Inspiration in the Most Unlikely of Places

The last month or so I’ve been feeling a little ho-hum professionally.  With my less than stellar ALA Annual experience and my library’s city experiencing some painful budget cuts (aka a decrease in our programming and staffing), I was feeling un-inspired.  I was feeling like I wasn’t doing enough.  I was wondering what is the next step now that I’ve gotten this full-time job and that goal has been accomplished.

While those goals aren’t still entirely clear, one thing is for sure.  I have started to figure it out, slowly but surely, and all thanks to the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting in San Diego.  I was invited to speak by my APALA Colleague and author of Filipinos in Carson and the South Bay, Florante Ibanez, on the panel, Asian and Pacific Islanders (API) Creating Diverse and Collaborative Community Archival Methods.  The panel included some really stellar presentations by UCLA PhD Candidate Ellen-Rae Cachola and CSU Channel Islands librarian and author of Filipinos in Ventura County author, Elnora Tayag.  Having presented on a panel with Ellie at ALA Annual, I was more familiar with her presentation.  I had no idea what to expect from Ellen-Rae, though, and I have to admit that her ideas about archiving landscapes really inspired me.  And also put ideas of a PhD back into my head, but I think I’ll keep that on the back burner for a little while longer until I can really work out my research focuses and what I would do with a PhD.

The audience was engaging and one gentleman came up to me with a question afterwards about how I felt about “western institutions” working with indigenous populations to preserve their community.  I told him that it was a hard question to answer because the librarian in me wants to say that it would be a great union, but the librarian/person of color in my knows that these unions usually do not work out in favor of the indigenous population.  Unfortunately, I was being pulled away from the conversation and the gentleman left, because I really mulled over his question for the rest of the day.  In short, I think the stance I would take is that its fine to work with a more western institution if there is a member of the indigenous population who can navigate the channels of bureaucracy for the community, keeping the best interests of the community at heart.  There is a lot more to say on this topic and gray areas, of course, but today I really got to hear some excellent, re-affirming perspectives on indigenous archiving, expanding and affirming my ideas of the role of unions such as these and other issues in the field.  Like looking for non-western means.  Archiving through talk story.  Archiving through music and dance.  And accepting the fact that some things are not meant to be preserved or archived.  They are meant to disappear when their usefulness is done.

One archivist I met worked with the Australian Aboriginal population and told us a story about an item that was preserved but really shouldn’t have been.  The item was made to be placed on an individual’s grave and then basically disintegrate and go back into the Earth.  But, someone took one and now it is preserved in a museum.  It is an artifact that really shouldn’t exist if you are respecting the community’s beliefs and rituals.  How does a culture that wants to preserve every tid-bit reconcile this and learn to let-go?

And that’s one of the problems with indigenous communities and western institutions in general, I feel.  There isn’t the idea of working together.  Of respect and understanding.  It’s more of a my way or the highway approach.  And we wonder why people of color, particularly people who are indigenous, don’t pursue academia and libraries and these super-western professions.  It feels like its going against ingrained beliefs at times.

Which brings me to my other inspiration.  I had the privilege of meeting an MLIS Kanaka from the UH Manoa program.  We had a mutual 3rd party friend Facebook introduction and we got to talking and I think we decided (or he decided and I jumped on board) that we need to work on creating a network of the few Native Hawaiians in the profession.  We are few and far between, but he told me that there has been an influx in their program and they are starting a student association of sorts.  We need to make it big.  We need to encourage these students coming in to publish and present and put themselves out there and make themselves and the work they’re doing known.  It’s a great opportunity and I hope that we can make these kinds of things happen in the near future.

And, my last bit of inspiration, meeting all of these wonderful people and listening to the work they’ve been doing, is that I decided that I need to do more.  I need to really work more with (for starters) the LA Native Hawaiian community and use my professional interests and skills to benefit them.  I have ideas circling about reading rooms and early literacy promotions and archiving to the best of my abilities.  Thankfully, I now have resources that I can utilize if I have questions or get lost of fear that I’m treading on unstable ground.  Now, let’s just see how far I can get and what I can do.

Thank You, Society of American Archivists for an inspiring conference!

(And, btw, this panel went much more smoothly than the ALA one… No fire drills, and I felt like I did the topic and my fellow panelists justice)


2 thoughts on “Inspiration in the Most Unlikely of Places

  1. Awesome Lessa! I think you’ll find Ramesh Srinivasan’s writings of great interest in this area. His course, Information Services for Culturally Diverse Populations, was by far my favorite at UCLA. I may still have the syllabus if you’d like to see the reading list. Also, I have many of the actual articles in my files. Too many vitally important ideas to ever discard. He co-wrote a few papers with our cohort, Katie Shilton, as well. Libraries as catalysts for social change; Indigenous peoples and new media; Rethinking the public sphere… Great stuff leading to great questions, begetting the very small beginnings of a handful of solutions. Exciting & frustrating. You’ll love it!

    • Thanks, Danica! Ramesh’s research is very interesting. I’d be really interested to go back to the tribe and see how they felt about the work he did there and such too to see how the insiders worked with the outsider from the insider perspective.

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