Bridging the Gap Between University Archives and Diverse Publics with Digital Tools

Elise Chenier and Mary Corbett (Simon Fraser University)

Both oral history and LGBTQ archives have, since the early 1970s, served as tools to empower grass-roots, marginalized communities. As such, they have traditionally been driven by community-based imperatives, as well as community labour. Today, however, in the United States and Canada there are more LGBTQ collections housed in universities than there are in grass-roots archives. The Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony (ALOT) is one such archives. In this preliminary research presentation, I describe our current Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funded project, “Bridging the Gap,” which explores how empowering users by making them “first class entities in the system” might bridge the gap between community and university and democratize knowledge. We propose that analyses of forms of user engagement can guide the archives’ development, and in this way provide services, information, and tools relevant and useful to diverse communities, including especially everyday lesbians and queer women.

Elise Chenier is a Professor of History at Simon Fraser University and founder of the Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony. She has published articles based on her work in online digital archives in the Oral History Review, the Radical History Review, and the forthcoming edited collection Beyond Women’s Words. Her digital humanities work also includes, a visualization of the social scientific research process. Her current research examines how institutional archives can use digital tools to better serve diverse communities of users.

Mary Corbett is the Archivist for the Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony, which is supported by and operates out of Simon Fraser University Library’s Special Collections. She holds an MA in English Literature from Simon Fraser University and an MLIS from the University of British Columbia.