Disrupting Archival Education

This is the official video from the Australian Society of Archivists of my presentation on Engaging Expert Knowledge Outside the Profession which I renamed Disrupting Archival Education at the 2017 annual conference.

I spoke this presentation from very brief talking points which is a VBL (very big deal) for me as I have had to learn not to completely freak out about public speaking. This also means I do not have a script or transcript of this talk.

I intend to submit a publication about my ideas about Disrupting Archival Education to Archives & Manuscripts. Watch out for it! I am keen to hear from everyone about these ideas as it seems that there is some pushback from employers about various aspects of archival and LIS (Library and Information Science) education more broadly, as I saw at the recent RAILS conference in Adelaide.

One key sticking point for at least one employer was that they wanted the ability to hire people with grad certs and diplomas rather than those with Masters. The person couched this reasoning in the term “diversity” which was mortifying to hear. Diversity to me means hiring people from various backgrounds and understanding and identifying silences and silencing structures in the work we do (e.g. white supremacy). To hear diversity used as a reason to hire underqualified librarians (which is what I consider the grad certs and diplomas being) was appalling. Which brings me to the point of this blog post:

Appropriation of Criticality

It was not the first or last co-opting of terms to suit a different agenda. I also heard a simplisitic co-opting of the term ’emotional labour’ in a presentation. These instances raised several questions and issues for me (as well as made me angry as hell) about challenging people in a public forum. At ASA, RAILS and the Critical Archives conference I attended a couple of weeks ago I witnessed an appropriation of criticality which left me feeling very uncomfortable.

Broadly, appropriation and a general lack of understanding included:

  • head bobbing and general agreement at the notions of criticality being expressed but there is little or no evidence of actual change in the profession;
  • an acceptance of the meaning criticality but an absence of defining, explaining or interrogating it (there were some amazing exceptions);
  • expressions of paternalistic, and what I considered deeply troubling representation of marginalised peoples, that were couched in terms of partnered research.

I decided to be non-specific about where these incidents happened and perhaps this is the wrong thing to do. And so this brings me to what I can do as an audience member, professional, researcher, peer and concerned person in these situations.

Challenging Norms

I did sometimes ask questions of the presenter but I did not challenge them on their assumptions, their language, and their structural biases. What do I say that will not upset the people who are presenting? I don’t want to upset them. But maybe that is what has to be done? They are doing a job and trying to do it well. But it is also no excuse. This kind of research is perpetuating paternalistic, colonial, disempowering and racist systems and structures. In short, white supremacy. Its essential we challenge ourselves and each other in supported environments.

What is the solution? Mentoring. Real partnerships. Challenging your own assumptions. Understanding language and expression. Disrupting archival education. Disrupting ourselves.

I am not saying I am a perfect communicator and the video below is likely to reveal my own biases (I have not watched it yet). But I am working on changing and exploring what it is like to not judge, assume, dismiss and deny people their rights, autonomy, and culture through the systems I work within.