As the summer Archives Assistant hired through the Young Canada Works in Heritage Organizations program, my role has been to process archival collections and immerse myself in the archives by supporting the team in various tasks, attending archival events, and learning from my own encounters with the collections. As I approach the end of my contract, I have begun to reflect on some of the insights I’ve gained while working with collections, training to be an archivist, and being involved in GLAM institutions. Here are some of my reflections.
From Policy to Practice: Actively transforming representation in the archives
The first collection project I worked on was the Gay Alliance for Equality (GAE) Halifax fonds (also known as the Gay and Lesbian Association, or GALA, following a name change in 1988). The GAE founded Halifax’s Gayline and published the Gaezette, striving to provide services and resources for the gay and lesbian communities in Halifax. They also supported the community through the formation of social club events, primarily held at their own bar Rumours (formerly the Turret), organized conferences and supported gay rights lobbying in the Atlantic region.This project was a relatively small but significant collection that was a high priority because the East and Atlantic region are in need of more representation in the archive. I found this project especially rewarding not only because it was my first project at The ArQuives, but also because I was able to actively build upon an existing gap in the collection and enact the well thought-out revisions to collection policy made by the team at the beginning of the year.
The mind of an archivist
Working with the small team of archivists, it has been fascinating to realize that even though we strive for consistent, regimented order by following RAD standards, archivists are nonetheless unique individuals that develop a nuanced relationship to the collections. In my case, I processed the Atlantic region content in our collection, which means that my knowledge of the history of national gay and lesbian alliance groups has become very specific to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. I have also gained a specific knowledge of strategies towards sexual orientation amendment in provincial human rights codes and the Canadian Human Rights Act, especially the work led by the New Brunswick Coalition for Human Rights Reform and their correspondence on a national goal with Les McAfee (whose records I also processed this summer).
My work at The ArQuives has been full of exciting encounters with underrepresented histories and has shown me that not only are archives themselves unique and alluring houses, but that archivists are equally banks of knowledge that hold the keys to valuable intellectual connections and insights from records.