Advice from Social Movement Archivists

Earlier today, Temple University hosted a talk with a series of archivists and librarians about documenting and preserving social movements. Speakers included Bergis Jules (University of California Riverside Libraries), Meredith Evans (Washington University in St. Louis) and Ed Summers (Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities), who described their work archiving protest movements surrounding Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter, and Margery Sly and Justin Hill from Temple Libraries, who shared experiences from archiving Occupy Philly. It was a really rich discussion, covering pragmatics of data scraping tools as well as advice on how to build ties with communities whose lives are being preserved. Here are some highlights that I wanted to share!

  • Bergis Jules highlighted the accessibility of social media as a source for data, calling it “a new layer of documentation quality" that has “left an extremely rich trail of documentation in one of the most rich and accessible” platforms. Jules also noted that social media content can be used against protesters in prosecution, which is crucial to consider in policies of collection and access.
  • Ed Summers pointed to a number of tools for data scraping, including (which he noted grew out of a desire to document and build a tribute to Aaron Swartz), social feed manager, TAGS and Archive-It.
  • Meredith Evans gave a really compelling talk about the process of building a participatory archive to document Ferguson protests. Evans described tensions between academic librarianship and public librarianship, and noted the important work that had gone into developing and sustaining community trust in the process of developing archiving policies, for example, making it easy to donate content anonymously.
  • Margery Sly and Justin Hill described the process of finding an institutional home for the archival holdings of Occupy Philly. The process of finding a home for activist collections can be problematic because, as Margery noted, this often requires reconciling activist, anti-establishment politics with the institutional bureaucracy of academic libraries. Navigating access and description policies can be difficult, and there's room for partnerships between institutions housing collections from different branches of the same movement.

As a whole, this was a great collection of activists, librarians and archivists, really wonderful to see the different projects taking shape around archiving social movements.