No Need for Archivists to Fight White Supremacy!

Nancy Miller is a University of Virginia alumna, class of 1975.

I recently became aware of your organization, and I wanted to send a letter of thanks to the Jefferson Council for covering events in the University Library (“How Not to Create a Diverse, Welcoming Workplace”, September 27, 2021; and “No Woke-ism to See Here, Move Along Now”, March 9, 2022). I am a retired professional librarian and archivist (with 16 years of experience as an archivist in Philadelphia, including ten years at the University of Pennsylvania Archives from 2004-2014). I am also an alumna of the University of Virginia (BA 1975), and I have a keen interest in ensuring the future success of the Library.

My concerns about the current Library leadership began in December 2020 when a job posting was made for an Archival Processing and Discovery Supervisor (position R0020644) in Special Collections. I immediately contacted John Unsworth (University Librarian) and Brenda Gunn (Head of Special Collections hired in 2017) and expressed disagreement with the part of the announcement that stated “The ideal candidate is committed to dismantling White supremacy in our field and current descriptive practices.”

This opinion, which is not widely shared by individuals in the archival profession, indicated that applicants would need to pass an ideological litmus test. I encouraged them to change the job announcement since it would act as a deterrent to qualified individuals who would assume that all candidates would not be treated in an unbiased manner and that the working environment would be one where intellectually diverse opinions and discussions would not be tolerated.

I also stated emphatically that in my experience, archivists have worked diligently and tirelessly to build collections for underrepresented individuals and groups and to create accurate catalog records to highlight this fact and their importance to the historical record. My suggestions were ignored, and I continued to remain concerned about the attitude that White supremacy was pervasive and systemic in the archival profession and that employees would need to align ideologically with the opinions of Library management. I was certainly dismayed to learn about Michelle Vermillion’s unfortunate experiences in attempting to have intellectually diverse discussions in the September 2021 article.

Last month, I learned about the job announcement by the University Librarian for an Associate Dean for Inclusion, Equity, Diversity and Accessibility (position R0033042). Since there was no mention of the University’s commitment to free expression in the job description, and given the experiences by Ms. Vermillion, I contacted a member of the executive search committee. I suggested including a sentence that conveys the following: “The ideal candidate will also have an understanding of the need to maintain and promote diversity of intellectual thought and display a commitment to free expression and free inquiry.” The officer thanked me and forwarded this suggestion to members of the search committee headed by Elyse Girard, but again no action was taken. I was certainly glad to see your article about this job posting in the March 9 article.

Thank you for taking your valuable time to read about my concerns and a special thanks for publishing timely and informative articles about the University Library and other topics of interest to alumni.

3 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

I just saw no one thanked you for this terrific message. THANK YOU from TJC!! I am one of the founders of the group.