Devor Wilson – Question 5
5What radical idea or change would you like archival institutions, archivists and librarians, and/or users of archives to adopt?
Professor of Sociology, Founder and Academic Director of the Transgender Archives – University of Victoria
Director of Special Collections and University Archivist – University of Victoria
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Barriers to access are a significant concern if radical archives are to maintain relationships with radical communities. There are some aspect of access that pose particular barriers to trans* people wishing to access the Transgender Archives.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Many archival and rare-book departments within academic institutions do not have the same hours as the circulating collection and, like the Transgender Archives, are only open 8:30 to 4:30 from Monday to Friday. For many people, these hours are a barrier. We hold these materials in trust for trans* communities and we see our role as that of respectful custodians. As such, we see it as our responsibility to ensure maximum access is compatible with realistic preservation efforts.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Access to non-circulating materials requires patrons to register as readers. To register, they must provide an identity document, typically a photo I.D.; however, trans* individuals may not have a photo I.D., or a photo I.D. that matches their current gender expression. Patron registration also generally involves the collection of basic personal information. However, some trans* people may feel unsafe providing this information—even though access and privacy legislation protect this information from unauthorized access and use—or intimidated by the process. Patron registration is a long-held institutional procedure, and any change would involve a discussion at the Library’s administrative level.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Access to materials containing sensitive personal information requires users to sign a research agreement identifying the files or items they wish to view. A research agreement asks for personal information, so that potential follow-up can be made with the patron to verify that identifying information from the documents is not disclosed. Some trans* people may feel this requirement to be an intrusion, especially if their I.D. does not properly reflect their gender expression. Again, this is a long-held practice, not only at the University of Victoria but at most archives and rare-book libraries. Removing such processes would be a radical act. Thus, would-be radical institutions need to explore ways to find a balance between legal restrictions and access.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 We recognize that as the Transgender Archives has grown, we have centralized a significant amount of material in one geographic location, thus removing it from its geographic and social context of creation. Such relocation activity will always impede access by segments of society. Given that the Transgender Archives is located at the University of Victoria, geographically isolated on Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada, physical access to the holdings is limited to those who live in the area or can afford to travel for research. Today, there is also a great desire for unrestricted access to digital information, especially among trans* people, because of the anonymity desired by some trans* people and afforded by the Internet. To partially mitigate the barriers described above, our goal is to digitize as much of the collection as we can. However, it may not be possible for libraries to satisfy users’ desires for digital surrogates, due to the costs associated with digitization, or because of copyright, privacy, or other restrictions stipulated by law, by donors, or by the archives. It is also worth noting that access to physical items allows for an in-depth research experience that technology cannot fully replicate.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 One final change we would like to see archives address has to do with the vocabularies that facilitate discovery. Library of Congress cataloging subject headings, such as “transvestism” and “transsexualism,” may not reflect current norms, whereas more current terms such as “transgender,” “trans*,” or “genderqueer” are not commonly used. Institutions need to explore further the development of local taxonomies and vocabularies. At the University of Victoria, we have a very robust digital-humanities research community, which provides us with greater opportunities to develop partnerships with faculty and go beyond standard archival description and library cataloging, to develop linked data projects and other information-rich resources for users.