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Equitable Archival Practice at Kennedy Library

Research Question

How does Cal Poly’s Special Collections and Archives function as a site for capturing collective memories? How can Cal Poly’s Special Collections and Archives work toward a more heightened level of intersectionality and inclusivity?

Background

Special Collections and Archives (SC&A) at Kennedy Library is located on the 4th Floor of Kennedy Library, in room 409, on Cal Poly’s campus. SC&A is host to a range of historical documents, photographs, manuscripts, and artist books, San Luis Obispo police ledgers, Cal Poly yearbooks, student newspapers, and more. The Archives are open to the public and provide research help to those looking to understand more about the collections hosted in our repository. The University Archives was established in 1978 as the official repository for the historical records of Cal Poly.

Special Collections and Archives is split between two three central collecting areas: The University Archives and Special Collections, and published materials. The University Archives is composed of collections centered around campus organizations, the six colleges on campus, and past presidents of Cal Poly. The collections within University Archives include ASI Student Organization Records, International Center Records, Records of the Pride Center, Student Newspapers and Periodicals, and Yearbooks and Annuals, among others. Special Collections is composed of collections that have been donated or received by the Special Collections and Archives department and published materials. These collections have a much larger scope and feature materials and sources of people and organizations who have ties to the Central Coast community. This includes the papers of Julia Morgan, the Luther Eskijian Architectural Collection, the Louis Family papers, Records of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, and more. The published materials include books, serials, maps, and prints. These three collections, existing under the name of Special Collections and Archives, comprise the vast majority of the materials contained within the university repository. The materials included in these collections are reviewed and chosen by the archivists at work in Special Collections and Archives as to whether or not they fit into the broader scope of Kennedy Library’s repository. This reviewing process is important to keep in mind, as we look to understand what the process of archiving (verb) looks like on Cal Poly’s campus and on the Central Coast.

Intentions and Stakeholders

The intention of crafting this guide is to develop a living document to be utilized by those who work with and collaborate with Special Collections and Archives. This includes employees of SC&A, researchers, and community members. As a predominantly white institution, Cal Poly is included in the litany of institutions of higher education that have upheld and perpetuated the racist barriers within the American education system and society, more broadly. Grounded in Critical Archive Studies, Critical Race Theory, and the variety of tools I have gained from completing the Ethnic Studies senior project series, I hope this guide provides context and understanding to the issues we must collectively face as a university and as a discipline.

Repositories like Special Collections and Archives are part of the active struggle in recognizing how influential the remembrance of the past is for our present day. Archives play an active role in the discussion surrounding how ideologies and certain epistemological approaches to shaping the narratives of our nation’s history is vast. As identified by Andrew Flinn (2011), built on the works of scholars like Benedict Anderson (1983) and Stuart Hall (2000), “archives and the histories that are made from them play an important role in the forming and supporting of collective memory and community identification” (p. 5). There is a constant feedback loop developed by the relationship between archives and history. By retaining certain histories, archives are playing an active role in the future histories that are shaped. Thus, as this guide dives deeper into the importance of Critical Archival Studies and the rehabilitative power of concepts like the community and reparative archives, my hope is to find new ways to approach the remembrance of histories on the Central Coast in an attempt to make Cal Poly and Special Collections and Archives a more holistic, intersectional, and loving place. 

Resources

Flinn, A. 2011. “Archival Activism: Independent and Community-led Archives, Radical Public History and the Heritage Professions.” InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 7(2). Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/9pt2490x.

Access to both Special Collections and University Archives is available at: https://oac.cdlib.org/institutions/California+Polytechnic+State+University+-+San+Luis+Obispo