#CloseTheLibrary: Cultural Heritage Workers Respond to Covid-19 [Week One]


It seems like a pretty fair guess to say that if you’re reading this post your life in the past ten days has been touched irrevocably in some way by the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. As I sit at my dining room table in Boston, it’s been eight days since my special collections library closed “until further notice” and three days since my wife was sent home with a laptop to work remotely. The city is quiet. Restaurants are only allowed to serve takeaway, the schools are closed at least until the end of April, the public transit system is running on a weekend service schedule, churches are holding remote services, our cultural heritage institutions — including the public library, art museums, symphony, city archive, and more — are appropriately closed in an effort to protect both staff and public from the community-wide risk of spreading the virus.

Many library and archives workers have struggled, over the past ten days, to get institutional support for a complete closure. I have watched this unfold on Twitter, where archivists and librarians shared stories of being told they required documented medical reasons to work from home, would be required to use their (limited) paid time off for any absences, would be required to report to work even when the building was closed to patrons — thus putting themselves and their communities at risk by commuting to and from the workplace –, or would simply be sent home without a job and/or health insurance. Across industries, we are seeing the ways in which inequity in job security, compensation, and benefits play out in moments of crisis even more egregiously than they do in moments of “normality.”

The situation is very fluid and the Concerned Archivists Alliance Organizers are keeping their eyes and ears out for ways to take action individually and collectively. Here are some of the stories, statements, and resources that have come across our dashboard in the last few days. 

Note: We will be updating this post with additional stories, statements, and resources through Friday 3/20. Please share in comments below, on Twitter at @concerned_arch, or email us at concernedarchivists@gmail.com if you have something you think should be added to this list.

Time-Sensitive Action Items

Archival Workers Emergency Fund. “We’re organizing support for contingent archival workers who may be affected by COVID-19, have limited workplace protections or sick time, and may suffer the loss of hours and income as institutions close, reduce hours, and move to remote work in response to the epidemic.” Please take their anonymous Contingent Archival Workers & COVID-19 Survey if you are eligible.

Tell Congress: Include Museums in COVID-19 Economic Relief” American Alliance of Museums

Other Links

Archivists at Home resource document. Started by the Accessibility & Disability Section.

As COVID-19 Threat Grows, Libraries Balance Patron Needs with Staff Safety and Containment” by Erin Freudenberger (Library Journal, 16 March 2020).

Close Your Library” editorial by Meredith Schwartz (Library Journal, 16 March 2020).

ALA Executive Board recommends closing libraries to the public.” ALA News (17 March 2020).

Academic Libraries and COVID-19” by ACRL Board of Directors (ACRL Insider, 18 March 2020).

SAA Council Statement on Impact of COVID-19 Health Crisis on Archives Workers.”

The Appeal has put together an interactive tool for tracking state and local government responses to the pandemic.

Image credit: Researchers in Ellis Hall, Massachusetts Historical Society. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Used with permission. 

NARA’s Alteration of Women’s March Images is Unethical

UPDATE 1/19/20: NARA has removed the altered image and issued an apology. We still feel there is value in articulating why, as colleagues in the field, we believe the original decision was unethical. The letter will remain available for signatures at this time.

UPDATE 1/23/20: Today, National Archivist David Ferriero has posted an apology and explanation of actions taken to repair the damage done:

Our action made it appear as if we did not understand the importance of our unique charge: as an archives, we must present materials – whether they are ours or not – without alteration; as a museum proudly celebrating the accomplishments of women, we should accurately present not silence the voices of women; and as a Federal agency serving the American public, we must incorporate non-partisanship into everything we do.

We recommend reading the post in full.

UPDATE 1/31/20: Today the Washington Post published a second story documenting the decision to avoid showing political dissent in the context of a public exhibition: “It wasn’t just the National Archives. The Library of Congress also balked at a Women’s March photo.” The CAA organizers are working on a second open letter which will be available for signatures as soon as we are in agreement on the final draft. 

Sign the letter here.

