Andrea Jackson, Executive Director, Black Metropolis Research Consortium.
Andrea R. Jackson is the Executive Director of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, a membership organization comprised of Chicagoland archival repositories collecting, documenting and making accessible African American and Diasporic history and archives. She was previously the Head of the Archives Research Center at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, which serves a consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Jackson is an alumna of Spelman College and New York University (MA in US History and Certification in Archival Management), and has participated in the Harvard Graduate School of Education Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians and the Archives Leadership Institute. She is co-author of the article, “Funding the Future of African American Religion Archival Collections at the Atlanta University Center’s Robert W. Woodruff Library” in the Theological Librarianship Journal, and holds membership in several archives and history professional associations including Society of American Archivists.
Andrea was interviewed for Archiving in Color by Brittany Newberry, processing archivist at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library.
What attracted you to a career in archives and how did you first become involved in archives?
When I was a junior at Spelman College I was recommended for a national museums fellowship. It was hosted at the Atlanta History Center (AHC). The purpose was to diversify the museum field. Once we got there we learned about all aspects of museum work and we were able to select where we wanted to do our summer internship. Because I was a history major, I decided to do my internship in the archives at the AHC. I was a history major who thought I would become a professor, go on to get my PhD, but once I discovered archives I felt very connected to the work.
I was attracted to the opportunities to share history with the public on a broader level. I realized I wasn’t all that interested in teaching any more, but I wanted to share historical information and stories. Archives presented a way that I could help preserve history and share it with the public.
How does being an archivist of color influence your practice?
I have primarily committed my professional work to caring for African American historical materials. I think that being a woman of color, I not only appreciate the materials for their historical values, but also I feel a connectedness to materials that resonate with experiences of my ancestors and others in the African diaspora. It feels empowering to ensure that the voices of Black people and people of color more broadly are being preserved and properly contextualized in our global society.
What is something that excites you about the archival profession?
It excites me to learn more about the vast types of resources that archives are collecting, preserving, and making accessible. It’s exciting that the archives profession expands across all types of industries. Sharing that with emerging archivists or youth is exciting because there are so many different types of archives where someone could do this type of work. If you have an interest in sports you could work in a sports archives.
How have you explained the importance of archives to people?
I have been fortunate to discuss the possibilities of donating archives to potential donors in the Chicago area and to share what archivists do and why giving to a repository can expand knowledge and scholarship that we can’t even imagine. The fact that people will look at materials in hundreds of different ways is special and I like to get people excited about those possibilities. I also feel that it is important to ensure that archival institutions understand how important these materials documenting the African diaspora are to providing a well-rounded narrative of whatever type of history they are collecting.
Describe your experience with SAA and AAC
As a graduate student at New York University, I was afforded the opportunity to attend my first SAA Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, CA in 2003. I instantly made great connections. I was able to meet people through my professors as well as archivists of color through the Archivists and Archives of Color Roundtable meeting. The professional development opportunities and relationship building were very beneficial to me. I have attended most annual meetings since then. Being an active member of SAA has been something that I always discuss with potential employers, and I’ve been fortunate to be supported through the years. I have been involved with the Archivists and Archives of Color Section as a previous editor of the newsletter and have always been a big supporter of the section. I presented at many of the annual meetings, and was approved to Chair a session I proposed this year. I was proud to be a strong proponent of sharing the activities, projects, and concerns of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Recently, I served on the appointments committee, am currently the chair of the Mosaic scholarship award committee, and served on the local arrangements committee for 2016 Annual Meeting in Atlanta. When I was the head of the AUC Woodruff Library Archives Research Center, we hosted the first ARL/SAA Mosaic Fellow at a HBCU. My hope is that it was another way to expose new archivists to the possibilities of working within HBCUs.
What advice do you have for students and new archivists of color starting their career in this profession?
Relationship building is crucial in any profession, the archival profession is no different. This is well achieved through being active in national and regional organizations. Also, students need to take advantage of internships as much as possible in different types of institutions to know what types of places they might enjoy working. Archivists are activists and should feel empowered to connect with communities as they do their work. That kind of engagement enables people to know what we are doing and why we are doing it as well as how they can both benefit from this work and be a part of contributing to history.
Archivists should never underestimate the power of appraisal. When in doubt there is nothing wrong with consulting others if they are unsure about value.
Who do you admire/respect in the archives field?
My mentor is Karen Jefferson. She is one of the most thorough and thoughtful archivists I know. Process and procedure are always key with her and I am grateful to have benefited from her guidance and mentorship. I am really inspired by the work of a lot of the younger archivists of color who are making it known that they are here and their presence in this profession is critical. They are truly energizing as I approach 15 years in this profession.
I appreciate the legacy that Taronda Spencer left at Spelman College and her love and care for the history of Black women in particular.