By Adria Carpenter
From connecting LGBTQ history to the present, preserving memories of the 2020 Minneapolis uprisings, and building a network of community archivists, three members of the University of Minnesota Libraries are on the forefront of radical librarianship.
Aiden Bettine, kalan Knudson Davis, and Ellen Holt-Werle were recently selected for the inaugural Radical Librarianship Institute (RLI) program, created by the California Rare Book School (CalRBS) at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“People can be informed, inspired, and literally learn from the records that we have about organizing their communities and the conditions that they find themselves in today,” said Bettine, curator of the Tretter Collection for GLBT Studies. “That’s pretty radical to think about libraries or archives that way.”
At the crossroads of injustice
The RLI program brought together 25 librarians from across the country, each with their own project that advocates for widespread systemic change, centered around social and racial equality, collective action, community strengthening, and public participation.
CalRBS created the program in reaction to systemic failures and injustice in the United States and abroad, from climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid epidemic, racial injustice, white supremacy, pervading misinformation, and so on.
Librarians, curators, and archivists across the country stand at the crossroads of these issues, providing necessary social support for their communities. For its part, the RLI gives monetary and experiential assistance to these library professionals, including a $10,000 stipend awarded to each of the participant’s institutions, a total of $30,000 for the University of Minnesota.
Across five days of intensive training in early August, participants attended workshops for:
- Critical and radical librarianship
- Institutional race and power
- Labor and collective organizing
- Community and small press publishing
- Pedagogical and learning theory
- Lesson and activity planning, and
- Project design
“It was probably one of the most amazing professional experiences that i’ve ever had, and i’m really hoping that others will begin to do this in the future as well,” said Davis, a rare and special collections metadata librarian.
Participants also worked on their own projects with each other, RLI faculty, CalRBS staff, and faculty of the UCLA Department of Information Studies. Following the completion of each project, the participants will create a print product, like a book or a zine, that will be published by UCLA. The institutional libraries will receive copies of all 25 books written by the participants.
As a caretaker and steward of LGBTQ history, Bettine is constantly inspired by the Tretter Collection, and as other LGBTQ people discover and interact with their history, he hopes they’re inspired too.
“Every day in the archive, there’s constant reminders of why I do this work, and why I should keep doing this work,” Bettine said. “I feel like every day there’s something that I’m excited to share with people.”
Bettine’s project, titled “Everyday Archives: A Zine Workshop Series,” will enable LGBTQ people in the Twin Cities to make a direct connection between the archival and intergenerational materials of the Tretter and the materials of their present lives.
There will be eight zine-making workshops, each hosted by a local artist, and generally themed around types of materials in the Tretter: textiles; photographs and film; newspapers and underground print; buttons, pins, and ribbons; letters and correspondence; organizational papers; erotica; and zines.
The workshops will be free, with up to 15 participants each session.
“I definitely want to encourage community members who participate to bring their own records, from their own archives essentially,” Bettine said. “What are you collecting and keeping from your life that could be also included in a zine?”
The hosting artists will decide what the workshops will look like and how they’ll be organized. All the artists are zine makers and have previously taught zine making. During the workshops, people will learn different formats from basic fold-and-staple zines to more complex sewing techniques.
“I want people to walk away with an understanding of formats they can take into their lives to continue to make zines, if this is their spark,” he said. “I’m curious to see what people create.”
Among the artists are:
- allison anne, a collagist, mail artist, zinemaker, graphic designer, and co-founder of the Twin Cities Collage Collective
- Jared Maire, a designer, illustrator, and community organizer, and
- India Johnson, a visual and textile artist
Bettine plans to collect zines made during the workshop and add them to collections at the Tretter, as well as the Quatrefoil Library. Eventually, the Tretter will have a traveling zine display for statewide audiences, especially during Pride month next year, and at the 2024 Midwest QT Zine Fest.
An intergenerational memory
The workshops will help LGBTQ people recognize the meaning behind the minutiae of their everyday lives, the value of their own records, and learn how to preserve their ephemeral materials and share their history with others.
“I want everybody to feel like the Tretter Collection is theirs to use and engage with in the ways that they want to.”
The workshops will also be hosted outside the Andersen Library at spaces like Quatrefoil Library and the Liberal Arts Engagement Hub, which Bettine hopes will dismantle actual and perceived barriers to academic libraries.
He stresses that the Tretter’s archives are not just for researchers, journalists, or artists. Anyone can see and spend time with materials in the Tretter. Just wanting to tangibly experience that history is enough, he said.
“A queer and trans archive is meant to be the capsule of intergenerational memory. … We don’t just automatically get handed a bunch of intergenerational memories, passed down from our elders or our ancestors,” he explained. “I want everybody to feel like the Tretter Collection is theirs to use and engage with in the ways that they want to.”
Most LGBTQ people were not taught LGBTQ history, given the tools to understand their sexual orientation and gender identity, or exposed to LGBTQ media figures. They had to discover that history independently, and with so many memories and stories lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, or locked behind book and education bans, LGBTQ people need a way to connect their lives to the past.
“It is sometimes shocking to see that other queer people existed long before this moment, especially if you have a community that isn’t super accepting, or a family that isn’t super accepting,” he said.
For Bettine, being a radical librarian is about making academic libraries, archives, and history accessible to the people who need and want it. Radical librarianship is also responding to current social movement and organizing efforts, by fostering those intergenerational connections.
To that end, working with 24 other radical librarians was “really empowering and really cool,” especially the public librarians. The Midwest members of the RLI program have stayed in contact and are planning more in-person meetings. The program’s greatest comfort is knowing who to call when you need help, Bettine said.