Statement of Narrative Rights for Our Community

Version 1, first published 11/25/19

What do we mean by "the community owns the record?" You have the right to your own story. You have a right to:

  • Tell your own story in your own words or chosen form of expression, not have it told for you
  • Have your work recognized for contributing to place, history, and culture regardless of its form or contents
  • Know that your cultural contributions are valid right now, not when you reach a certain age or education level
  • Be recognized as a contributor to a publication, regardless of your role on paper
  • Be seen as a researcher worthy of time, attention, and assistance regardless of age or education level
  • Operate from a perspective that the record is always rewritable
  • Determine if and how your work fits into a collection, geographically, socially, or otherwise, including if you don’t want your work collected or made available to the wider public
  • Determine what “community” means to you and to which communities you belong without having outside labels or groupings imposed
  • Question why stories are left out of this — and any — record and who benefits from these exclusions
  • Determine how your identity is listed (or not) in a record
  • Never have whiteness, able-bodiedness, cisnormativity, heteronormativity or other privileged identities assumed as defaults in records or programs
  • Have your lived experience recognized as expertise and authority
  • Beyond just access to your community’s stories, you are entitled to real on-the-ground efforts to let you know these stories exist
  • Have your historical and cultural context recognized and respected
  • Have tensions and disagreements about the record acknowledged and confronted, not buried
  • Drive institutional goals from the community (bottom-up), not the other way around (top-down)
  • Hold us and other institutions accountable to our values and confront us when they don’t align
  • Create private programs only for you and your community to share and process stories among yourselves. These are as valid as public programs.
  • Professional support (if you want it) from institutions to help you address missing, incomplete, incorrect, and toxic narratives
  • A collection and gathering space that is safe and accessible to your physical, social, and emotional needs
  • Approve translations of titles and contents of your work in the record
  • Determine how your name is used in a record
  • Institutional transparency: to have clearly described institutional systems, functions and mechanisms so you can dismantle and reassemble them through co-creation
  • Narrative transparency: to have the systems, functions and mechanisms that drive toxic narratives clearly described so you can dismantle and rewrite them through co-creation
  • Access the work done by your ancestors so you can build on it
  • Recognize yourself as part of a community and cultural lineage of creators regardless of familial ties or duration of time in this city or country
  • Create works of joy, the mundane, fantasy, abstraction, politics and whatever else you will without pressure to adhere to a stereotypical or deficit-based narrative
  • Be supported in your efforts to document and preserve your community records
  • See yourself reflected not just in the collection, but in institutional staff, board, volunteers, outreach, and program and curricula material
  • Question and introduce changes to the way material is cataloged and presented, physically and digitally

Institutional Commitments

In striving to create conditions for the above in the design of every program, policy, organizational plan and public interaction, whether interpersonal, digital, or with the presence of our physical collections, we will also:

  • Lift up creators and their work who have been excluded or suppressed from the record while actively decentering narratives that promote privileged perspectives or reinforce status quo.
  • Create a culture of community ownership over community engagement. This means not just inviting community participation in our agenda, but having the community set that agenda and determine its goals and execution.
  • Primarily, build power for communities; secondarily, with them; and never over them
  • Challenge our own assumptions, biases, and subjectivity in program design, outreach, cataloging and everywhere else they show up. Know that they will always be there and this work is ongoing, never complete.
  • Be aware that whatever our scale compared to larger institutions, we still have valuable resources and access that can and should be liberated and shared with smaller organizations and organizers
  • Utilize what resources, access, and profile our institution has to shift the balance of power in other institutions and in the field
  • Work to build long-term sustainability to hire staff and compensate partners appropriately for all forms of labor
  • When people choose to volunteer, ensure a culture of reciprocity so they are comfortable asking for what they need from the relationship, whether it is to further their careers or to find community
  • Uphold the principle of "nothing about us without us." Any project we do or collaborate on about a community must always involve compensated representatives of that community.
  • Make tools and training we rely on in our professional work accessible to the public to preserve their own community histories outside of our institution, regardless of benefit to our institution
  • Make connections between materials and creators visible to break down barriers to coalition-building and mutual support.
  • Be mindful of the line between rejecting the "perfectionist" characteristic of white supremacy in institutions and the "fail fast and break things" mentality that uses communities as collateral damage to innovation.
  • Always know it is on us to build trust, not the responsibility of the individual or community

Note: This is a work-in-progress to articulate what we believe and what guides us as an institution, particularly as we grow. This Statement owes a huge debt of gratitude to every volunteer who has challenged us to think more critically about our outcomes vs. our intentions; hundreds of hours of conversation with our partners and colleagues who have trusted us enough to speak openly about their experiences with institutional racism, colonialism, sexism, ableism, ageism, queerphobia, transphobia and how these experiences affect the stories others believe about our communities and the stories we come to believe about ourselves. We especially want to acknowledge the work of BIPOC and queer librarians, organizers, and educators whose writings and work have shaped our approach, and so many more people, collectives, and organizations who have been building these efforts for decades.

Like our collection, this record is rewritable. It will continue to grow and change through your feedback, critiques, comments, and additions. This Statement is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), please feel free to adapt it for your own use. If you do, we would love to see your additions and changes. We will also be keeping a record of changes to our own Statement as it evolves.