Embracing Diversity in Archival Work

Margot Note

Margot Note

January 15, 2024

Diversity is a cornerstone of archival practice, both within organizations and throughout the field at large. 

Archivists recognize that a rich and complete historical record must encompass the stories and experiences of all people, regardless of their social status, cultural background, or level of influence. They understand the importance of preserving the voices of underrepresented or marginalized communities, ensuring their stories are not lost or forgotten. The practice of embracing diversity within organizations involves several critical steps.

Addressing the Gap

First, archivists must acknowledge the historical gaps in the record. Many communities and individuals have been underrepresented or omitted from traditional archival collections. Recognizing these omissions is the first step toward actively addressing them. Archivists must forge connections with under-documented communities and individuals to document their experiences and histories.

This involves outreach, community engagement, and building trust. Archivists must work with community leaders and representatives to ensure that records relating to their activities are preserved. They must seek, acquire, and catalog materials that reflect these communities’ unique perspectives and contributions. This outreach collects materials, fosters collaboration, builds relationships, and empowers communities to tell their stories.

In addition to acquiring materials, archivists are responsible for encouraging the use of archival research sources. This means making collections accessible and providing support and resources to facilitate research within underrepresented communities. Archivists must advocate for their communities, ensuring their records inform research, education, and the broader understanding of history.

Furthermore, forming community-based archives is a vital part of the effort to document and preserve diverse voices. These archives are often initiated and managed by members of the communities themselves. Archivists should support and collaborate with these community-based initiatives, providing guidance, resources, and assistance as needed. This approach empowers communities to take control of their narratives. It ensures that their histories are preserved in a manner that respects their values and priorities.

The Professional Field

In the broader field of archival practice, a commitment to diversity extends to archival education programs, professional organizations, and hiring institutions. Archivists recognize that diversity is not just about collecting materials but also about creating inclusive and anti-oppressive environments that encourage participation from people across the spectrum of experience.

Archival education programs must work to develop curricula that emphasize the importance of diversity in archival practice. This includes training archivists to recognize the biases and gaps in traditional collections and equipping them with the skills and knowledge to address these issues. Education programs should also encourage students to engage with underrepresented communities and promote the formation of community-based archives.

Professional organizations play a crucial role in advancing diversity in the field. They must work to create environments that are inclusive and supportive of all individuals. This includes efforts to recruit, retain, and support diverse communities of practice. Archivists from different backgrounds and experiences should be welcomed, valued, and allowed to contribute to the profession.

Hiring institutions must also consider diversity in their recruitment and retention practices. They should actively seek out and support candidates from diverse backgrounds, ensuring that the archival workforce reflects the richness of human experience. This goes beyond representation; it involves creating equitable work environments where all archivists feel valued and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and expertise.

Equitable Representation

Embracing diversity in archival work is a noble aspiration and a fundamental necessity. Archivists are the stewards of shared history, and their commitment to preserving the voices and stories of all people is central to their mission. Diversity is not just a matter of collecting records from underrepresented communities but engaging with them, supporting their efforts, and fostering an inclusive and anti-oppressive environment in the field. By embracing diversity, archivists ensure that the historical record truly encompasses the stories of all people rather than just those who wield power and influence.

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and Lucidea Press author is a regular blogger, and popular webinar presenter for Lucidea—provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts here.

Similar Posts

Leave a Comment

Comments are reviewed and must adhere to our comments policy.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This