|rukus! at London Metropolitan Archives
Image courtesy of LMA, City of London
Tamsin Bookey is a committee member and archivist at the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive (LAGNA). In her paper, she explores the case studies of two London-based independent LGBTQ archive collections, LAGNA and rukus!, that are developed and managed by volunteers. She discusses how these two organizations "have recently formed partnerships with mainstream archival institutions which provide storage and access facilities for the collections while the LGBTQ archive group retains ownership, collection development and outreach responsibilities" and explores "whether this type of approach is suitable in the long-term or in other global contexts."
What do you think about the questions Tamsin Bookey raises at the end of her paper. Is it, for instance, "worth building up a collection only to perpetuate storage arrangements which undermine the long-term safety of the collection?"
To read the full paper, click on "read more". Enjoy, discuss, comment and share!
Strange bedfellows: Improving the accessibility and preservation of LGBTQ archives through partnership
Tamsin Bookey, LAGNA
This paper will explore the approach taken by two London-based independent LGBTQ community archives in forming practical partnerships with ‘mainstream’ archive organisations. LGBTQ-led voluntary archive and history groups can suffer from a lack of appropriate storage facilities for the collections they develop and acquire. Enabling public access to these collections can also be problematic without professional cataloguing expertise or searchroom facilities. Two such LGBTQ organisations in London have recently formed partnerships with mainstream archival institutions which provide storage and access facilities for the collections while the LGBTQ archive group retains ownership, collection development and outreach responsibilities. The paper will describe the approach taken in each case and examine the impacts, and will conclude by exploring whether this type of approach is suitable in the long-term or in other global contexts.
The Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive (LAGNA), once part of the Hall-Carpenter Archives of lesbian and gay activism, is a collection of over 200,000 press cuttings documenting the changing representation of LGBT people in the pages of the straight press since the late 19th century. It was originally set up in the early 1980s as part of the Media Monitoring and Archive Group of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) which scrutinised press reports for evidence of discrimination to help inform CHE campaigns. Faced with the closure of its previous base at a university on the outskirts of London, in February 2011 the collection was taken in by the Library and Archives of Bishopsgate Institute, an independent cultural institute founded in 1895 in the City of London with extensive collections relating to political, labour and radical history. LAGNA (http://www.lagna.org.uk) was the first LGBTQ collection it acquired, as the trustees accepted that its origins in the campaigning work undertaken by gay activists in the early 1980s fitted with the acquisitions policy of the archive.
The LAGNA Management Committee, on which I sit, agreed to deposit the collection on a 10 year loan basis with a one year notice period on both sides. At the end of this time the loan can be renegotiated. The Library & Archives of Bishopsgate Institute offered a convenient location, in central London close to Liverpool Street station and the younger emergent queer community who have all but departed Soho for the East End. LAGNA now has free use of rooms at the Institute by arrangement, which has recently been refurbished to include an expanded, fit-for-purpose archive strongroom and searchroom area. LAGNA’s book collection has been catalogued and incorporated into the wider Bishopsgate library and the cuttings collection can now be accessed by the public Monday to Saturday, where in its previous home, appointments were only available on Wednesdays. At Bishopsgate the weekly volunteer cataloguing and indexing session has been maintained, more research visits have been made, and a free one-day conference on the history of LGBT activism was held in the Great Hall attracting over 100 people in October 2011 with more events planned in 2012.
The move to Bishopsgate has provided not just the security of physical storage for the collection and the benefits of professional care by the Institute’s archivists and librarians, but has helped to build capacity within the LAGNA organisation as the organisation is now able to focus on developing the archive and bringing it to a wider audience without having to deal with the constraints of collections storage and access.
rukus! the Black LGBT Cultural Archive, (http://rukus.org.uk) was established in London the early 2000s by artists Ajamu X and Topher Campbell to create a living archive of Black LGBT experience. I strongly recommend learning about rukus!’s origins and continuing work in the voices of its inspirational founders in the 2009 issue of Archivaria devoted to Queer Archives and in Ajamu’s presentation at this conference on the Sharing Tongues oral history project. With Ajamu’s permission I will describe the background to rukus! and their recent partnership arrangement with London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), the record office for Pan-London and the square mile of the City of London.
