Inaugural Br. Corry Lecture featuring Cynthia Tobar: A student reflection

by Ashley Candreva, DLISSA First Year Chair

Cynthia Tobar – Head of Archives at Bronx Community College and founder of the Welfare Rights Initiative Oral History Project

While there were many amazing things discussed in Ms. Tobar’s lecture on Oral History and social justice, such as her advocacy for marginalized groups using archives and oral history to make a difference in state politics, her comments regarding privacy in this free and open access medium are what struck me as the most interesting. For me personally, privacy in an archival setting is crucial because many archival materials are so intensely personal and provide an intimate view into an individual’s, group’s, or family’s lives that if the donor doesn’t have complete assurance and comfort about their donation, they might choose to not make that donation or even destroy those materials. While I am an advocate for free and open-access to information, people’s personal and legal rights should be a priority, because those rights deserve respect, and this is upheld by the SAA’s Code of Ethics for Archivists that says “Archivists promote the respectful use of culturally sensitive materials in their care.” This makes me think of the oral history projects discussed by Cynthia Tobar at the Br. Emmett Corry Lecture on Social Justice in Librarianship.

Ms. Tobar stipulated that the interviewee participating in her project has the right to determine the access to his or her interview and the formats in which they are available, and the ability to change the access status of those interviews at any time. She went about collecting meaningful history in a respectful manner and intends on preserving and sharing it with others so that it may be used freely, but the respect she has for the people she interviews and the often sensitive content of their interviews is how I would hope to conduct myself in a professional library or archival setting. Ms. Tobar epitomizes the respect for the medium as well as the content and the ‘donor’s’ rights and is in line with the SAA’s Code of Ethics for Archivists, particularly the tenants set forth in the ‘Access and Use’, ‘Privacy’, and ‘Trust’ subsections.

The inaugural The Brother Emmett Corry, O.S.F, Social Justice in Library and Information Science Lecture Series was held on November 9, 2015, and featured Ms. Tobar’s talk, “When Our Stories Matter: Empowerment through Community-Based Archives.” 

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