Queer community archives in California since 1950

Wakimoto, Diana Kiyo (2012) Queer community archives in California since 1950. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Purpose: This study provides insight into the histories and current statuses of queer community archives in California and explores what the archives profession can learn from the queer community archives and archivists. Through the construction of histories of three community archives (GLBT Historical Society; Lavender Library, Archives, and Cultural Exchange of Sacramento, Inc.; and ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives), the study discovered why these independent, community-based archives were created, the issues that influenced their evolution, and the similarities and differences among them. Additionally, it compared the community archives to institutional archives which collect queer materials to explore the similarities and differences among the archives and determine possible implications for the archives profession.

Significance: The study contributes to the literature in several significant ways: it is the first in-depth comparative history of the queer community archives; it adds to the cross-disciplinary research in archives and history; it contributes to the current debates on the nature of the archives and the role of the professional archivist; and it has implications for changing archival practice.

Methodology: This study used social constructionism for epistemological positioning and new social history theory for theoretical framework. Information was gathered through seven oral history interviews with community archivists and volunteers and from materials in the archives’ collections. This evidence was used to construct the histories of the archives and determine their current statuses.

The institutional archives used in the comparisons are the: University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library; University of California, Santa Cruz’s Special Collections and University Archives; and San Francisco Public Library’s James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center. The collection policies, finding aids, and archival collections related to the queer communities at the institutional and community archives were compared to determine commonalities and differences among the archives.

Findings: The findings revealed striking similarities in the histories of the community archives and important implications for the archives’ survival and their relevancy to the archives profession. Each archives was started by an individual or small group collecting materials to preserve history that would otherwise have been lost as institutional archives were not collecting queer materials. These private collections grew and became the basis for the community archives. The community archives differ in their staffing models, circulation policies, and descriptive practices. The community archives have grown to incorporate more public programming functions than most institutional archives. While in the past, the community archives had little connection to institutional archives, today they have varying degrees of partnerships. However, the historical lack of collecting queer materials by institutional archives makes some members of the communities reluctant to donate materials to institutional archives or collaborate with them. All three queer community archives are currently managed by professionally trained and educated archivists and face financial issues impacting their continued survival. The similarities and differences between the community and institutional archives include differences in collection policies, language differences in the finding aids, and differing levels of relationships between the archives. However, they share similar sensitivity in the use of language in describing the queer communities and overlap in the types of materials collected.

Implications: This study supports previous research on community archives showing that communities take the preservation of history into their own hands when ignored by mainstream archives (Flinn, 2007; Flinn & Stevens, 2009; Nestle, 1990). Based on the study’s findings, institutional archivists could learn from their community archivist counterparts better ways to become involved in and relevant to the communities whose records they possess. This study also expands the understanding of history of the queer communities to include in-depth research into the archives which preserve and make available material for constructing history. Furthermore, this study supports reflective practice for archivists, especially in terms of descriptions used in finding aids. It also supports changes in graduate education for archives students to enable archivists in the United States to be more fully cognizant of community archives and able to engage in collaborative, international projects. Through this more activist role of the archivists, partnerships between the community and institutional archives would be built to establish more collaborative, respectful relationships with the communities in this post-custodial age of the archives (Stevens, Flinn, & Shepherd, 2010). Including community archives in discussions of archival practice and theory is one way of ensuring archives represent and serve a diversity of voices.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 53189
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Bruce, Christine, Hansen, Debra, & Partridge, Helen
Keywords: archival practice, archival theory, archives, California, community archives, GLBT, LGBT, LGBTIQ, oral history, queer community archives, queer history
Divisions: Past > Schools > Information Systems
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 17 Aug 2012 04:33
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015 02:05

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