In Spring 2017, the University of California Irvine (UCI) Libraries were awarded a 3-year Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant in the community anchors category for “Transforming Knowledge/Transforming Libraries” (TKTL). Our research team (Audra Eagle Yun, Jimmy Zavala, Krystal Tribbett, and Thuy Vo Dang) sought to explore how libraries can fill the gap between calls to diversify the historical record and actually diversifying the profession through student-led action research. The project design for TKTL is rooted in the social justice imperatives and theoretical frameworks of community-based archives and ethnic studies, arguing that together these frameworks can transform the historical record and how we learn about our history. Working with people who identify with members of marginalized communities was central to our approach to the TKTL research project.
For this grant we partnered with the UCI departments of African American Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, and Asian American Studies. Overall, the research team collaborated with 12 different faculty members from the ethnic studies departments at UC Irvine for the project and hosted a total of 18 workshops. In some cases, the research team collaborated more than once with a faculty member for the same course. Over 700 students participated in the project, including 718 students completing an entrance survey; 686 participating in an in-class workshop; 418 completing an exit survey; and 30 students participating in an intensive summer cohort experiential learning opportunity.
Our qualitative and quantitative research findings illustrate why it is vital to teach students about archives and libraries as undergraduate students. Teaching at an earlier point in the collegiate experience makes students aware of the importance of libraries and archives, helps students understand the impact they can have in shaping their own narratives, and fosters critical thinking by empowering students to challenge the exclusion they might face in mainstream archival institutions and historical narratives.
The themes that emerged from our research provide key insights into the outcomes of student engagement with library, archives, and community building, as well as affective responses to the experience of students seeing (or not seeing) themselves in the archives. We discovered patterns and divergences in the personal, social, and cultural observations of community archives work by all involved in community-centered work. The data analysis, along with the novel approach of community-centered archives partnerships, articulates how participatory, student-centered approaches in building community-centered archives can transform engagement between ethnic studies, community-based archives, and libraries.