David S. Ferriero
National Archivist
The National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001

18 January 2020

Mr. Ferriero:

We, the undersigned library and archives workers, protest the actions taken by the National Archives and Records Administration, in altering photographs of the 2017 Women’s March where marchers displayed signs critical of President Donald J. Trump and his government’s policies, as described in the Washington Post story “National Archives exhibit blurs images critical of President Trump” (17 January 2020).

Your explanation for this action, given by Archives’ spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman, is that “as a non-partisan, non-political federal agency, we blurred references to the President’s name on some posters, so as not to engage in current political controversy … Modifying the image was an attempt on our part to keep the focus on the records.” This reasoning is offensive to the intellectual honesty and professional acumen of librarians and archivists across the country who collect, preserve, and make accessible to the public similarly sensitive material on a daily basis and without alteration or censorship. 

Our job as archivists is to preserve and present the documents that make up the historical record, not to alter them in order to appease a particular administration or authority. The actions of the National Archives in this instance are in direct contravention of the code of ethics codified by the Society of American Archivists which state: 

Archivists may not willfully alter, manipulate, or destroy data or records to conceal facts or distort evidence.

In altering the Women’s March image used as part of the exhibit Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote in such a way as to obscure the meaning of the protest action the images documented, NARA staff are in direct violation of their professional duties. As your colleagues, we reject the explanation offered by Miriam Kleiman as insufficient and call on the National Archives to replace the images in question with versions that have not had their content censored in order to make political protest appear apolitical. 

The signatories’ professional affiliations are for identification purposes only and are not intended to imply an endorsement by the institution.

Last updated 31 January 2020 at 6:00pm EST (UTC -5). 241 signatories.

Sign the letter here.


Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook, Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A Countway Library of Harvard Medical School / Medical Heritage Library, Inc.
Jessica Holden
Shannon Supple
Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Massachusetts Historical Society
Itza Carbajal, University of Texas
Kati Close
Meghan Bailey
Jessica Johnson, Archivist
Vani Natarajan
Jeremy Brett, Texas A&M University
Claudia Willett, ASU
Katherine Griffin, Massachusetts Historical Society
Rachel Foote
Alejandra Martinez
Daniel Golodner, Wayne State University
Jill Hyams, Archivist
Amy Tureen
Brigette Kamsler
Adrienne Pruitt
Dara Flinn
Faith Charlton
Pamela Hopkins
Joan Ilacqua
Logan Tapscott
Andrea Belair
Kate M
Sarah Regan
Josue Hurtado, Temple University
Genna Duplisea
Elizabeth England, Johns Hopkins University
Jessica Jones
Brynn White
Rosemarie Romano, Harriet Tubman Boosters
Christine Karatnytsky, Independent Rare Materials Librarian
Heather Williams
Erin Lawrimore
Ryan Hendrickson, Gotlieb Center, Boston University
Melissa Williams
Kit Messick, Getty Research Institute
Elizabeth Shulman, Durham County Library
Virginia Dowd, SAA
Laura O’Keefe, NYPL; NY Society Library (retired)
Alexandra Dolan-Mescal
Margaret Breidenbaugh, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
Nancy Taylor
Gabrielle Womack
Melissa Hubbard
Celeste Brewer
Ashley Blewer
Kristen Whitson
Cecily Marcus
Katheryn Bohlman, Yale University
Liam Sullivan
Susan Woodland, Archivist
Kellee Warren, University of Illinois – Chicago
Heather Carroll
Sarah Haug
Laurel Ullyette
Laura Starratt
Jonathan Farbowitz
Elizabeth Fox, Corporate Archivist
Millie Gonzalez
Kristy Sorensen, Austin Seminary Archives
Annalisa Moretti
Rachel Searcy, New York University
Matt Testa, Johns Hopkins University
Lara Maestro
Bruce Tennant, University of Maryland
Ryan Koons, CA, Maryland Folklife Archives
Brian Kelly
Laura Kitchings
Julia Tanenbaum, UCLA MLIS Student
Annemarie van Roessel
Dan Weltsch
Scott Carlson, ASU
Jan Hilley, Newark History Society
Mary Richardson
Nahali Croft
Bari Talley, Karuk Tribal Libraries Archives & Museum
Jill Goldstein
Rosemary Pearce, Retired School Librarian
Charlotte Lellman
Stephanie Bennett
Jodi Goodman
Katy Rawdon, Temple University
Heidi Butler
Jennifer Johnson
Isaac Newton Nyagbe
Claire Williams
Lindy Smith
Katherine Sorresso
Ana Roeschley
Elizabeth Howe
Christy Lau
Amy Belotti
Elizabeth Figueroa
Sarah Heim, Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Emily Minehart, Henry Crown & Co.
Ashley Levine, Concerned Archivists Alliance
Sheila Dickinson, Richmond Public Library
Michele Combs, Archivist
Courtney Dean
Kira Dietz
Katharina Hering
Ellen M. Ryan
Nancy Picchi, MSLIS, Retired
Ellen Belcher, Archives & Special Collections, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Sharon Farb
Kathy Short, Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh, PA
John Selvaggio
Marisol Ramos, Librarian, UCONN
Heather Klish
Sal Robinson
Camille Dee, Retired from NYPL
Patricia Salata
Eve Neiger, Yale University
Leonard Selvaggio
Kristin Kniffen-Streng
Emily Gonzalez, Cambridge Historical Commission
Margot Note, Margot Note Consulting LLC
Sharon Mizota
Paula Doty
Jessica Gengler
Maura Smale, NYC College of Technology, CUNY
Tova Johnson, Oregon Health &  Science University
Matthew B. Tepper, Consulting Musicologist
Mickey Belosi, NOW
Charles Morrow
Jenna Norris
Joan Carney, Concerned Citizen
Kim Schroeder
Marcus Robyns, Northern Michigan University
Jennifer Hale, Archivist
Sally Barkan, Archivist
Jenna Cooper
Karla Irwin
Phil Runkel, Marquette University
Gina Armstrong, Birmingham-Southern College
Sue Luftschein
Chris Prom, Archivist
Lisa Selvaggio Forgas
Elena Colón-Marrero
Meredith Steinfels
Patricia Glowinski, Archivist, New York, NY
Michelle Caswell, UCLA
Hailey Loman, Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (LACA)
Kristy Darby
Sarah Wade, Getty Research Institute
Saida Largaespada
Deborah Torres
Rachael Woody
Rachael Cristine, Consulting
Alexis Wong
Lori Lindberg, Archivist
Rachel Abrahams, UCLA
Michael Hunter
Amy Bedard
Kheir Fakhreldin, WBEZ & La Grange Park Public Library
Robert Munger, Just a Citizen
Pamela Vadakan, California State Library
Jonathan Maghen
Joanna Groberg, Georgetown University
Sean Parke, University of Hartford
Kate Melchior, Massachusetts Historical Society
John Zarrillo, New York University
Shannon O’Neill
Rachel E. Winston, UT Austin
Korey Martin
Shira Peltzman, UCLA Library
Annalise Berdini
Celeste Short
David Bliss, The University of Texas at Austin
Elizabeth McGorty, BNYDC
Danielle Nista
Kate Steffens, SJSU
Erin Hurley, California Historical Society
Penelope Neder-Muro, Archivist
Helen Kim, Getty Research Institute
Cheyenne Stradinger
Anna Duer
Melissa Shaw
Kelly Davis, Getty Research Institute
Sadie Groberg
Hannah Kemp-Severence
Lorain Wang, Getty Research Institute
Megan Sallabedra, Getty Research Institute
Christina Bean, Paper Conservator
Alexandra deGraffenreid, Penn State University
Cara Bertram
Patricia Delara
Asa Rubenstein
Jessica Steytler, Public Library of Brookline
Zayda Delgado
Raymond Markey Retired President, The New York Public Library Guild, Local 1930, AFSCME
Andria Hoy
Deborah Hefling, Cleveland Orchestra Archives
Peter Buettner
Mary Plazo, Akron Public Library
Geoffrey Skinner, Sonoma County Library
Daniel Axmacher
Dillon Thomas, Archivist at Virginia Commonwealth University
Lois Langham
Nicolita Garces
Debra Adams
Jerry Markey
Ju Sun Yi
Martha Nakajima, Indivisible
Mary Rinato Berman, ALA and NYLA
Frances Kaplan, California Historical Society
Jade Finlinson
Cassie Schmitt
Suzy Swanson
Samantha Marier
Margaret Asbury, Archivist (retired), University of Alaska Fairbanks
Martha E. Sainz, Adult Services Librarian, Public Library
Jona Whipple
Bill Henning, OPEIU Local 32
Joe Zeveloff
H. Thomas Hickerson, Past President of SAA
Steven Alcorta, Sonoma County Library
Mollyann Howe
Catherine Powell
Elizabeth Caringola
Stephanie DiChiara, Sayville Library
Grace Albert
Dana LaLonde
Dyani Feige, Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts
Kathleen Meleney
Mandy Moseley
Candace Ruusi
Ramona Rose, University of Northern British Columbia
Brandon Werts
Erin Louthen
Jenn Parent
Jennifer Johnson
Gina Nichols
Carlinthia Cox
Nancy Heywood
Sarah Bush, Sasaki
Barbara Austen, Connecticut State Library
Hilary Schroeder, Archivist

