The information work of community archives: a systematic literature review

DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/JD-07-2019-0140
Publication Date13 Mar 2020
Pages657-687
AuthorAlex H. Poole
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
The information work of
community archives: a systematic
literature review
Alex H. Poole
College of Computing and Informatics, Drexel University, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, USA
Abstract
Purpose This paper scrutinizes the scholarship on community archivesinformation work. Community
archives and archiving projects represent unprecedentedly democraticvenues for information work centering
on essential documentary concepts such as custody, collection development and appraisal, processing,
arrangement and description,organization, representation and naming, collaboration, resource generation and
allocation, activism and social justice, preservation, reuse, and sustainability.
Design/methodology/approach Unearthed through databases searches, citation chaining, and browsing,
sources examined include peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and book chapters published in the English
language between 1985 and 2018.
Findings The literature on community archivesinformation work shows considerable geographical (six
continents), topical, and (inter)disciplinary variety. This paper first explores scholarsefforts to define both
community and community archives. Second, it unpacks the ways in which community archives include new
stakeholders and new record types and formats even as they leverage alternative archival principles and
practices. Third, it discusses community archives as political venues for empowerment, activism, and social
justice work. Fourth, this paper delves into the benefits and challenges of partnerships and collaborations
with mainstream institutions. Fifth, it documents the obstacles community archives face: not only tensions
within and among communities, but also sustainability concerns. Finally, it sets forth six directions for future
research.
Originality/value This paper is the first systematic review of the community archives literature.
Keywords Communities, Archives, Records management, Information science and documentation,
Knowledge organizations, History, Documentation, Information organizations
Paper type Literature review
The archive is first the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements
as unique events. But the archive is also that which determines that all these things said do not
accumulate endlessly in an amorphous mass, nor are they inscribed in an unbroken linearity, nor do
they disappear at the mercy of chance external accidents; but they are grouped together in distinct
figures, composed together in accordance with multiple relations, maintained or blurred in
accordance with specific regularities. Foucault (1982), p. 129.
Effective democratization can always be measured by this essential criterion: the participation in and
the access to the archive, its constitution, and its interpretation. Derrida (1996),p.4.
Introduction
Information work constitutes the infrastructure for getting things done (Corbin and Strauss,
1985;Hogan and Palmer, 2006;Huvila,2008,2009;Star and Strauss, 1999). Community archives
represent unprecedentedly democratic, if always contested, venues for everyday interactive
information work. Both social and individual, this dynamic, pu rposeful, reflective, ongoing, but
often invisible work underpins archival actions and activities such as custody, collection
development and appraisal, processing, arrangement and description, organization,
representation and naming, collaboration, resource generation and allocation, activism and
social justice, preservation, reuse, and sustainability.
Information
work of
community
archives
657
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
https://www.emerald.com/insight/0022-0418.htm
Received 11 July 2019
Revised 3 December 2019
Accepted 13 December 2019
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 76 No. 3, 2020
pp. 657-687
© Emerald Publishing Limited
0022-0418
DOI 10.1108/JD-07-2019-0140
Community archives puncture common misconceptions of archives as objective and
neutral; further, they enable the challenging of archives as long-standing bastions of
governmental and bureaucratic power, authority, and control (Derrida, 1996;Foucault, 1980;
Gilliland, 2014). As grassroots tools of individual and collective identity, education, and
empowerment,community archivesinformation work confrontsand combats legal and extra-
legal discrimination, repression, subordination, marginalization, and injustice flowing from
imbricated white supremacy and racism, ableism, neoliberalism, heteronormativity,
homophobia, patriarchy, misogyny, internal and external colonialism, segregation, forced
assimilation, human rights injustices, and genocide.
The term community archivesdebuted in the US literature as early as 1942 (in Library
Journal), but community archives as institutions picked up broader public and academic
traction only in the 1960s and 1970s, propelled by the rise of social movements (e.g. civil
rights, feminism, lesbians and gays, workers) and social history, oral history, public history,
and folklore studies (Flinn, 2007;Mander, 2009;Sheffield, 2017). Not only did early
community archives underline their organizational independence from mainstream heritage
institutions, but they also embraced nontraditional record formats such as oral history; their
content, moreover, augured a corrective to mainstream institutionscollections (Gilliland and
Flinn, 2013). Perhaps most important, community archivesmaterials provided evidence of
oppression and facilitated social justice claims and campaigns (Flinn and Alexander, 2015).
Community archivesgrowth and increasing visibility in the late twentieth century
aligned with surging interest in personal and family history, increased awareness of and
frustration with absences in and biases of the historical record, oppressed groupsfear of
losing their identity or of (further) marginalization as well as their claims for recognition and
reparations, demographic, economic, and social changes resulting from deindustrialization
and migration, increased public funding for local projects, and eventually the advent of the
Web and its democratic promise (Flinn, 2010,2007). Some scholars lobbied for community
involvement in archival practices, for more diverse documentary formats, and for greater
exploration of the relationships among archives, identity, and memory (Paschild, 2012).
In the 2010s, the riseof community archives seemed salutaryto some in the profession but
inauspicious to others (Gilliland and Flinn, 2013). Subsequent scholars saw community
archiving as nascent yet flourishing, a means by which potentially to profit from new
methodological approaches and to enlist broader and more diverse audiences (Caswell et al.,
2016;Cifor et al.,2018;Moore, 2016;Sheffield, 2017). According to Collins Shortall (2016),
The archivalprofession, havingfor many years viewed communityarchives with suspicion,is
now being encouraged to embrace itscommunity activists and to acknowledge their specialist
role in preservingtheir own documentary heritage(p.145). Scholarlyhype and countervailing
skepticismseem likely to persist, but in any case,community archives can scarcelybe ignored.
Both synthesisand analysis, this systematicreview underlines therichness and complexity
of community archives scholarship (Petticrew and Roberts, 2006). Sources examined include
published English-language, peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and book chapters.
Commun*AND archiv*was used to search title and subject fields in fivedatabases; this
effort unearthed sources published between 1985 and 2018[1].InlinewithBatess (1989)
berrypicking model, citation chainingand browsing strategies were also employed.
This paper first explores scholarsefforts to define both community and community
archives and to tackle the challenges of representing communities on their own terms.
Second, it unpacks the ways in which community archives include new stakeholders and new
record types and formats even as they leverage alternative archival principles and practices.
Key principles and practices reconfigured by community archives work include custody,
collection development and appraisal, processing, and arrangement and description. Third,
this paper discusses community archives as political venues for empowerment, activism, and
social justice. Documentary gaps, social history, collective memory, affect and healing, place
JD
76,3
658

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