Margo Padilla manages services, programs, and initiatives related to archiving and born-digital stewardship for the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). She serves as the primary contact with archives in the METRO region and designs and implements archives-related services in Studio599. Before joining METRO in 2014, she was a resident in the inaugural cohort of the National Digital Stewardship Residency program. Prior to that, she worked at The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley on digital projects and initiatives. Margo received her MLIS with a concentration in Management, Digitization, and Preservation of Cultural Heritage and Records from San Jose State University and her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley.
As a first-time attendee at the DLF Forum, I was immediately struck by the diverse group of individuals that were pulled together and the welcoming environment that was created by organizers. It felt like a space where everyone could be their authentic self and speak honestly about their experiences. This provided an opportunity to engage in impactful conversations and generated an elevated awareness on a number of different topics. It felt like a particularly critical time to be in such an environment, when long-held professional practices, methods for representation in memory organizations, and workplace and labor issues are being challenged and beginning to shift.
The sessions that drew my interest were those focused on community archives. Through my own work with independent memory projects, I have observed a rejection of mainstream archival institutions and practices. Traditional archives are, in most cases, perceived as being part of the ivory tower of academia and inaccessible to marginalized groups, a place where their stories are interpreted through the lens of white culture. In the Community Archives: New Theories of Time, Access, Community, and Agency session, panelists explained that community archives are creating a space where individuals can document their own histories and ensure collections are given the right context. While there is the desire to increase representation in traditional archival collections, the panel encouraged the audience to respect the autonomy of community archives and instead seek ways to empower independent memory workers through equitable partnerships. The support, collaboration, and autonomy fostered in digital scholarship labs is one potential model for how we can transform use of traditional archival reading rooms, changing them to learning environments where memory workers are invited to develop skills to steward their own collections. Two notable projects in this area are the Community Archives Lab at UCLA and the Southern Historical Collection’s Community-Driven Archives.
While there is the desire to increase representation in traditional archival collections, the panel encouraged the audience to respect the autonomy of community archives and instead seek ways to empower independent memory workers through equitable partnerships.
I reflected further on the perception of institutional archives during Jennifer Ferretti’s talk on the Building Community and Solidarity: Disrupting Exploitative Labor Practices in Libraries and Archives panel. In addition to pointing out the lack of POC in management and leadership roles, Ferretti called for an end to “fit culture” within LAMs which, as she pointed out, implicitly expects POC to leave their culture at the door in order to fit within the dominant white culture of the profession. As we explore issues of representation in our collections and how we might collaborate with community-based archives, we must also continue to do the work and take action to address representation within our own profession. Independent memory workers’ mistrust of traditional archives and their perception of themselves as outsiders may correlate with the absence of representation on LAM staff, an issue that may be compounded by perceiving those few POC that are in administrative roles as having to modify their identities in order to be the “right fit” for the organization.
As we explore issues of representation in our collections and how we might collaborate with community-based archives, we must also continue to do the work and take action to address representation within our own profession.
Attending the DLF Forum was a distinct conference experience and I am so grateful for the generous support that enabled me to attend a conference where involuted issues like these could be candidly discussed. I’m particularly grateful that the DLF recognizes the need to support mid-career professionals as we continue to expand our knowledge and develop our careers.
Want to know more about the DLF Forum Fellowship Program? Check out last year’s call for applications.
If you’d like to get involved with the scholarship committee for the 2019 Forum (October 13-16, 2019 in Tampa, FL), sign up to join the Planning Committee now! More information about 2019 fellowships will be posted in late spring.