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“Why archive?” and Other Important Questions Asked by Occupiers

Evans, Siân; Perricci, Anna L.; Roberts, Amy

As the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement began to take shape in Zuccotti Park—also known as Liberty Square—in New York City, an archives working group formed as a collective interested in preserving the physical and digital documents created by activists in the movement. Members of the Archives Working Group (AWG) were faced with a unique set of challenges, as well as the opportunity to address these challenges in an independent, non-hierarchical, non-institutional setting. Consensus-based decision-making drove the actions of the group, but competing visions also needed to be reconciled. Some of the most common questions about the role and function of archives required explanation, both within and beyond the working group. The desire and need to interact with the archives’ creators was integral to the establishment of the OWS AWG's collection. Managing relationships with any set of living donors is inherently complicated, and the occupiers we found ourselves working with represented a dynamic group of content creators and contributors. Activists ask a lot of questions. By definition activists are challenging the status quo. As members of the AWG, we were asked a lot of very valid questions including: “What is an archive? Is there a difference between art and archives?” “What are you collecting?” “Who will have access to what you are collecting?” “Where is this stuff going to be kept?” “Are you trying to collect all the archives produced in the movement?” “Why collect this?” and “Why not this?” “What do archivists do and why?” “Why should archives matter to people in the movement?” These questions and how we answered them serve as the foundation for this chapter. We will elaborate on our answers to activists’ questions and put forth an analysis of archival theory as related to some of the questions with especially complex implications. The formation of a digital archive also brought up some issues that are beyond those most relevant to the discussion of management of and access to analog archives. Part of this essay is dedicated to the ways in which we addressed these particular concerns. We will conclude with lessons learned in the process of creating a collection of physical and digital archives coming out of Occupy Wall Street in 2011-2012.

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Also Published In

Informed Agitation: Library and Information Skills in Social Justice Movements and Beyond
Library Juice Press

More About This Work

Academic Units
Libraries and Information Services
Published Here
April 15, 2014