ISU student shines light on underrepresented archivists
In a large warehouse off campus, you can find a collection of artifacts that tell the story of Illinois State’s 162-year history. The warehouse is home to the Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives, the University’s official repository for historic materials.
University Archivist April Anderson-Zorn oversees preservation of Illinois State history.
“I am tasked with collecting, preserving, and making accessible the history of the University,” said Anderson-Zorn. “I advocate for the University’s history and continue to collect that history as we keep making it.”
Anderson-Zorn is diligent about making information available to the public while ensuring that all voices are heard. When she realized that there was a lack of online information about archivists from underrepresented groups, she felt troubled.
“I was not finding prominent archivists of color, LGBTQ archivists, or women archivists,” said Anderson-Zorn. “I was not seeing easy-to-find information on the internet, and in the age of the internet and linked data, I was mystified.”
Anderson-Zorn’s realization led her and Milner Library Special Collections cataloger Eric Willey to seek a grant from the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The SAA awarded a grant of $4,134 to Anderson-Zorn and Willey to hire a student for the 2019–2020 school year to create at least 15 Wikipedia articles promoting the achievements of archivists from underrepresented groups. As one of the most consistently accessed websites in the world, Wikipedia was chosen to meet their goal.
Graduate student Stephanie Collier was hired to work on the SAA grant. A history student, Collier has long been interested in the study and preservation of history.
“I’ve always loved history and I’ve always loved studying,” said Collier. “When you learn about history, you learn about the big people like presidents and politicians. Doing archival work, you get to learn about the importance of everyday people.”
Since starting the position this fall, Collier has worked her way through a list of underrepresented archivists. She has posted Wikipedia articles that chronicle the achievements of archivists such as Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Brenda Banks, Sara Dunlap Jackson, and Kathleen D. Roe, but she has faced her share of challenges along the way.
“There have been times where I’ve really had to dig for information to find out who these people are and what they have done,” said Collier. “Working on Wikipedia articles, you can’t interview people or rely on your own research; it has to be published research.”
However, the biggest challenge Collier has faced has been the process of posting to Wikipedia. “Sometimes, I’ll write a lot on a person, and then Wikipedia will say that they aren’t noteworthy enough. That’s really disheartening.”
“We’re asking the moderators of Wikipedia to know what an archivist is, and some of them really don’t know,” said Anderson-Zorn. “We’re at the mercy of Wikipedia and that can be frustrating.”
Despite obstacles, Anderson-Zorn and Collier have remained committed to advancing the public awareness of underrepresented archivists and the archival profession as a whole.
“Archivists of color are not getting the same recognition for doing the same work or for doing even greater work sometimes,” said Collier. “I hope that through this grant, those individuals are getting the attention and the recognition that they deserve.”
Anderson-Zorn is thankful for the SAA grant, but admits that her conviction would have led her to pursue this project regardless.
“It’s really important that we get this information out there; we fight to make sure that all voices are heard,” said Anderson-Zorn. “That’s always our goal, and this is one of the ways to do it.”