Fellow Reflection: Cat Phan

Cat Phan

This reflection was provided by Cat Phan (@phancat), Digital Archivist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cat attended the Forum with support from and ARL+DLF Forum Fellowship

It is hard to untie my reflections on last November’s DLF Forum from that of the pre-, during, and post-election environment that we now find ourselves in. It wasn’t easy being away from home during such an emotionally charged election but it gave me perspective on my own filtered bubble that I live in. During the Forum, I very much felt appreciation for the DLF’s centering of social justice as a core principle in its mission. I think it’s needed now more than ever and although there is so much more to be done, it felt safer to be in a community that is striving to advance social justice as an explicit part of its mission.

This was evident in the selection of the keynote speakers for both the Forum and its related events. Although I did not attend the Liberal Arts Colleges Pre-Conference, I took advantage of the recording to watch Jarrett Drake’s keynote, “Documenting Dissent in the Contemporary College Archive”. This powerful talk set the stage with a challenge to liberate the archives. Framed around the question of whether an institutional archive should document student protests and activism that critique or otherwise implicate the college, Drake contested the claim that the function of a liberal arts college is to uphold critical thinking and civic engagement and posited that instead, the evidence shows that their—and their archives—implicit function is to work toward upholding and replicating systems and structures of inequality. Drake called on the archives to recognize this implicit function and to do the work to disrupt it.

Stacie Williams’ Forum keynote, “All Labor Is Local” takes up the theme that I have found throughout my DLF experiences—that our work isn’t about technology but about people. Williams asserts that care work is the beam that underpins all of labor as we know it, yet remains the most invisible. She calls on our profession to recognize that we have cared more for the things we have in our collection and less on the people that labored to produce them or could be impacted by them. Further, Williams challenges us to embrace a care ethic in critically assessing ourselves and our organizations—are we providing care in our policies and actions? What can we do to integrate care into our organizations?

My time at the Forum was an odd transitional time for me professionally. I was finishing up my last days as Metadata Librarian and would soon start as the Digital Archivist for my institution’s archives. In this tumultuous climate, Jarrett and Stacie’s talks have provided a strong, people-driven center from which to start my career in the archives.

I am grateful for the support of the ARL + DLF Forum fellowships and the other DLF actions that demonstrate its commitment to work toward its mission to be a diverse, and inclusive community of practitioners. There is lots of work to be done but this community gives hope that there are those willing to work for it.

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