Don’t be Extractive
Community-based archives, and particularly those serving marginalized communities, impact the lives of the people they represent in several ways, including recognizing their right to exist, highlighting their contributions to society, and empowering them to imagine futures where they are included. For these reasons, academic library partners should not engage in activities that seek to remove physical or intellectual assets from community-based archives and the communities where they exist. Academic libraries operate as part of universities, and they wield significant privilege and power in all relationships they are a part. When partnering with under-resourced organizations such as community-based archives, academic libraries should leverage that power and privilege in support of promoting the values and furthering the mission and goals of the archive. There are several ways academic libraries can engage in non-extractive ways with community-based archives. For example, if there are community-based archives in the same community with academic libraries, then instead of the academic libraries hiring a professional archivist to work on community archives for the university, the library can choose instead to share the financial resources slated for that position with the local community-based archives to help grow their capacity. Some of the practices required to engage in non-extractive behavior are no doubt non-traditional and will require real effort to adopt but they will lead to a more healthy and inclusive cultural heritage practice, and a more representative shared historical record.
Despite difficulties, community-based archives continue to exist because supporters and practitioners have extensive skills, expertise, and knowledge to apply to the work of the archive. When university libraries seek to partner with community-based archives, they should recognize the extensive expertise already available in these spaces and ensure sure they are considered in the planning of the project, the sharing of the work, and the allocation of financial and human resources. Practicing equity in collaborative work with community-based archives recognizes the significant contributions individuals and the archives have made to their communities. Practicing equity also builds trust in ways that can help university libraries become more effective community partners.
In the interest of building trust and developing projects that can be equitably beneficial to community-based archives and their university partners, it is important to practice transparency throughout the whole process, outcomes, successes, and failures of projects. Community-based archives practitioners at Architecting Sustainable Futures referenced instances where university partners intentionally kept them out of the process of planning collaborative work while expecting them to remain available to contribute to the work. A lack of transparency does not only hinder current and future partnerships, but it can potentially put community-based archives at a disadvantage in negotiating their participation in the project and also sets them up to blindly participate in projects that could cause harm to their collections or community. Some ways university partners could practice transparency include citing the work of community-archives partners, honoring the financial value of community-based archives partners by paying for staff time and contributions, and by checking the ratio of funding for any individual project that goes to the university versus community-based archive. In some cases, community-based archives partners are merely asked to partner on projects, but they are not included in the grant writing, budget development, grant management, or project execution. These actions erode trust between community-based archives and academic partners, and they deny community-based archives staff of opportunities to gain new skills or to sharpen knowledge in these areas. So while a university library may take on the administrative responsibilities for a collaborative project, they should also make sure community partners are part of all elements of the process. This approach could contribute to growing and strengthening capacity in the archive.
Honor the Wisdom of the Community
People who suffer marginalization in society create community-based archives because they feel a need to preserve their history as a way to assert their humanity, to strengthen their local communities, and to ensure their stories are represented in the larger historical record. These archives are mostly maintained by the passion, labor, and wisdom of the people that create them, and those people are usually part of a long-standing local community of support where there is a deep understanding of issues and how to solve them. When academic library partners ignore these crucial aspects of how these archives exist, and their value and impact to their local communities, they miss a vital opportunity to learn and to meaningfully contribute. Academic library partners should honor the wisdom of the local community where these community-based archives exist by listening to the people who are currently doing the work and who have historically been doing the work.