On “routine and frankly boring” archival labour
There have been several high profile Twitter interventions lately on the question of archival “discoveries”. In a timely blog post on the language scholars use to (mis)characterise archival settings, Beth Doyle makes the very important point that the same language inevitably displaces the very real (and gendered) labour of archivists, labour that invariably underpins scholars’ work. She writes:
Why words matter
Look, I get it. Authors need to write compelling narratives and simply finding materials already described and housed in a library isn’t very interesting to most people. Story trumps details, which can get lost or worse willfully ignored. But herein lies the problem with using “from the bowels of special collections.” There is a lot of hidden labor in libraries and archives. People more eloquent than I have written about this issue. We talk a lot in Technical Services about how we can best tell our stories because what we do is often invisible to the public. Our day-to-day work isn’t sexy or glamorous. Most days are made up of very routine and frankly boring work (hello mold removal!). The work also takes its toll physically and often emotionally. Don’t even get me started on salaries in a female-dominated education-related profession. That is why it is hurtful when our work is ignored to make the story sound more miraculous than it is.
Read the full post in Preservation Underground from Duke University Libraries here.