Diversity in Archives

July 14, 2016

Desiree Alaniz

SLIS Student Desiree Alaniz shares how Social Justice dovetails with Archives

Current LIS student Desiree Alaniz is the recipient of the 2016 Josephine Forman Scholarship, intended to promote diversity in the American archives profession by offering support to minority students pursuing archival science. In addition to her archives/history dual degree, Alaniz has been active in student groups on campus and in larger social justice issues, such as representation of LGBT communities and diversity in archives. We've asked Desiree a few questions about her time at Simmons SLIS, and her interest in archives.

How did you become involved in the archives profession?

While at UC Davis, writing my undergraduate thesis on the development of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement between 1945 and 1960, my faculty advisor suggested that I visit the university archives. I was immediately fascinated. The personal narratives were very powerful and connected me to a history of social protest in ways that were not possible just reading academic papers. Using and thinking about archival sources also enriched my research, and made me ask why I had not been introduced to archives earlier.

After graduating, I volunteered at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles. I knew I was interested in archives as a possible career path at that point, but it was processing and arranging a collection of donated papers that really brought home the important role that archivists play in making our collections relevant to potential users—and the ways that this can and should support social justice movements. I was hooked and started applying to graduate programs soon after.

Why is diversity vital for the archives profession?

I think it is important to be specific about what we mean when we talk about diversity, as a society and especially in archives. Archives and archivists are shaped by larger social systems of white supremacy and heterosexism, and we can uncritically perpetuate these oppressive systems in our daily interactions and in our professional standards. Addressing diversity is not just about adding more people or collections “not like us” to our existing ways of doing things; we as individuals and practitioners have the responsibility to acknowledge our roles in perpetuating or resisting the exclusion and misrepresentation of marginalized groups.

When we talk about diversity we really need to be talking about social justice, because true equity and self-representation of disempowered groups in archives requires that we work towards inclusion and a constellation of viewpoints in our collections and in our profession. From working with other students, I’ve seen the amazing contributions that people from varying backgrounds are making to how we understand archives. These contributions can enrich other fields, particularly education, women’s and ethnic studies programs. Given the role played by archives in social justice projects at Georgetown University with the Georgetown Slavery Archives or the People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland, archives are being utilized in ways that de-center archivists in the process and open new pathways for people to self-author their role in historical processes and events.

Any particular classes at SLIS that have been valuable?

I would like to highlight the incredible work being done by students and student groups on campus. Student groups like Students of Color at Simmons and the Progressive Librarians Guild have done amazing work in the last year with bringing anti-racism trainings to campus and facilitating space for students of color to develop social and professional networks.

The DERAIL Forum at Simmons was an entirely student-run conference that brought students together virtually and in-person to discuss the role of social justice in LIS and archives. Being able to connect with other students in Illinois and New York showcased the fact that students are front and center in the movements within LIS to address social justice and inclusion at all levels of our work. Students are working to create the spaces and conversations that we seek in the profession as a whole. The greater institutional and faculty support and acknowledgement of this has tremendous power to transform the environment on our campus—and address the heart of what “diversity” driven language and initiatives seeks to correct.