York Librarian explores how archives and special collections promote social justice

An image of the Scott Library on the Keele Campus
Mary Kandiuk
Mary Kandiuk

A new book edited by Mary Kandiuk, York University Libraries’ Visual Arts, Design, Theatre and Dance librarian, describes how archives and special collections are playing a critical role in promoting social justice.

Archives and Special Collections as Sites of Contestation (Library Juice Press, 2020) is a volume of essays that interrogate library practices relating to archives and special collections.

Kandiuk says that a common thread emerges throughout the chapters, making it clear that libraries are not in fact neutral, and that historical, political, social and economic forces influence what they collect, as well as how they shape and make their collections available.

She says this, in turn, has a profound effect on what stories are told and what voices are heard.

According to Kandiuk, funding and political choices often underpin acquisition, access and promotion of collections, resulting in unequal representation, biased interpretations and suppressed narratives.

“Colonial practices have dominated record keeping, description and spaces, and a culture of privilege and exclusion has prevailed over community access and engagement,” said Kandiuk. “Archivists and librarians are re-examining their spaces as well as their work from a critical perspective and looking to create archives and special collections that are welcoming and inclusive.”

Archives and Special Collections as Sites of Contestation
Archives and Special Collections as Sites of Contestation

The contributors to the volume – librarians and archivists – share their efforts to re-situate and reinterpret existing hegemonic collections and democratize the historical record, illustrating that furthering justice requires disrupting archival practices and structures in profound ways, questioning past practices and entrenched power structures and approaching work through a new and critical lens.

The authors discuss the development of new collections through community outreach to marginalized and underrepresented groups; efforts to amend the historical documentary record through digitization projects; cataloguing, authority and description of archives and special collections using a critical practice framework; ethical and political issues relating to donors, appraisal and access; curation, stewardship and promotion of controversial or sensitive collections, and the decolonization of space and collections.

Kandiuk, a founding member of the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians, is a recipient of the Canadian Association of University Teachers Academic Librarians’ Distinguished Service Award and has served as editor of the Innovations in Practice Section for Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research. She is the author of two bibliographies of secondary criticism relating to Canadian literature and is the co-author of Digital Image Collections and Services, as well as a co-editor of the collection In Solidarity: Academic Librarian Labour Activism and Union Participation in Canada. Her current areas of research include special collections and Canadian artists’ books.

Archives and Special Collections as Sites of Contestation is available for purchase online.