Archives of dissent, food for thoughts!

(Note: cross-posted on Free Government Information) In September, I had the good fortune to attend a most interesting panel discussion held at UC Berkeley's Free Movement Speech Cafe (which just so happens to be in the UCB's Moffitt Library!) called Archives of Dissent. The panel was part of a week-long series of Bay Area events called The Great Rehearsal commemorating the 40th anniversary of the uprisings and worldwide upheavals of 1968, their impacts and legacies. Archives of Dissent brought together librarians, curators, oral historians, conservators, publishers, academics, and others working to prevent the loss and erasure of radical voices, events and movements of both the past and the present.

The panel included:

  • Lincoln Cushing (19:35), independent librarian and Docs Populi archivist. The first 10 minutes of the presentation are images from Lincoln's collection of radical posters.
  • Julie Herrada (28:20), Labadie Collection Librarian, University of Michigan, curator of a “1968″ special exhibit, and good radical reference buddy. The Labadie Collection is an internationally renowned archive of social protest materials.
  • Kalim Smith (41:25), UC Berkeley doctoral student in anthropology and folklore, researching the preservation of Native American languages threatened with extinction.
  • Megan Shaw Prelinger & Rick Prelinger (50:08), Co-founders of the appropriation-friendly Prelinger Library in San Francisco

What does this have to do with government information you say? in many aspects, govt documents collections fall within the context of cultural archives, govt documents librarians by and large have the same radical political passion about govt information as professional and lay archivists, and the myriad issues and opportunities of digitization and the transformation of physical collections discussed in terms of archives parallel (and in many respects are predated by) those same opportunities and issues of govt information collections.

What were the main themes of the panel? (I'm in full Rumsfeld mode :-) ). All of the speakers had great things to say about needing willpower to build collections -- especially those of social movements that aren't necessarily well-funded -- building archives that are situated within and expound on cultural contexts, the importance of preservation, the politicization of access, DIY archivism, information ecologies, archives as battlegrounds, etc.

The most challenging for me (and therefore the most interesting) was Kalim Smith's talk. Kalim is an Anthropology PhD student at UCB. He talked passionately about extinction, loss and erasure of native languages. He surmised that the efforts to revitalize/preserve native languages might have the effect of re-colonizing them; that writing down, or archiving those languages, takes them out of the very context in which they grew and thrived. To think about this in terms of archives and libraries, the very act of preservation outside of context in which the materials were created, is potentially damaging. That's certainly a thought bomb that has reverberated in my mind.

Please take some time to watch this panel of most engaging folks. You'll be glad you did!