July 26, and SAA section meetings have already started earlier in the month. Below is a list of sessions about awareness, advocacy, and outreach.

Please note, there is a mix of live, recorded, and on-demand opportunities. Make sure to visit the schedule for specific times for live sessions and to view session descriptions to see which category a session or meeting falls and whether you need to register for a session. Unless noted, all events are included with your annual meeting registration.

On-demand sessions available now!

S12 – Outreach and Fundraising in the Time of COVID: How to Engage Your Donors and Keep Events Going When You Can’t Meet in Person

Four panelists demonstrate how they managed to reimagine their outreach and programming to keep their donors and funders engaged during the pandemic.

Live Q&A for this session on Thursday August 5th!

S13 – Outreach and Online Access Innovations from Smaller Institutions

Lightning talk speakers discuss innovative project and outreach ideas—from exhibit formats to walking tours—and online access initiatives—from developing important content partnerships to unusual funding opportunities.

Live Q&A for this session on Friday August 6th!

Monday, Aug. 2

Storytelling Workshop Master Class

This is the 3rd year we have had two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner (and former Moth director of education) Micaela Blei facilitate a storytelling workshop for archivists. Separate registration and fee ($49) for this workshop where you will learn:

  • What makes a story work,
  • The connections among narrative performance, research, and teaching, and
  • How to brainstorm and craft stories of your own.

The workshop is aimed at budding storytellers as well as seasoned bards looking to refresh their skills. It is structured to make the online experience as welcoming and engaging as possible, using a webinar format followed by an optional small-group discussion structure so that you can take part in the workshop at the level that will best serve you.

Stories from the 2019 event, including one from Micaela herself can be found on Season 3 of the Archives in Context podcast. To learn more about Micaela, check out this ArchivesAware! interview from 2019.

Like last year, we will hold our related storytelling event, Finding Aid To My Soul, in October and it will be online. So stay tuned for more information this fall!

Tuesday, Aug. 3

Elevating the Value of Your Archive in an Ever Changing Digital World

This is a meeting for the digital preservation community, hosted by Preservica, and open to all.

Build a Bridge to Stand: Making the Ask Even in Uncertain Times

This 120-minute workshop, led by members of SAA’s committees on Public Awareness (COPA) and Public Policy (COPP) and featuring members of the Issues and Advocacy Section and the Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC), explores a process-focused approach to advocacy. Attendees will participate in round-robin-style breakout sessions and walk away with personalized strategies.

Thursday, Aug. 5

Live Q&A: S12 – Outreach and Fundraising in the Time of COVID: How to Engage Your Donors and Keep Events Going When You Can’t Meet in Person

Join presenters from this on-demand session for a 20-minute live chat/Q&A. We recommend that you view the session before joining the live chat.

Friday, Aug. 6

Live Q&A: S13 Outreach and Online Access Innovations from Smaller Institutions

Join presenters from this on-demand session for a 20-minute live chat/Q&A. We recommend that you view the session before joining the live chat.

Conversation Lounge: Archival Advocacy in Challenging Times: What’s an Archivist to Do?

Laura Millar, author of A Matter of Facts: The Value of Evidence in the Age of Information, along with Chris Burns, past chair and current member of the Committee on Public Awareness, and Bryan Whitledge, co-chair of the Committee on Public Policy, will explore the topic of archival advocacy amidst a global pandemic, the equity movement, political and social unrest, and climate change.

Join the conversation to learn what you can do to make the public understand why archives matter and how you can advocate and become an influencer with decision-makers.

Know of other outreach- and advocacy-related sessions, events, and general happenings taking place over the course of ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2021 that didn’t make our schedule? Tell us in the comments below, or let us know which of these and other annual meeting events you are most looking forward to!