Archivists working to preserve local LGBT history
Updated: June 18, 2013 at 1:31 pm
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Organizers of a new community archive project at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte hope they can collect and preserve local LGBT history like never before. The goal, they say: Save often untold stories for future generations.
UNCC staffers Josh Burford, who works at the campus’ Multicultural Resource Center, and Atkins Library archivist Meredith Evans, say they are in the very early stages of the project, which will collect organizational minutes, agendas, photographs and other important documents that help to piece together the history of Charlotte’s LGBT community.
“I think we are at the very beginning,” says Evans. “We’ve spoken to a lot of people and generated a lot of interest, but in terms of actually collecting and receiving materials, we’re really at the infant stage. The exciting thing about this project is that we really have momentum.”
The project’s genesis has deep roots. Other communty members have long voiced an interest in preserving local LGBT community history, but nothing ever seemed to get off the ground. Burford, who helped create an LGBT community archive in Alabama before moving here several months ago, says he was immediately drawn to the possibility of a similar project here.
“Before I came to town there was talk about doing the archive, but it was all theoretical,” he says. “They didn’t have anyone at the table who had done an archive before.”
The project entails mammoth resources and energy. Determing outreach, material collection and housing are big questions, says Burford.
Initially, organizers thought they might house the archives at the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte. But, Evans, also a recent transplant to Charlotte, offered her services and resources at the UNCC library, guaranteeing stability, expert preservation and longevity.
“You have a department that has trained staff who do this everyday for a living and who are committed to the preservation of the materials,” says Burford.
Evans thinks the university’s resources also offer safety and peace of mind to those who donate materials which may hold significant emotional value. Losing those materials or improperly archiving them can be a devastating loss.
“One of the challenges of working with community organizers is that the intent is great,” says Evans. “People want to keep their history and know their history, remember it and store it. But, when leadership changes or funding decreases or there is a move from a physical place to another physical place, things can get lost in the shuffle and archives are no longer considered important at that time or in that moment.”
Evans adds, “When you are donating collections and building a larger collection to reflect the history of a group of people, you want to keep that forever. So, what people think is simple becomes a lot more complicated.”
The university’s archives also provide access. As a public institution, the university archives are open to members of the community.
“We provide not just a reading room, but we will post the inventory online, so that people know what we have and how to locate it,” Evans says.
Ideally, Burford and Evans would also like to see a great deal of the community archive digitized and available online.
“A smaller institution, due to funding or lack of staff or even lack of knowledge, wouldn’t necessarily be able to do that,” Evans says.
The two staffers are excited about the prospects for the new LGBT community archive. Burford has spoken to 20 local organizations. Most have said they are willing to participate in collecting and donating materials.
“I’ve run into almost no resistence,” he says.
Evans says she’s confident the community will get involved.
“I’m expecting the community to rally around the materials, so that there’s a new dialogue and it’s not just one voice, it’s multiple voices,” she says. “Here’s an opportunity to show solidarity. We hope it draws people together and that it reflects a part of Charlotte’s history that’s not clearly defined or reflected other than in newspaper articles or in books.”
info: For more information on the archives and how you might support it by material donation, volunteering or financial support, contact Josh Burford at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About the author: Matt Comer was the editor of QNotes, first hired to serve in the role in October 2007, with his tenure ending August 23, 2015.