Preserving Culture in D.C.: A Closer Look into the Library World

In May 2022, I joined Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) Media as their inaugural Preservation Fellow with the express purpose of learning and growing as a new cultural heritage preservation professional. One of my biggest accomplishments thus far is the ability to marry an immense milestone – completing my MLIS in Spring 2022 – with a new opportunity to enter into a line of work that engages all of my skills and passions.

Earlier in the Spring semester, I was awarded a travel grant by SJSU iSchool to promote the REFORMA platform, collaborate with National and Chapter leadership, and represent RSiS Student & Alumni Group at ALA’s Annual Conference. The BAVC Media Preservation Lab granted my leave to attend for a week of professional engagement in the nation’s capital. It was also a momentous opportunity to be the first employee to represent BAVC Media at an ALA conference in the organization’s 45 year history. My goals for this conference were few but mighty: to connect with SJSU iSchool students and staff; to successfully assist with REFORMA National events; and to explore Washington, D.C. as a site for culture, community, and innovative librarianship. As one of the three REFORMA SJSU members to attend ALAAC22, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to share what I learned, experienced, and the impact it has had on my current work.

As a recent MLIS graduate, I was hopeful to expand my professional network in Washington, D.C. In early June, I attended the 2022 CLA conference in Sacramento, CA where I met many fellow iSchool students and faculty in person after months of virtual study.

Pictured here is Claire Kelly (right) and Anna Thorn (left), the current Director of the Independent Publishers Caucus.

Over the past spring semester, I enrolled in Dr. Chow’s Advocacy Internship course and collaborated with some incredible people in our iSchool program. Claire, Director of Library & Academic Marketing with Seven Stories Press, was slated to participate in the Live From the 25 podcast booth. Centered in the Library Marketplace and Exhibition Hall, the platform offered “exhibitors 15-minute time slots in a semi-soundproof recording booth, giving featured interviewers the chance to record a short podcast with an author from participating exhibitors” (citation needed). I happily supported her as part of the live audience and offered to photograph this moment. During the spring, Claire had connected our team with ALA Executive Director Tracie D. Hall for an inspiring Q&A session. Hall, who identifies as both a practicing artist and librarian, emphasized the important role of public libraries in cultivating cultural memory and communal gatherings at the intersection of discovery and knowledge production. In other words, public libraries can serve two roles: preserving local community history and cultural capital while also providing the tools to form new ways of thinking and creating. As a virtual graduate student attending an in-person conference of this magnitude, I took these words to heart as I explored what more ALAAC22 and Washington, D.C. had to offer.

In my graduate research, I learned how authentic cultural and language preservation through oral history recordings creates new opportunities for future generations to engage with their community. Community capital then builds personal identity and self-worth, which drives members to reinvest their gained capital onto the next generation. Community capital is evident in the work we do as part of REFORMA. I recognize the express need to build access and knowledge production for Spanish-speaking populations across the country, particularly where they are under-resourced and underrepresented in public spaces. REFORMA’s Noche de Cuentos grant initiative provides authentic representation of Spanish-speaking communities to wider audiences and highlights creative capital in storytelling. Our main goal in D.C. was to capture the Tarde de Cuentos event on video and share it with our iSchool membership; while the Library of Congress also captured it on video for posterity.

Another highlight of my trip was touring the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, located just a couple blocks away from the Washington Convention Center. An historic landmark, the structural integrity of the building challenged architects and stakeholders to reimagine the library’s capacity for public engagement. The building’s original Brutalist architecture (concrete, metal, glass features) blocked the inner hallways with heavy, dull concrete and limited accessibility. During the early onset of the pandemic, the building underwent several renovations that introduced new adaptive technologies, public meeting rooms, public art displays, and expansive floor space to house new collections. The library also houses a ballet studio and theater space run by local teens. 

Since I’ve returned from the conference, I’ve been in touch with the manager of the Memory Lab Network, a DIY analog video digitization lab that is open to the general public and part of DCPL. You can find this lab on the first subterranean floor of the building, which boasts spacious rooms and hands-on support from library staff. It’s been a blessing to have had the chance to visit these spaces that have serendipitously reemerged in my line of work.

Pictured is a slice of an exhibition on the first floor showcasing African-American women multi-media artists. Patrons are free to reserve computers and glass-walled study rooms that are surrounded by these arts. This work is a photograph by Nakeya Brown titled Like Natural 2020.
Pictured is a paperback I checked out after requesting a temporary digital library card at the circulation desk. As I walked around with curiosity, I was struck by a display of Japanese murder mystery novels. It was a fun experience to be a D.C. library patron for a day and indulge in an interesting read during my down time.

At the tail end of my week, I visited the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) to browse their art conservation and preservation workstations. Not pictured were the various framed portraits, slabs of murals, and many artworks slated for inspection and preservation. Understandably, these labs were behind walls of clear glass and off-limits to the general public. I drew closer to a textplate that described the off-site digitization lab for analog and digital media. I used my imagination to construct a state-of-the-art facility for grand projects in the Smithsonian. Last year, I had no concept of time-based media (what is that?) and its layered impact on society and culture. Now a few months into my fellowship, I can grasp how and why artists use linear time to express complex messages as public art. Time marches on, and it’s important for us to leave our mark along the way. It is significant for students like myself, Ana, and Sarah, to occupy space and time where others like us have not been privileged to do so. ALAAC22 was one for the books and as a recent graduate, I can’t wait to read what our iSchool REFORMA members share from the next conference!

Author Bio:

Guadalupe Martinez  (they/she) is a recent graduate from the iSchool MLIS program at SJSU. They joined BAVC Media in Oakland, CA as their inaugural Preservation Fellow to learn digitization and analog media preservation skills. Ideally, Guadalupe would like to merge their passion for public librarianship within the cultural heritage sector for the perfect LIS career. In their free time, Guadalupe is an avid audiobook reader and takes daily walks along the Alameda shoreline with their partner and cat.

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