As I prepare to discuss my experience with the Irving Wallace collection at our CCEPS presentations next week, I’m thinking about the nature of change in the archives. Technologies change, archival practices adapt to new circumstances, and, perhaps most interestingly, the materials in our care are subject to unpredictable shifts in demand. A collection might go unused for decades only to be re-discovered by new researchers who bring to it new passions, new perspectives, and new questions. It is a beautiful thing that, for all of our focus on ensuring the long-term preservation of our materials, archivists ultimately have little control over how these materials will be used by researchers over time.
Today is the day! This morning the CLIR CCEPS fellows–myself included–presented to library staff and friends. Each presentation was interesting and highlighted the variety of experiences people had throughout the duration of their time with the fellowship. After the presentations, the floor was open to questions from the audience. During that time, someone asked about the process of assigning particular subject terms as a way to push some of those categories to fit new modes of knowledge production. Particularly, the person asked if subject terms like “colonization” had been used. Here is my response to that question: I have been wrestling with that thought throughout my work on the CLIR CCEPS project. I am wary to apply those terms because in many ways it traps the information within an epistemological field that is ever-changing and is gaining popularity. Assigning those subject terms–like colonization–now can help current students, researchers and patrons obtain that information. However, the online data will last forever, and therefore all of the subject terms assigned to that document will be linked to it permanently. It’s incredibly hard to think about how to both push the metadata process to be more accommodating of particular kinds of knowledge production, especially those that work to critique structures of power, while simultaneously thinking about the implications of circumscribing certain documents within categories whose knowledge production and outcome we have yet to know. I will continue to ask myself, as I assign subject terms to metadata, what knowledge is this producing and what knowledge is it obscuring?
This week, I finished processing the 35mm slides in the collection. Perhaps because the 35mm slide technology was made available to the general public later than film negatives, most of the slides were from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Since Norman Yao no longer worked for the Claremont Colleges and was likely retired, most of the slides were about their family life and their travels around the world.
The Yao family had interesting choices of travel destinations. They visited not only their native China after the country opened its gate to the world, but also New Zealand because they had relatives living there. Besides, as a religious person, Yao took a large number of photos of churches and Christian gatherings when he visited Southeast Asia. Furthermore, the family also visited Israel in 1983. Additionally, they also visited Europe and famous cities across the United States.
I noticed that the collection only included objects up until the early 1980s, around the time of Norman Yao’s death. Thus, I suspect that these objects were stored away upon the passing of the family patriarch.