An interview with Andrea Jackson Gavin.
Financial Advocacy in Special Collections
Interview: Andrea Jackson Gavin
Andrea Jackson Gavin is an expert on advocacy in libraries and archives. She has held several positions including, the Head of the Archives Research Center at the Atlanta University Center (AUC) Robert W. Woodruff Library, the Executive Director of Black Metropolis Research Consortium in Chicago, and the Grant Writer for the AUC Woodruff. Currently, she serves as the Director of Engagement and Scholarship at the AUC Woodruff Library where she works to develop strategic partnerships, outreach, and creative programming within the AUC and with other institutions and organizations. She also collaborates with various departments in the library to develop grant proposals and assist with grant management and compliance. The AUC member institutions include Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, and The Interdenominational Theological Center.
Clinton R. Fluker, Ph.D. serves as the Curator of African American collections at Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Library where he develops dynamic archival collections and innovative programming about African American history and culture. Fluker is also an adjunct professor at Clark Atlanta University where he teaches courses on digital humanities and contemporary movements in black speculative fiction. Fluker is the co-editor of The Black Speculative Arts Movement: Black Futurity, Art + Design (2019), a collection that enters the global scholarly debate on the emerging field of Afrofuturism studies. In the following conversation, Fluker poses questions to Andrea Jackson Gavin about approaches for developing advocacy programs and projects, and best practices for garnering financial support in special collections.
Clint Fluker: Could you tell me a little bit about the special collections at AUC and how you got started there?
Andrea Jackson Gavin: I started as a curator of archives & manuscripts at the AUC after working at Fisk University as an archivist. At that time, we were working with collections like the Maynard Jackson mayoral administrative records, and we had just received the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. collection. Later I worked with instruction and programming for the Tupac Shakur collection, an iconic rapper and activist. Presently, the holdings in our special collections really ranges in subject matter as we have a very strong collection in student activism in the Atlanta University Center and just overall civil rights, human rights, and social justice. We are growing our resources on African American women, particularly in the South. The collection is really strong and touches on a lot of different topics in African American history and culture.
Clint Fluker: What does advocacy for special collections mean to you?
Andrea Jackson Gavin: One aspect of advocacy means promoting the work of the people who are behind the scenes. The world enjoys looking at old images on social media and reminiscing about them or sharing them. But we rarely think about the work behind it; how to preserve and how to acquire these historical records. It also means advocating for more people to join this profession, especially African American folks. Advocacy also looks like explaining to donors what it is we really do and why it is so important. I think funding is an issue for most archives, so part of advocacy is just saying we need to get this funding to do scholarship and engagement with these materials.
Clint Fluker: What are some of the methods you have used to advocate for special collections?
Andrea Jackson Gavin: When you go to school for archival management you learn all about the fundamentals and you learn about the theory, but you don't always learn about fundraising or grant writing. I think just really having a pulse on what grants are out there is important. For example, right now historically black colleges and universities are really seeing a lot of funding and collaborative opportunities. After some very awful things going on in this world, HBCUs are getting a little bit more attention and funding in this moment.
Social skills are important as well. I know how to network and how to stay in touch with people that have resources that they are looking to provide to organizations. You have to really nurture the relationships and continue to be in conversation looking for avenues of partnership. You also just have to put yourself in places because people can recognize folks that are passionate about their work. Even if you're not super social, you can be involved in organizations and you can take leadership roles, or even very active supportive roles.
Clint Fluker: How have you met that challenge of advocating internally for resources?
Andrea Jackson Gavin: Quite frankly you've got to have an administration that backs you if you're not able to make decisions independently. I will say we have been fortunate that our library director feels very passionate about archives and has always been very supportive of our work. Advocates have to become creative and think about what they can do differently—how they can share new ideas with their administration, and also that they may be overwhelmed or need more staffing, for instance.
And when it comes to working with donors or outside companies for support, sometimes it’s not me or the head of the archives that’s the front face. Oftentimes, it is the library director or the CFO and you need to equip them with as much information as possible, so that they can advocate on your behalf for your work and your programs.
It's something for which you just have to continue to pound the pavement. You have to partner with your development offices, because some of them recognize the opportunities sooner than your administration. You have to talk with university presidents and provosts so that they see the benefits of your work as well. You just have to always be in a position of showing the benefits of special collections.
Some of these benefits include the ability to preserve institutional legacy and contribute to a shared sense of community. In addition, it's very useful to an administration when special collections have materials that they can be proud to share with external parties, funders, and stakeholders. Showcasing archival jewels can often lead to future acquisitions and financial resources. All of which can be used to further the mission of the archives to support the preservation and accessibility of cultural heritage. In this way, special collections allow us to share stories and add to the historical record.
Clint Fluker: Does working at an HBCU pose specific challenges when you're advocating for special collections?
Andrea Jackson Gavin: I think HBCUs experience the same challenges as many other academic institutions, small ones, or medium sized ones. When I attend various conferences and leadership institutes, I find that a lot of us have the same types of issues. Most of us have to fight or give justification for funding. We must have a plan, and advocate or even have donors speak on our behalf so administration can really understand our needs.
I think many HBCUs struggle with that, but I want to say that the AUC Woodruff Library is in a unique position being an independent library and independent institution serving 4 unique HBCUs – though we still certainly have challenges. I always remind people that we have been collecting African American history since our inception. Because our funding is not always the same as some other institutions, we cannot always pay for acquisitions. This can be a huge challenge when creators or holders of historical materials have the option of being compensated for an archival collection. For us, we typically rely upon donors to donate their collections without compensation.
I am certain this is a challenge many HBCUs face, despite being the primary places where African American history was first preserved. The advocacy for archives in general, just has to be ramped up even more to make our donors aware that there are benefits to donating collections to African American institutions.