This Curator & Librarian is Using the Archive As A Way To Lift Black History

As a collective, we wanted to take time to highlight those that are doing the hard work of pursuing their own creative and academic goals, while also paving the way to further the representation of marginalized people in the arts and humanities. We have called this series, Taking Our Seat. For our first feature, we are pleased to dive into the world of Library and Information Science, with Mallory Walker.

Mallory Walker, Image c/o simmonslis.libguide.com

Mallory Walker, Image c/o simmonslis.libguide.com

We asked Mallory some questions about her experience as a POC (person of color) pursuing a masters degree, in Library Information Science. As we’ve seen, it can be difficult to navigate academia as a person of color with minimal people to confide in, so we discussed with Mallory, how they’re dealing with the overwhelming whiteness of the field.

Mallory Walker - she/her and they/them pronouns - is a current Masters candidate in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Cultural Heritage Informatics at Simmons University in Boston, MA. Mallory is a queer black woman who considers herself a radical archivist in training; her work is guided by an interest in diversity and inclusion in library, archives, and museums and community-based organizing. Mallory was an inaugural William & Mary Libraries Mosaic Diversity Fellow (2017-18) and was most recently recognized as an American Library Association Spectrum Scholar. 

Speaker Guide | AB: Akea Brionne & MW: Mallory Walker


AB: So Mallory, what made you interested in pursuing a Master’s in Library Information Science?

MW: Frankly, I just fell into and realized how much I enjoyed the work. I studied film and media in undergrad and realized my senior year that unlike my peers I had no “plan”. So, after some time on the internet I decided I might like working in film preservation. I reached out to a professor, who got me in contact with the Dean of University Libraries. From there I started working as a fellow in Special Collection. From there it snowballed into me pursuing a graduate degree.

AB: What was it that led you to specialize in Cultural Heritage? Did you encounter 'a lack of' (diversity, inclusion, black history, women's history, gender development, etc.) that compelled you to focus on the preservation of culture in your work?

MW: Archives are ripe with “a lack of”. Archives weren’t really interested in black history until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Even now, there are many institutions that are far more interested in collecting materials that reflect a mainstream white lens on history. I love history and the history of marginalized people and social movements is what interests me the most. So, cultural heritage felt like the best thing to study if I wanted to have a hand in preserving those types of histories.

What inspires you and your curatorial/archival work? What inspired you to curate 'Brave Enough to be First?’

MW: I’ve been hyperfocused on this phrase “ghosts in the archive” which I think inspires so much of my archival work. I’m far more interested in the stories that aren’t part of mainstream history and culture than I am with the Thomas Jeffersons of the world. 

Curating ‘Brave Enough to be First’ was the first project I was tasked with when I worked as a Mosaic Fellow at William & Mary. And to be completely honest, I think they asked me to do it because I was the new diversity fellow and there were not other black people working in Special Collections at that time. But that being said, I’m glad they did. I had never curated anything before but by the time I was finished, I had a clear picture of how I wanted to define the work I did. So much of how I curated that exhibit was about creating community in spite of the discrimination blacks at William & Mary - or at PWI in general - faced.

When Janet Brown, Lynn Briley, and Karen Ely first moved into their freshmen dorms in Jefferson Hall at William & Mary, they were unaware of the significance of their presence. The three women were the first African Americans in residence at the college, a fact unbeknownst to them until they were interviewed for the  Flat Hat  newspaper in October of their freshmen year. Prior to their arrival, African American students were rare and the few that were accepted were not allowed to live amongst their peers on campus. Fifty years have passed since these scholars began their studies in 1967. Since then, black students and faculty have built upon the legacy of these three women and those who came before them, creating spaces where members of the black community at William & Mary are able to thrive, succeed and support one another. William & Mary’s relationship with black students, faculty and staff has been anything but smooth.  Brave Enough to be First  serves to honor this legacy, to shed light on just how far we have come, and to inspire continued diversity and inclusion.

When Janet Brown, Lynn Briley, and Karen Ely first moved into their freshmen dorms in Jefferson Hall at William & Mary, they were unaware of the significance of their presence. The three women were the first African Americans in residence at the college, a fact unbeknownst to them until they were interviewed for the Flat Hat newspaper in October of their freshmen year. Prior to their arrival, African American students were rare and the few that were accepted were not allowed to live amongst their peers on campus. Fifty years have passed since these scholars began their studies in 1967. Since then, black students and faculty have built upon the legacy of these three women and those who came before them, creating spaces where members of the black community at William & Mary are able to thrive, succeed and support one another. William & Mary’s relationship with black students, faculty and staff has been anything but smooth. Brave Enough to be First serves to honor this legacy, to shed light on just how far we have come, and to inspire continued diversity and inclusion.

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AB: What do you view as your personal role within the field of Library Information Science? How would you describe your own research process as a librarian?

MW: I’ve always kind of been outspoken and I think that right now that a lot of the role that I play. I’m regularly in classrooms where my peers don’t seem to understand their implicit bias or the hardships that marginalized communities face. For the time being, I don’t mind being the person reminding students that a police presence at LGBTQ+ library events is an uninformed and insensitive suggestion. I certainly don't think poc or other marginalized people should have to put in the labor to educate in that way, but I'm not sure where else my peers are going to hear those kinds of perspectives. 

As far as my own research goes, I’m finding myself drawn more and more to the role that librarians and archivists can play in social justice movements and organizing. Luckily, I’ve been introduced to many people willing to talk to me about this kind of work.

AB: Is there are particular 'dream' curatorial project that you would like to work on, without restrictions?

MW: This changes on a weekly basis. The most constant daydream has probably been using archives and libraries to create more meaningful education surrounding black history and enslavement. Maybe one day you’ll hear about me renovating a plantation as a center for restorative justice.

AB: What advice would you give to other POC who are interested in pursuing a career in Library Information Science?

MW: This field is very, very white and I think it’s important to know that when you start out. My biggest advice is to seek out allies and other POC where you work, where you go to school, in your professional organizations and beyond. Because even though there are few of us, we’re committed to helping each other. Having those formal and informal mentors makes all the difference.

AB: You are pursuing Library Information and Science, so what are some of your favorite reads at the moment?

MW: Honestly, I haven’t finished a book in months. The last one I read was Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. It's a wonderful starting point for anyone interested magical realism. I’m looking forward to digging into Say it Forward: A Guide to Social Justice Storytelling (Voice of Witness) once the semester ends.

For more information about Mallory, her education pursuit, and her latest curatorial/archival projects, you can follow her on Instagram @porch_culture or by email at mallory.walker@simmons.edu

For more information about William & Mary's yearlong commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of African Americans in Residence, visit http://www.wm.edu/sites/50/.