Curating for Belonging
Posted on November 12, 2021
One of the goals of the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) is to develop and expand collections to be representative of the William & Mary community, the local community, and the global community. Places like the SCRC can be intimidating, particularly if someone has not visited, researched in, or worked with archives before. However, our staff want students, faculty, staff, and researchers from around the world to feel welcome and experience a sense of belonging when they search for and use our materials. We’re actively engaged in efforts to make sure users feel like they belong both in our research facility and our collections.
Each summer, William & Mary Libraries’ librarians and archivists meet with new faculty on campus to share library resources for their courses and personal research topics. Upon arrival on campus in August 2019, now former Visiting Assistant Professor of English and American Studies Scott Challener reached out to Special Collections staff to see how we could customize an instruction session for his Latinx Literatures and Cultures course. Special Collections Exhibits Manager Jennie Davy met with Professor Challener to discuss the new course, and he shared his syllabus that divided the course into nine subjects focused on Latinx cultures and themes. Jennie reviewed our Rare Books, Manuscripts, and University Archives collections, and found that our holdings only included four relevant texts, all of which were recent acquisitions. Much of our Latinx collecting had previously focused on historical and artists’ books produced in Latin American countries, rather than including the experiences of Latinx individuals residing in the U.S. Recognizing this obvious gap in our collections, Jennie and Professor Challener discussed what materials would best work for the course topic as well as fit in with our collection development plan. Ultimately, we decided to focus on acquiring zines—self-published works, released in small editions—written by Latinx authors.
Shayna Gutcho, W&M Libraries’ 2019-2020 Mosaic Fellow in Special Collections, worked to identify Latinx zines for our soon to be established Zine Collection. As much as possible we tried to acquire directly from the artists through their own online stores, or DIY marketplaces like Etsy, in following with the ideals put forward by the Zine Librarians Code of Ethics. Adding zines to the collections was a low-cost and high-impact means of trying to represent Latinx and other marginalized voices that have traditionally been left out of books and other media produced by mainstream publishers. Zines, as Shayna explained in a blog post for the SCRC, allow creators to represent their cultures and identities in their own words, which forms a powerful contrast to the historical records that have so often documented Latinx people as “Others,” or as people outside of a white cisgender population.
While the pandemic hampered our ability for students to be able to directly engage with our materials in-person from Spring 2020 through Summer 2021, both Shayna and Jennie were able to share examples from our zine collection with Latinx Lit students through Zoom and digitization of selected zines. Jennie has been particularly touched by the words of affirmation from the Latinx Lit students about how important and relatable these zines are to them. One student was moved by reading an issue of La Horchata Arts Magazine in our collection as she had not previously encountered a text written by someone like her—a Latinx author of Central American heritage—in her courses at William & Mary before. Not only did the class result in stronger, more representative collections in our archives, but many of Professor Challener’s students chose to create zines for their final projects and donate a copy to Special Collections, meaning that now their work and voices are represented in the collections as well.
Belonging is an ongoing goal for our archives, and our aim is to have collections that support and reflect the research and interests of students, faculty, staff, and the world. Inspired by these efforts, the Special Collections staff started a new tradition of offering graduating SCRC student assistants the opportunity to choose a zine for the SCRC to purchase and add to our Zine Collection in their honor. This has become a special and beloved tradition and has resulted in the acquisition of zines relating to a variety of topics and experiences, including life during a pandemic, mental health, queer identity, and college life. It’s one small effort with a lasting mark on belonging.