Sign the letter here.

Become a Concerned Archivists Liaison!

It has been just over a year since our Statement to the Archival Community went live, to eventually be signed by nearly 900 of you worldwide. During the past year, we have had a number of you contact us about volunteering, about organizing locally, about partnering with existing groups to engage in political action and other programming related to social justice in the archives.

The wonderful news is that many of you are deeply involved in resistance efforts on the ground in your daily work and personal lives. The lesson we have learned in the past twelve months is that most of us are already over-extended in this work and not in a place where building a new organizational network under the Concerned Archivists Alliance umbrella would be the best use of our political energy.

What we would like to offer is an opportunity for signatories and volunteers to serve as regional liaisons for the Alliance. CAA Liaisons would:

  • Keep an eye out for local and regional resistance efforts that the Concerned Archivist Alliance might fruitfully signal boost or lend support to.
  • Send local/regional news items related to archives and resistance work to the CAA social media team for amplification.
  • Represent the CAA in local professional contexts as you feel comfortable doing so.
  • Be listed on the Liaisons page on the CAA website so that folks in your area could reach out to make connections.

This role would be as active as you wished to make it, and help the four initial organizers to continue their efforts in connecting social justice-oriented archives folks with one another in local, regional, national (and international) contexts.

If you would be interested in serving as a local/regional CAA Liaison please email us at concernedarchivists@gmail.com with your name, social media handles (if applicable), and a contact email so that we may add you to our Liaisons page.

Anna, Hanna, Jeremy, and Katja
Concerned Archivists Alliance Organizers

Issue Update: ICE Request to Destroy Records

As we continue to discuss the question of the records retention schedule for ICE, as overseen by NARA, we encourage our members and readers who have thoughts they would like to share with NARA to take action by submitting comment:

Here is a link to the records schedule (PDF).

Here are the instructions for submitting comments.

~CAA Organizers


Get Involved! Design for Diversity Project

Posted with permission from the Design for Diversity team.

The Digital Scholarship Group at Northeastern University is pleased to announce an IMLS-funded national forum on “Design for Diversity”: a public conversation that focuses on constructing a collaborative pedagogical toolkit to encourage inclusive and ethical practices in information sciences and system design.

This IMLS grant will support a series of public events and working meetings on the ways in which information systems embody and reinforce cultural norms, and ask how we can design systems that account for diverse cultural materials and ways of knowing. The end results will be a teaching and learning toolkit for cultural heritage practitioners in systems design which will better inform both future work and the education and professional development of new practitioners. Continue reading