Tuesday, June 28, 2016

RBMS conference | part two

Thursday | June 23
8:30 am. Transgressing the Norm: Community Archives, Activism, and Human Rights — This "short papers" session was a must-see for me, decided as soon as I first read the conference program. Moderated, very well, by Jocelyn Karlan (Villa I Tatti, Harvard), with all NON-east coast presenters: Marika Cifor (PhD candidate at UCLA), Melissa Hubbard (Case Western), and Mario Ramirez (PhD candidate at UCLA, author of that "Critique of Whiteness" article in the American Archivist last fall that ruffled so many feathers).
  • Cifor was up first, discussing Visual AIDS, an organization that supports HIV+ artists, advocates for awareness of the ongoing AIDS epidemic, and works to preserve the legacies of individual artists affected by AIDS/HIV. One interesting point she made was about the oddness of the nostalgia cycle (that's my phrase, not hers), how on the one hand there's this resurgence of late 1980s / early 1990s style and aesthetics right now, while on the other hand, everyone acts like AIDS is over. Which it is not, btw. (For example, think about Keith Haring: you can buy a million different products with his squiggly graffiti-style figures...but the kid wearing that backpack or those sneakers might have no idea who Keith Haring is, let alone his connection to AIDS or AIDS activism.) Further readings and recommendations from Cifor include: the NYPL exhibit Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism (2013-2014, curated by Jason Baumann, one of my former Pratt professors), and an article about rukus! (a black LGBT organization in the U.K.) featured in the "Special Section on Queer Archives" in the Fall 2009 issue of Archivaria (#68).
  • Melissa Hubbard spoke next, on "Documenting Police Violence in Cleveland." And it kind of walloped me. I had forgotten how much of this recent history has happened in Cleveland. (It is getting harder for me remember all of the names of the people killed by police lately... and in the time between attending this conference and writing about it, that list has grown.) She began with some names: Tamir Rice. Tanisha Anderson. Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell. If you don't recognize them, go to Google and what you'll find will confirm the next thing Hubbard said. Which is that Special Collections and Wikipedia both have a problem with "notability." Alive, these human persons, these people of color, weren't "noteworthy." But their deaths were worthy of news stories, lawsuits, trials, hashtags. (And even then, sometimes their own names were erased, and the story became #BreloTrial or #BreloVerdict.)  ...So. I don't really know how to wrap my mind around the entire falling domino effect of systemic failures that lead us to this moment, right now, in America. But here we are. And here's one good thing: A People's Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland (PAPVC). Hubbard pointed out that this is a project born of Twitter, entirely crowd-funded and volunteer-supported, existing outside of any institution. I saw a little sliver of hope in this. In the idea that archives can survive in the wild, so to speak, without waiting for some big university or virtuous donor to swoop in and rescue them. (In fact, community archives may have a lot to lose if they are subsumed by a powerful external entity.) Hubbard said: we don't need the institutions to do this work. But we do need archivists to do this work. The technical skills, the organizational knowledge, the experience, the will to do the work — that's what the value of our profession is. It was like, in my brain, suddenly, cartoon rays of light! There can be some other position, somewhere in this debate we seem stuck in, as a profession, about activism and social justice versus the impossible ideal of neutrality... I don't think I can yet articulate it well. But I had the kernel of an idea. About the archivist as an individual, with agency and identity, separate from the archivist as job title, as a form of employment, or set of credentials. Like, I don't know, if you're a medical doctor, that becomes who you are, right? Even when you're not on the clock. If you happen to encounter a choking man at a restaurant, or the aftermath of a car accident on the street or something, you wouldn't be like "Oh, I'm not a doctor here, I'm only a doctor in the emergency room at Springfield General on weekdays from nine to five, sorry."
  • I was curious about Mario Ramirez, just because of the article, and I wanted to see him in person.

    10:45 am. Moving on to something lighter: Capturing the Web: Web Archiving in Cultural Heritage Institutions — A seminar session, with Jason Kovari (Cornell) as moderator and panelist, Kristen Yarmey (U of Scranton), Christie Peterson (George Washington U), and Jackie Dooley (OCLC).

    • In terms of tools and activities, some basic factors to consider: the complexity of the site(s), the scale / frequency of web-crawls, the level and type of IT support or infrastructure (in-house?), and managing the division of labor or assignment of responsibilities between 1) curation, 2) capture, 3) QA, 4) discovery, and 5) preservation. 
    • Things commonly used: Heritrix (browser-based web crawler), the Wayback Machine (discovery and access of archived websites), and the WARC data standard (aka Web ARChive format, based on Arc file format), and Archive-It (a subscription service for web archiving). Yes, all of these were developed and are maintained by The Internet Archive.

    1:15 pm. Tour: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

    4:00 pm
    . Plenary Two: A Broad and Deep Look at Outreach — Moderated by Erika Dowell (Indiana U), with great speakers: Sarah Werner (internet intellectual), Pellom McDaniels III (Emory), and Christoph Irmscher (Indiana).

    5:30 pm. University of Miami Reception

    RBMS part 1 | Tuesday-Wednesday | June 21-22
    RBMS part 3 | Friday | June 24 

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