The Case for Grassroots Archives
1) The social transformation we are working for is a long revolution – a process that requires the efforts of generations of activists.
2) Remembering and knowing about previous struggles strengthens us. We learn from past victories and defeats, from mistakes as well as from positive experiences. It is always good to know that we are linked to those who stood up for justice and freedom before us, and to those who will continue the work in the future.
3) Written materials and other physical records are tangible records of the history of social change movements. These materials are people’s history, and they play a valuable role in the “battle of memory.” It is important to preserve as much of this grassroots heritage as we can – and to make it available as widely as possible.
4) Official institutions, for the most part, are not much interested in preserving radical history. Those few which are interested face budget constraints that severely curtail their ability to make acquisitions or provide access to their collections.
5) Preserving the documentary history of grassroots movements has largely fallen to individuals and small organizations who have seen the importance of preventing this history from disappearing “down the memory hole.” Many of these collections are in danger of disappearing over the next few years.
6) We owe it to the future to take steps to secure these grassroots archives, and to make it possible for them to continue as living archives able to continue their work of preserving people’s history and making it available.
What can we do to give our archives a future?
7) The most pressing need for grassroots archives is space. We need space for:
8) Since grassroots archives document challenges and alternatives to the capitalist status quo, they have limited potential for securing government or private funding, especially in the current climate. Securing space likely depends on establishing partnerships with supportive institutions who see a value in having a people’s history archive within their walls, or on support from private individuals or foundations.
9) It is important that physical records be preserved even after they have been digitized. It may be worth pursuing options for donating grassroots collections to institutional archives after the materials in a collection have been digitized. This would allow grassroots archives to function in smaller spaces.
10) Grassroots archives, resource centres, and small independent libraries in various cities face similar problems related to space and survival. It could be fruitful for us to explore ways of co-operating, both within and between cities, for example by sharing space, infrastructure, and resources.
11) Archive locally, share globally. One way in which we could co-operate is co-ordinating and sharing the work of digitizing, cataloguing, and indexing. If our archives and resource centres share information about their collections and priorities, it could help us avoid duplication of effort while making our resources available to more users.
12) Co-operative archiving of each other’s websites and digital materials. While digital media, including the Internet, are valuable for sharing materials with large numbers of people, they are also uniquely fragile and transitory. Digital media, software, and file formats become obsolete or deteriorate very quickly. Websites disappear. One project we could undertake would be to set up a mutual archiving network whereby radical archives and websites archive each others’ websites and digital records in a systematic way so that there are multiple copies.
Create a network?
Can we take some practical steps now to co-operate on sharing information and resources, mutual archiving of each other’s websites, and co-ordinating digitization, cataloguing, and indexing?
Can we create a working group or network to work on ideas and initiatives for securing a future for grassroots archives? Connexions would be happy to help set up a network or working group.
Note: If you have a collection of social justice materials in your basement/locker, etc., and would like to participate in an exploration of co-operative archiving and/or searching for shared space, on donating them to an archive, please fill out this form and email it to Connexions.
Connexions was established in 1975 as a project to connect people working for justice with each other and with resources and information. The Connexions website www.connexions.org features a growing online library of more than 40,000 items, including articles, books, and periodicals, plus a systematic Subject Index which cross-links resources and helps users make connections. Connexions.org also offers a directory of activist groups and websites, an event calendar, the Connexipedia social justice encyclopedia, and the ‘Seeds of Fire’ People’s Chronology. The Connexions website receives more than 70,000 visitors a month.
Connexions also maintains the Connexions Archive, a physical archive of more than 150,000 documents spanning more than 50 years of grassroots activism. The materials in the collection are gradually being digitized.
Connexions is searching for a space to house the collection and those who work on it. Because Connexions is a very active project – a place where interns and volunteers come to scan, index, write, research, and translate – it needs a transit-accessible space able to accommodate both the physical collection and those who work on it. Connexions is interested in pursuing partnerships and networks with other grassroots archives and resource groups and supportive institutions.
Connexions welcomes volunteers. Areas of particular need are computer programming and website design, editing, typing, and of course help with securing space and fundraising. See www.connexions.org/Volunteer.htm
Selected Archive Projects
Archives & People’s History News - #
Librarians and Palestine (2013)
Archiving With May Day Rooms (2014)
The Great Book Robbery (2012)
Pages that have disappeared
Related topics and resources in the Connexions Subject Index
Archives/National – Book Burning – Book Preservation – Canadian History – Cultural Preservation – Destruction of Libraries and Archives – Digital Archiving – Digital Libraries – Heritage Conservation – Historical Records – History – History/Archives – History of Political Thought – Illustration Archives – Immigrant History – Information Destruction – Labour History – Left History– Libraries/Archives – Local History – Memory – Online Archives – Oral History – People’s History – Preservation – Women’s History – Workers’ History
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