Archivist in a Backpack, 2.0

See how the backpack prototype travelled across the South

In 2018, the Community Driven Archives Team launched our “archivist in a backpack” prototype in San Antonio, Texas, and the kits have been linked to our project since. We shared oral history backpacks and roller bags with scanning tools with members of our pilot partner communities, Archival Seedlings, and various projects that we encountered over the course of our grant. We gave out about 70 backpacks over the next three years and people used them in a variety of ways: collecting oral histories for community archives, scanning items for preservation in a local museum, or curating materials to be deposited at a formal repository. Throughout our grant project, we identified and observed a few patterns. 

Preservation Symbol vs. Preservation Tool 

We saw value in the way that the “archivist in a backpack” served as a symbol or a reminder to get started on historic preservation projects; we are so proud of every community who received one. At the same time, we noticed there were resources and network disparities between communities who were able to generate safe and accessible archives with the kits and those who were not. We want to do more to ensure that all our community stakeholders have clear plans and support for the long-term preservation of their materials. 

Expanding on the Formats 

While it makes sense for a traditional manuscript repository, like the Southern Historical Collection, to offer support for born digital and paper-based materials, we observed that many communities saw their history in many other formats. If we could offer kits that give communities an entry point for more diverse projects and encourage them to connect with experts, our tools would be more aligned with our values. We want to involve more communities in historic preservation and reassure them that their history, regardless of the format, is worth saving.   

Building a community  

We witnessed how our cohort of Archival Seedlings enthusiastically shared information about their projects during our workshops and capstone programs. We think that inviting all the backpack recipients to build their own community of practitioners could help us improve our outreach activities and provide a forum for communities to connect, share tips, frustrations, or success around their progress with the backpacks.    

When our Mellon grant concluded in March 2021, our team spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of community-driven archives and what they can look like without a team of grant funded professionals. Through the generous support of the Kenan Charitable Trust, we were able to explore the approach with some new and existing community partners, and build up a fresh supply of kits to distribute in summer of 2022.

We are ready to take what we have learned and make the backpacks available to more community archives practitioners. Keep checking this website to learn about our new backpack types, our new project manager, and how you can request a backpack for your community.