Director Susan Mizruchi Featured on the Authority File Podcast

“There’s a lot of discussion about public humanities and the need for academics to be better bridge builders with the larger community, nation, and globe,” says Professor Susan Mizruchi in a recent episode of a four-part Authority File podcast interview. Mizruchi is the William Arrowsmith Professor in the Humanities and professor of English at Boston University, director of the Boston University Center for the Humanities, and editor of Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). In a recent conversation with Bill Mickey, editorial director of Choice, a division of the Association of College and Research Libraries, Mizruchi discusses how Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age bridges the gap between universities and institutions with adjacent missions. 

Versions of the essays in Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age were first delivered at a public forum byLibraries and Archives in the Digital Age the same name that the BU Center for the Humanities, the Boston Public Library, and the Boston Athenæum sponsored in 2017. Palgrave Macmillan describes the forum’s resulting publication as bringing “together specialists from academia, public libraries, governmental agencies, and non-profit archives to pursue common questions about value across the institutional boundaries that typically separate us.” Although the essays in the volume amplify the professional diversity in the field today, the volume also highlights shared experiences and interests, creating a conversation among the essays.

One theme central to several essays is the question of what to preserve. Addressing this seemingly basic question requires careful reflection on social values. Mizruchi explains, “The issues of keeping archives and providing access to archives are fundamentally political. . . . You can’t disappear a person without disappearing records and documents of their existence.” Mizruchi points to “Nambiquaras in Paris: Archival Images, Appearances, and Disappearances,” an essay by Professor Beatriz Jaguaribe of Federal University of Rio de Janeiro that discusses the role of archives in “repairing communities and restoring democratic values” in the aftermath of Latin American dictatorships. 

Other essays in the volume, such as “Radical Recordkeeping” by retired professor of library science and Territorial Librarian and Archivist of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jeannette A. Bastien, explore the work of ordinary citizens who take the question of what to preserve into their own hands through grassroots community archive initiatives. Mizruchi characterizes these initiatives as “mobilizing,” noting that “community archives and the people who run them are driven by a thirst to establish and often recuperate individual and collective identities. . . grounded in the recovery of material memories.” Mizruchi sees the community archives movement as posing important questions to institutional archives, where public energy is often absent and public access is often restricted. 

The question of access spans several essays. In “From Open Access to Maximal Access,” co-founder of the Digital Public Library of America, Daniel Cohen, imagines a world in which a wealth of information is freely available to the public, and librarians are empowered to convey to the public “how and why all of this material can change their lives.” Other pieces in the volume complicate the question of access. Professor Maurice Lee’s essay “Globalism, Transparency, and Loss” challenges the reader to consider and combat the pernicious and oppressive developments that have historically accompanied technological innovation. 

Finally, many essays highlight the ways in which collaboration among professionals who inhabit diverse niches is critical to meeting the collective challenge of staying ahead of rapid innovation. Indeed, several of the volume’s contributors have already embarked on collaborations that resulted from their conversations at the 2017 forum. For example, Thomas Blake of the Boston Public Library and David Wexler of the Hollywood Archives have since worked together on a solution to a storage-related problem. Other collaborations have brought together members of the BU community with local institutions. Following the forum, Mizruchi was invited to join the board of the Anti-Slavery Collection at the Boston Public Library and worked with the BPL and the Boston Athenæum to establish summer internship programs. Fruitful collaborations within the BU community have also emerged. Mizruchi points to the 2017 forum as the first collaboration between a faculty member and Robert Hudson, who was then the BU University Librarian, and as an event that brought several BU faculty-led digitization projects to the fore. 

Mizruchi hopes that Forum 17 and resulting Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age publication will continue to enjoy many more iterations, inspiring a growing number of collaborations across institutional and disciplinary boundaries. As Center director, Mizruchi remains committed to pursuing these types of public-facing projects that have great potential to build bridges among individuals who inhabit different silos and among diverse institutions.