My capstone project for the Public Digital Humanities certificate focused on creating a digital subject guide, or LibGuide, that describes material in the Iowa Women’s Archives (IWA) related to histories of sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, and other sexual and gender-based violence. The guide, entitled “#MeToo in Historical Context,” was intended as a research and discovery tool for students, faculty, and others interested in these topics. By drawing attention to the IWA’s holdings in this area, I hoped to encourage research and engagement with these topics and to inspire some reflection about the connections between the twenty-first century #MeToo movement and the much longer history of sexual and gender-based violence, both nationally and locally. In my case, the “digital” element of this project was more incidental than the research and writing required to develop the content. I had some prior experience with the LibGuides app, a WordPress-based platform, and I wanted to use this tool because it is the professional standard for librarians and an application that I knew I would continue to work with throughout my career. Because the LibGuides platform allows one to create multiple pages and tabs with a variety of content, I also hoped that I might be able to add material that would help the LibGuide serve multiple audiences, somehow connecting the list of historical resources to present-day concerns, activism, and organizational work related to sexual and gender-based violence.
I succeeded in my first objective of creating a digital tool that would help facilitate research in this subject area. The #MeToo in Historical Context LibGuide includes topically-focused descriptions for over forty relevant collections at the Iowa Women’s Archives. It is a remarkable body of material that no one has previously gathered together and conceptualized under the single subject heading of sexual and gender-based violence; as such, the list does important work by helping to identify new collection strengths and avenues for research. That list of forty can be divided further to identify which collections include material related to sexual harassment, domestic violence, or rape. I have also tentatively identified a number of sub-groups that suggest topical strengths within these collections and may be useful for researchers; these include but are not limited to victim/survivor organizations, politicians and legal reform, campus life, police handling of rape, and personal testimony. Once a revised version is made public, the LibGuide will be available indefinitely as a research and discovery tool, accessible through the University of Iowa Libraries’ website.
I was less successful in my second objective of finding a way to connect the LibGuide to the current work of community organizations or activists. From the beginning, I was hampered by the knowledge that my time at the University of Iowa was drawing to a close and I would not be here to do the work I really felt was needed to seek opportunities for community engagement. This was my last semester in the Library and Information Science MA program and the end of my appointment as a Graduate Research Assistant in the IWA. I wanted to connect with organizations like RVAP, the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP), and Monsoon Asians and Pacific Islanders in Solidarity, an organization that serves victims/survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking in Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities in Iowa. If I were going to be at the IWA and UI for longer, I imagined more active efforts to promote the archives’ collections and that history in ways that would be meaningful to these groups. For example, offering a public talk for the staff and volunteers about our collections and some of that history; coordinating an event or resource-sharing in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month; inviting organization members to an open house at the IWA. Knowing that I likely wouldn’t be here in 2022, it was harder to imagine what I could do with nothing but the standalone LibGuide. I reached out to a few colleagues, hoping for productive conversations that would expand my thinking about the possibilities, but a lightbulb moment never came. I thought about including short histories of those community organizations in the LibGuide itself; a colleague suggested that the guide could be tied to a student-run blog about sexual violence on campus and in the community. These ideas were interesting, but still required more work, recruitment, and coordination than I had time for. As I worked on the content for the LibGuide and more weeks passed, it seemed increasingly futile to try to start a conversation with any of these organizations at the end of 2021 when I wouldn’t be here in 2022. I just never got any further than brainstorming. Reflecting on the way this part of the project stalled out, I think I’m realizing that the tool and outreach/engagement are two separate things and it was unrealistic to try to accomplish them simultaneously with a very limited amount of time. I could easily have spent another semester or more trying to connect the LibGuide and its content to the community in some meaningful way.
Although it is relatively separate from the LibGuide, I did make a different and important connection between the IWA and one of these organizations this semester. I reached out to Monsoon to see if they would be interested in donating their records to the IWA. Mira Yusef, Monsoon’s co-founder and executive director, visited the archives and met with me, assistant curator Janet Weaver, and Special Collections intern Jin Chang, who is working on a major project to collect oral histories with Asian alumni and students at UI. The knowledge I gained from my work on the LibGuide informed my interactions with Monsoon and Yusef, as I wrote and spoke about the historical value of Monsoon’s records and the IWA’s existing commitment to preserving the records of related organizations like RVAP and the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault. On Tuesday of finals week – my last week as a student at UI and a student employee at the IWA – Janet, Jin, and I visited Monsoon’s Des Moines office to finalize the gift agreement and receive the first donation of their materials. In the months to come, as the IWA receives additional material and the collection is eventually processed, a description of Monsoon’s records can be added to the LibGuide and highlighted as another critical resource for the study of sexual and gender-based violence in Iowa. (Not to mention this collection’s value as a record of API experience, communities, and leadership.) “Digital” calls to mind something fast and sometimes fleeting; meaningful connections can be slow work, but the archives’ memory is long. The LibGuide now exists as a resource and tool; only time will tell how it will be used.