Natalie Baur, Christian Kelleher, And Francine Snyder 2015-07-29 11:05:07
It started innocently enough. “I just got back from this great study trip in Budapest . . .” “It’s interesting how much you can learn by visiting their repositories . . .” “There should be something like this for archivists . . .” “I worked with a community archives in Rwanda . . .” “The different perspectives really make you think about processes . . .” “I have a lot of contacts in Ecuador. . .” Conversation can inspire ideas. Ideas can spur action. Last year, conversations led to the founding of the Itinerant Archivists. The initial idea started during down time at the 2014 Archives Leadership Institute. At various times during the week, three of us—Natalie Baur, Christian Kelleher, and Francine Snyder—would chat about archives, internationalism, community, and collaboration. We began to recognize a theme in our talks: How do we encourage more international archival conversation? How do we interact with communities beyond our own? The week ended. Yet the conversation, instead of fading as we returned to our everyday lives, maintained a life of its own via email and Google Hangouts. Then, the obvious was spoken: Would it be possible to create a pilot project independently, just to see if it would work? If there is no international exchange program, maybe someone needs to develop it. And maybe that someone is us. That’s how we founded Itinerant Archivists, an independent, grassroots group, with the sole purpose of promoting and encouraging international archival peer-to-peer exchange. Building On the Past Ideas don’t come from thin air. The Society of American Archivists has a rich history of foreign study programs. From 1972 to the early 1980s, the SAA International Archival Affairs Committee offered expansive programs abroad. These programs were intensive, with participants visiting several archival repositories in multiple countries over the course of several weeks. Announcements and tour summaries are detailed thoroughly in past issues of The American Archivist. If it has been done before, it could be done again. 2015 Pilot Project After acknowledging how fantastic SAA’s past trips were (More than twenty repositories! Six or more countries! Three weeks of traveling!), we turned our resources to developing a small, realistic pilot project to test our ideas. Primarily, we needed to determine when, where, and how. To maximize our chances for success, we developed building blocks for the pilot project: • Realistic and manageable goals • Build on our existing international contacts • Maximize impact by collaborating with preexisting programs Small Is Good: Realistic and Manageable Goals Given the grassroots nature of the project, the success is based on our and others personal time and resources. Therefore, to stack fortune in our favor, small is good. Our goals, whether it be meetings in Cleveland or travel abroad, need to reflect our resources and time. National meetings could be more inclusive; international travel needs to be a smaller, self-funded group. Ecuador: Building On Our Existing International Contacts Ecuador was selected as the pilot project because of the opportunities and connections we had there. Over the past several years, Baur built an extensive network of librarians and archivists in Ecuador. One of her primary contacts, Jorge Yépez, archivist at the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and professor of archival sciences at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, has been instrumental in spearheading dialogue within Ecuador and expressed an interest in expanding internationally through hosting a symposium or workshop. Around the same time, Kelleher met Judy Blankenship, a recent Fulbright recipient who is working on the Archivo Cultural de Cañar, a community archive project in Ecuador. Their conversations gave light to possible collaborations among the Itinerant Archivists and the communities in Quito and Cañar to expand their projects. Ecuador became the perfect partner. Existing Programs: Maximize Impact Through Collaboration To make the discussion as large as possible, we looked for opportunities to join programming nationally at SAA’s Annual Meeting as well as internationally with Ecuadorian programs. Peer-to Peer Exchange at the SAA Annual Meeting in Cleveland At the SAA Annual Meeting in Cleveland, we are collaborating with the International Archival Affairs Roundtable (IAART) and the Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage Archives (LACCHA) Roundtable to host a discussion and presentation at their joint roundtable meeting on Wednesday, August 19, from 5–7 p.m. Yépez and Blankenship will join as guests of honor, giving an opportunity for SAA attendees to learn more about archives and practices in Ecuador and for archives professionals to discuss outreach and challenges on a global scale. All are welcome to attend. Quito Symposium/Workshop A small group of archivists will travel to Ecuador this fall to continue the peer-to-peer exchange. Working with Ecuadorian archivists, we’ll participate in a half-day international symposium or workshop (the final agenda is still being determined). Archivists in neighboring cities and countries will also be encouraged to attend. Yépez elaborates on the motivation behind the symposium and the need for an international dialogue: Ecuadorian archives have experienced significant progress in the last decade, however, the efforts made by the public and private sector have not been sufficient, and there are still many challenges associated with access to information, control and protection of personal data, societal use of information, and the preservation of documentary heritage, due in large part to the inadequate conditions in most Ecuadorian archival institutions. This has motivated me to provide my contribution from my academic and professional backgrounds to promote developing Ecuador’s archives and, in this way, it has been necessary to research best practices in more developed countries and to promote the exchange of experiences and professional collaboration with colleagues from other regions and perspectives. Building Community Archives, the Cañar Project After the symposium, archivists will travel to Cañar to meet Blankenship and assist in her work with community archives. We’ll discuss models for community outreach, information sharing, and the needs of a small nonarchival community documenting itself. Blankenship writes about her project and our collaboration: The Archivo Cultural de Cañar is a community archives project in a highland province in south Ecuador. With a large indigenous population, the Cañari, and a market town that serves the region, the archives will include photo collections from the glass plate negatives of a traditional town photographer, Danish anthropologists, and Peace Corps volunteers who worked in the region forty years ago, as well as sound recordings, oral histories, documents, and some video. I am a photographer and writer who has known the area for more than twenty years and lived here the past ten years. While we have a wealth of materials for the digital archive, the actual work of implementing software and creating metadata has yet to be done. For this I am looking for advice, assistance, and inspiration, which I anticipate will come from two important events in 2015: attending the SAA Annual Meeting in August and a visit from a group of “itinerant archivists” to Cañar in September. Anticipating Outcomes We’re at an exciting part of this project; we’re hopeful of the results that will come from months of planning and our anticipated projects. We’ll ask participants to share what they have learned through tweets, blogs, and articles and to look for opportunities to continue their engagement with Ecuador as well as how such work can be done with other communities. Join Us at SAA and Beyond! As archivists, we know that vast amounts of information are only available in person. They cannot be accessed or researched virtually or online. Such is also true for cultural exchange. Our worlds are as vast and varied as we allow them to be. In the words of artist Robert Rauschenberg: “One of the questions that I remember the answer to was, ‘What is your greatest fear?’ and I said, ‘That I might run out of world.’” Join us! Important Dates SAA’s LACCHA and IAART Joint Meeting: August 19, 2015, 5–7 p.m. Ecuador trip: September 27– October 4, 2015 Learn more about the projects: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-4I-K_EIVh5TXllYjBwckt6QVU/
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