Leslie Van Veen Mcroberts and Bethany Anderson 2017-05-03 14:07:53
In her oral history interview and memoir, Margaret Cross Norton—the first state archivist of Illinois and the fourth president of SAA—noted that in 1939 “I was the only woman archivist in the country for many years.” (1) In reality, Norton was not the only woman archivist at that time, but her remembrance of the solitude of her gender speaks to the few numbers of women archivists in the profession shortly after the founding of SAA in 1936. Since the World War II-era, however, the number of women archivists in the US has significantly increased. In 1936, women were 28 percent of SAA’s initial 226 members; in 1956, women comprised 33 percent of the profession, 54 percent in 1982, and in the 2004 A*CENSUS survey, this number increased to nearly 65 percent. (2) Assuming this trend has continued, women are now more than half of the archival profession. The Woman Archivists Section As the number of women archivists has grown, so too did the need to monitor the status of women in the profession, promote their involvement in SAA leadership and activities, and provide a forum for discussion of issues that specifically impact women as professional archivists. In 1972, SAA created the ad hoc Committee on the Status of Women in the Archival Profession. Over the years, the committee underwent several name changes—from the Women’s Professional Archival Issues Roundtable (WPAIR) in 1998 to the Women Archivists Roundtable (WAR) in 2000, to its current name, the Women Archivists Section (WArS) in 2017. Like its earlier incarnations, WarS continues to actively monitor the status of women and advocate for their involvement in the archival profession, looking toward the future while highlighting the past accomplishments of women who have shaped the profession and the historical record. An important reason we kept the “r” in our name was precisely so we could cement the link to our past as we continue to build upon the work of the WARriors who came before us (well, and so that we can continue calling WarS members “WARriors”!). Wikipedia and Gender WarS has worked to engage members in a number of issues that affect women archivists—family leave, salary negotiation, and flexible working hours, to name a few. The steering committee has also sought to highlight women leaders past and present to remember those voices which have shaped archival praxis and the profession. WarS conducts interviews with women leaders as part of its “Three Questions” blog series, but the section has long sought to promote the history of women archivists. Who were these women? How could we find out more about them? We gleaned some information from SAA and other sources such as NARA’s Women’s History Month blog series on Prologue. We then turned to Wikipedia. Although one of the most referenced resources on the web, Wikipedia has a serious gender problem. Not only are most contributors men (at most only 16 percent of editors are women (4)), but many articles represent women differently than men, tending to use more gender-specific words despite Wikipedia’s efforts to dissuade the use of language that perpetuates gendered stereotypes in its articles. (5) In addition, most biographical articles in Wikipedia are about men; in January 2015, only 15.5 percent of Wikipedia’s biographical articles represented women. (6) Despite being more than half of the archival professional, women archivists are overwhelmingly underrepresented in Wikipedia. From a preliminary count in early 2016, approximately 50 articles about women archivists are in Wikipedia, compared to approximately 260 articles about men archivists. For specifically American archivists, those numbers dwindle to 15 for women and 93 for men. Representation also included only a small percentage of women archivists currently active in the field and women of color. The then-Women Archivists Roundtable steering committee wondered how we could remedy this. This was where a few good WARriors could come in! The Making of an Edit-a-Thon WarS decided to host a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the 2016 SAA Annual Meeting in Atlanta. We found a wealth of resources on how to host and organize an edit-a-thon on “WikiWomen events,” including Art + Feminism—a day-long, international edit-a-thon event to create more articles in Wikipedia on women and the arts and to encourage more women to edit. We also gleaned a great deal of guidance from the GLAM-Wiki initiative, which promotes the sharing of resources from cultural heritage institutions (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) through Wikipedia editing and article creation. We created a Wikipedia meetup page where we aggregated editing resources and tutorials (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup_Women_Archivists_Roundtable_Edit-a-thon). In addition, we created a list of articles about women archivists already in Wikipedia so participants could suggest candidates for enhancement. Wikipedia provides guidelines for writing biographies of living people—outlining policies on using neutral points of view, verifiability, and no original research—which we also included. The steering committee sent out a Google form to members to crowdsource suggestions of names for article creation as well as existing articles that could be improved. We received nearly 30 suggestions; in addition, we encouraged participants to add suggestions directly to the meetup page and to bring more ideas to the edit-a-thon. Thirty participants attended the meeting in Atlanta, in addition to at least five remote participants. We were grateful for several experienced Wikipedians (Greta Suiter, Dominic Byrd-McDevitt, and Michael Barera) who volunteered their time and shared their expertise at the edit-a-thon to help register new Wikipedia editors and field questions. To ensure that remote participants could contribute, the steering committee prepared guidelines specifically for remote contributors ahead of time, while steering committee member Helen Kim provided online assistance via Twitter. Some participants worked to improve existing articles, adding the categories “Fellows of the Society of American Archivists” and “female archivists.” Other participants worked on creating new articles, resulting in 18 new articles for women archivists such as Brenda Banks, consultant, known for her work at the Georgia Archives, and an SAA Fellow and past president (1995–96) ; Virginia C. Purdy, an archivist and historian at NARA, SAA Fellow, and editor of The American Archivist (1978–80); and Joan Warnow-Blewett, associate director of the Center for the History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics, SAA Council member (1986–89), and known for her studies on scientific collaboration and recordkeeping practices. View the full list of articles created at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup_Women_Archivists_Roundtable_Edit-a-thon#Articles_Created. Promoting Histories of Women Archivists The Women Archivists Section is grateful to all the WARriors at the SAA Annual Meeting who contributed their time and expertise to create and improve new articles about women archivists, and we hope members will continue writing, editing, and promoting the histories of the women archivists—in Wikipedia and other spaces—who have shaped the archival record. We can now readily access the biographies of Margaret Cross Norton’s contemporaries, including Margaret M. H. Finch, who managed the pension records at the Department of the Interior and later worked at NARA before retiring in 1949, and Elizabeth Hamer Kegan, Assistant Librarian of Congress (1963–78) and president of SAA (1975–76). In the early days of the American archival profession, women archivists may have been few and far between, but as the Women Archivists Section looks toward the future, it will continue to promote and amplify the voices of those who have worked to build the foundations of the profession, so that no woman feels she is an island. Notes (1) “Norton, Margaret Cross - Interview and Memoir,” The Oral history Collection of the University of Illinois at Springfield, accessed January 7, 2017, http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/ref/collection/uis/id/3368; cited on the Women Archivists Section blog, https://womenarchivistsroundtable.wordpress.com/about/. (2) Michele Pacifico, “Founding Mothers: Women in the Society of American Archivists, 1936-1972,” The American Archivist (Summer 1987), 370; Victoria Irons Walch, et al. “ACENSUS (Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States),” The American Archivist* (Fall/Winter, vol. 69): 348. (3) “WARriors” is term coined by former steering committee member Christine Anne George, which we adopted and use to greet members of the section. (4) Benjamin Mako Hill and Aaron Shaw, “The Wikipedia Gender Gap Revisited: Characterizing Survey Response Bias with Propensity Score Estimation,” PloS One 8 (2013), accessed January 5, 2017, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0065782. (5) Rick Paulas, “Closing Wikipedia’s Gender Gap,” Pacific Standard (2016), accessed January 5, 2017, https://psmag.com/closing-wikipedias-gender-gap-1f02b247beba#.z0b94i3vn. (6) “Wikipedia: Writing about women,” Wikipedia, accessed January 7, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Writing_about_women.
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