How and why did you get involved as an AWE Fund Organizer?
I saw a message on an SAA listserv looking for people to get involved in creating a mutual aid fund. I related to the issue of contingent labor in archives as someone who worked in short-term and contract-based positions while I was in my MLIS program. During this time I also had many conversations with mentors who would tell me about their experiences moving all around the country, from one contract position to the next, in their first years post-graduation. Having been fortunate enough to land in a long term position right out of school, I feel some sense of obligation to use the privilege to my stability in service to others, especially because I could have so easily ended up on the other side of things. It’s also one concrete thing I felt I could do to help at a time when so many things feel so nebulous.
What is one cultural shift you would like to see come out of this crisis?
I hope society as a whole is awakening to the importance of solidarity among workers, regardless of the type of work we do. The system as it exists leaves too many people vulnerable. It is set up to benefit a tiny sliver of society while the rest of us struggle. The only way to change this is to work together, not for individual benefit, but for the uplifting of us all.
What is one public policy shift you would like to see come out of this crisis?
I would love to see widespread adoption of the Do Better Labor guidelines for grant-funded positions. One of the points in this document, the importance of providing support for the end-of-project transition, seems especially important right now.
What’s an archival item you’ve worked with that you love to share with people, and why?
I love documents that reveal processes. When I worked at the Freedom Archives I processed a collection documenting the organizing of the movement to protect the I Hotel in San Francisco. At SJSU, I’m working on a small collection documenting the organizing of the Survival Faire, which was the precursor to the first Earth Day. Documents such as these help us to understand not just what happened, but how it happened. Sometimes we even get to learn about mistakes people made along the way, and how they responded to them. With that information, we can decide what parts of the process we want to replicate, and maybe how to avoid repeating mistakes of the past.
What’s one thing — archives related or not! — that you’re proud to have created or accomplished?
I created a project at SJSU called Spartans Speak on COVID-19 to collect personal accounts from the campus community about their experiences during this crisis. The response from students and faculty has been inspiring. I am humbled by the stories people are entrusting to the University Archives, and honored to play a part in ensuring these stories are preserved. I am also grateful to the archivists who created the first of these types of projects and allowed me to learn from their materials as I developed a project for the SJSU campus.
Carli Lowe is the University Archivist at San José State University, working to ensure that archives are responsive to present needs and prepared for future challenges.