Staff Perspective: On Archives and Community Engagement

Photo by Eli Pousson

I work in Special Collections at Langsdale and I’m being honest when I say that I love what I do. It’s my job to help make archives more accessible to students, researchers, and local communities through digital initiatives. Sharing really cool stuff from the stacks of the archives means using my creativity and engaging the historical imaginations of others. But the work of digital collections is behind the scenes work, and serving digital content to online audiences can lack the kind of face to face dialogue that generates new ideas.

That’s why I’m so grateful to be working on an oral history project in Station North this spring that allows me to represent the library and engage with local artists and community members to record their histories. The contributions of the people I’ve interviewed so far are tremendous, and their willingness to share their stories continues to amaze me. As an archivist, my job is to collect, describe, preserve, and provide access to unique materials. As an archivist actively collecting oral histories, this project of asking questions and listening very closely to the answers is teaching me about memory, engagement, community, and the process of meaning-making. It is learning through dialogue.

As much as I look to the web to learn and communicate, there is truly no substitute for face to face interaction. The process of going out and asking people to share their histories is challenging and potentially transformative, because it connects me to people and places, past and present, in ways I might otherwise miss. It also connects the archives to people and places, past and present. Is meaning-making a legitimate archival endeavor? I’m all ears.

Aiden Faust

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