The archive was founded in order to celebrate and make visible a culture which experiences exclusion and discrimination within both the mainstream queer scene and the wider Black community, functioning as a political intervention as well as a way of producing new culture. Donations of archives and ephemera from individuals keen to see their culture finally recognised grew so extensive that a new home was sought which would provide adequate long-term storage and access while also supporting rukus! to continue its outreach work. The rukus! board weighed up options including Hall-Carpenter Archives, held at the London School of Economics, which is an extensive and important collection reflecting LGBTQ political history but without any significant collections relating to Black queer experience. Similarly, the long-established community-based Black Cultural Archives in south London had no history of collecting materials from queer Black people or organisations. In 2010 the rukus! archive was deposited at LMA, the publicly-funded city record office whose collections reflect the wide variety of London life. rukus! had been involved in LGBT history conferences at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) since 2005. For rukus!, LMA’s track record in acquiring significant African-Caribbean as well as LGBTQ collections, and their annual conferences which promoted these archives to the wider public, was the deciding factor. LMA is not an archive solely for LGBT or Black history, it is the pan-London regional archive and in this, is meant to be inclusive for all. This suited rukus! which has a firm London basis. As Ajamu says, ‘Our lives cannot be separated from either the Gay or Black experience – we inhabit a unique position in history.’
The collection was deposited on a 20 year agreement with ownership remaining with the rukus! founders. If rukus! decide to withdraw the collection a charge would be levied. Once the collection has been catalogued, LMA will provide appropriate professional storage facilities and public access in the search room approximately 37 hours per week Monday-Thursday and on about ten Saturdays per year, as well as supporting the events and outreach work delivered by rukus! including the Sharing Tongues oral history project and other offsite exhibitions and programmes. The cataloguing is completed by rukus!’s own volunteers. Fourteen have attended so far, contributing 83 hours of cataloguing at supervised sessions held at LMA one half-day per month. It is expected that the first third of the catalogue will go online in October 2012, and in advance of that deadline the collection can be made available uncatalogued to researchers at Ajamu’s discretion.
Conclusions and questions
In both cases, the collections are now more secure and more accessible than in their previous, community-based homes. The partnership enables capacity building in the community archives, who are now freed up to add to the collections and consolidate community links helping to bring the archives to a wider audience. Ownership and independence is retained and, for now, respected. The mainstream institutions benefit from diversifying their user base and demonstrating a greater level of relevance to the contemporary public. But to what extent are these partnerships subject to political winds? Both would have been highly unlikely to have taken place prior to the diversity agenda of social change introduced by New Labour in the late 1990s. If political regression on equality is likely to happen in the future, will such minority-interest collections held in mainstream institutions be at risk? These are important questions for any community archive to consider when contemplating deposit, even in the UK. Flexibility should be built in to deposit agreements to accommodate all imaginable worst case scenarios, where possible protecting the independence of the archive so that if necessary it can be withdrawn and deposited elsewhere with as little cost as possible. In other global contexts this type of partnership is still unthinkable, where LGBTQ activity is illegal or where the LGBTQ community have a long-held oppressive or distrustful relationship with the authorities. However, where such partnerships are possible or even invited by well-established, financially sound institutional archives, I suggest that the community-based owners of LGBTQ collections should be receptive to the possibility. The importance of the facilities for permanent preservation offered by a potential host should not be underestimated or prioritised significantly behind what might be termed political affinity with the community archive’s own aims and objectives. In the vast majority of cases LGBTQ community archives do not have their own premises which can offer professional standards of cataloguing, storage and access, and without them the collections are incredibly vulnerable to loss. Is it worth building up a collection only to perpetuate storage arrangements which undermine the long-term safety of the collection? In doing so, the trust of community members who deposited their material is also undermined. Those managing the community archives have an important responsibility to ensure their valuable collections will still be accessible far beyond their own lifetimes, and ensure they are planning for perpetuity.
 Ajamu X, Topher Campbell, Mary Stevens (2009), ‘Love and Lubrication in the Archives, or rukus! A Black Queer Archive for the United Kingdom’, Archivaria 68:271
 Ajamu X and Topher Campbell (2012), ‘Sharing Tongues: Black LGBT Oral Histories’, accessible at http://www.lgbtialms2012.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/sharing-tongues-black-lgbt-oral.html