In June 2021, Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) held their 46th Annual Conference with the theme “Home Improvement: Building Archives through Change.” The virtual conference asked archivists to consider the subject of “home” in its many manifestations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, archivists pivoted to working from home and raised questions regarding accessibility and meeting the needs of the communities we serve.
Over 100 speakers from across Canada, the United States and Australia presented on a range of topics from Pandemic Pivots to Black history and memory. MONOVA sent its archives team to the conference. Read on to hear their impressions and observations of how we can improve archives!
Jessica Bushey, Archivist
This year, I presented in a panel session on Pandemic Pivot: Taking Archival Services & Programming Online. The panel included Genevieve Weber and Kim Gough from the Royal British Columbia Museum & Archives (RBCM) and Krista McCracken from the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.
You may recall how quickly MONOVA pivoted in Spring 2020 to provide virtual archives reference services, launch online exhibitions utilizing archival photographs & oral histories and develop virtual events that engaged audiences of all ages with north shore culture and history.
To demonstrate our commitment to providing services and supporting our community throughout the pandemic, I shared video clips from MONOVA’s #NorthVanStories – Living History program.
To demonstrate our commitment to increasing virtual access to archival collections throughout the pandemic, I shared the recent exhibition of Neal Carter’s interactive photography album of 1920s mountaineering in the Coast Mountains and video clips from “Karl Ricker & Glenn Woodsworth in Conversation on Neal Carter” live Q&A event.
166 people attended the panel session. Many of the archivists who contacted me afterwards expressed interest in learning more about the resources needed to create online content, especially video production and editing costs.
It is clear that the pandemic has amplified the importance of the online environment to provide remote access to archival collections and engage our communities in meaningful ways. It also makes evident the need for institutional support for archivists to acquire the training and additional resources to develop and sustain online content creation and remote reference service delivery beyond the duration of the pandemic.
Daien Ide, Reference Historian
Archives are not quiet places. They are noisy sites of activism, decolonization, ‘radical empathy’, and disruption. They are places to challenge whose records are kept, whose stories are told and whose perspectives are valued.
This is my second year attending the ACA 2021 Conference. Each session began with land acknowledgements by speakers as well as acknowledgement of the tragic discovery of 215 children who died at (what is currently referred to as) the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The identities of these children remain unknown for many reasons. Specific to archival institutions is the ongoing domination of “colonial ways of knowing” that interfere with making archival records available and accessible.
Archives are places of memory and yet they contain huge gaps and silences that lead to a sanitization of history where injustices of racial and gender inequality are obscured. Dr. Cheryl Thompson, Assistant Professor at Ryerson University, presented in the panel session Black Archives Matter in which she painted a picture of trying to find herself in archival records and the difficulties she encountered when researching members of the Black community in 19th century Toronto, Canada. Dr. Thompson discovered that to find a ‘Black body’ in the archives, she had to find a ’White body’ first and that only through their relationship, could the other be found.
Dr. Thompson is one of three Black scholars in Canada brought together for the session Black Archives Matter, with a moderator also from the Black community. None of them had met before, which highlighted the isolation and loneliness that each addressed in their research on Black communities. As a person of colour, I recognize those feelings of isolation. Because of this, the bond I experience with archival records that I find myself represented in, is all the more profound.
Archives are also places of trauma. As an archivist, it is common to work with grieving researchers and donors. The ACA 2021 Conference session Towards Acknowledging the Emotions in Archives discussed the topic of mental health in archival work. The presenters talked about how painful discoveries in the archives can trigger emotions and lead to secondary trauma, and/or a researcher may be having an emotional response to these findings.
These discussions of trauma raise a number of questions: How do archivists take care of researchers and their own mental health? How does the workplace support archivists working with traumatic archival materials?
Some archivists who work in community archives will inevitably find themselves talking about sensitive subjects, or describing racist records, or listening to stories of sexual abuse.
Archives as collections of records and as institutions for research, continue to be sites of struggle to bring injustices of the past to light. A result of these discussions is that some archivists are actively pursuing better policies and descriptive practices along with new access tools and technology.
Ultimately, our best hope as a profession is to work with the most adversely impacted members of society; to help them find answers, create strong identities and healthier communities. If archival practices can be informed by collaborative and co-creative processes, perhaps then, healing and positive change will be possible.
Christine Hagemoen, Archives Technician
This year’s ACA 2021 Conference was, once again, presented online, so I was able to attend two sessions: Stories We Tell: Narratives of Inclusion and Pandemic Pivot: Taking Archival Services & Programming Online.
As part of the MONOVA Archives team, I was involved with our own “pandemic pivot” and I was really interested to hear how other institutions took their archival services and programming online.
The main takeaway from this session is that archival institutions need a way of making archives’ more accessible to those who would not come out to archives’ events or engage with archives’ programming regardless of a pandemic or lockdown. As one senior’s home attendee to a Royal BC Museum & Archives (RBCM) online event earlier this year stated: “we don’t have to fear missing out because we have the world coming to us”. Online services and programming are here to stay, and the pandemic pivot has given archivists a crash course in how to achieve that.
The second session I attended, Stories We Tell: Narratives of Inclusion, could have easily been titled: Stories We Don’t Tell. The issue of inclusion is currently at the forefront in the archival profession and rightly so. Usually the most “popular” and traditional (colonial) archival content is the most accessible, but that doesn’t represent the actual breadth of content that exists or is available in archival repositories. Some groups or cultures get left behind because of public bias, institutional bias, and availability. As one presenter commented, “who you are, determines how you read the evidence in archives”.
Archivists and the institutions they work within need to identify the blind spots in existing cultural heritage systems and processes for acquiring, managing, preserving and making accessible archival records.
For more on the Association of Canadian Archivists, check out their website: https://archivists.ca/
We rely on contributions, monthly or one-time gifts, to help MONOVA safeguard and expand our community’s archival and museum collections, build learning experiences and inspire future generations.
Donations are accepted through the Friends of the North Vancouver Museum & Archives Society, Registered Charity No. 89031 1772 RR0001.
We respectfully acknowledge that MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver is located on the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, whose ancestors have lived here for countless generations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work and learn with them on unceded Coast Salish Territory.