Research Strategies: Finding Asian American and Pacific Heritage Materials at the ALA Archives

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and we at the ALA Archives want to help you optimize your research into Asian Pacific American history. In this month’s blog post, we’ll take a tour through ALA Archives holdings and we’ll try multiple strategies for finding information. Read on to learn more!

For keyword searches, the ALA Archives database can be searched to find related record series based on subjects. Similar to a library catalog, an archivist personally identified multiple subjects which are evidenced in an archives’ record series. Different from some library catalogs, some archives databases use subject headings primarily based on the archives’ holdings–rather than using a national subject heading system. Also, when using subject searches, careful researchers should be sure to use old subject terms, in case the local archives has not updated all subject keywords yet. Of course, we will use the ALA Archives as an example.

In the images above, we see the first screen of the subject keyword directory and we see that each subject is listed alphabetically. When researching Asian Pacific American history, one possible subject term is either “Asian American” or “Pacific Islander”. So, we click the letter “A” to view the subject keywords which begin with the letter “A”.

Next, we look for the term “Asian American”. While the bad news is that we don’t see “Asian American” in isolation, the good news is that we see many related options including “Asia”, “Asia Foundation”, “Asia Projects”, “Asian Studies”, and “Asian/Pacific American Librarians”!

Research tip: Instead of searching for a complete term like “Asian-Pacific American” or “Asian-Pacific Islander”, searching by a stem word like “Asian” or “Pacific” will include include multiple similar terms (and misspelled words or variants of words).

Bonus research tip: Don’t forget to search terms with and without hyphens!

Now that we can locate some subject keywords manually, a few more useful ALA Archives subject keywords include:

Asia | Asia Foundation | Asia Projects | Asian Studies | Asian/Pacific American Librarians

As an example, if we click “Asian/Pacific American Librarians “, then we find multiple record series related to the organization. From there, we can read the read the database record entries for more information.

Search by Keyword

Typically, advanced archival subject searches include specific names of people, places, or events, to identify as many useful record series as possible. Unfortunately, researchers first need background knowledge of their topic to identify specific names of people, places, or events. Fortunately, the archivist is a resource and general database queries can help too.

Research tip: When researchers do not have any specific keywords, a general keyword search can help provide a starting point during exploratory research.

Bonus research tip: For specific queries,  don’t forget that a word search of record series descriptions can be entered or a word search of record series folder titles can be performed too.

By the time you reach this section of the blog post, you should be able to locate a subject keyword to find record series which may contain the information that you seek. If that is not working, then this is a great chance to remember to always consult your local expert–the archivist!

Search by Archivist

If you ask me about Asian Pacific American history at the ALA Archives, then I would answer “let’s think about who wrote that topic and we can start there”. This is because the person (or group) who made (or saved) a document is probably the same person (or group) who donated the document (and we keep donations together as we file documents). Would an example help?

Janet Suzuki was a co-founder of the Asian American Librarian Caucus (which was the predecessor to the Asian American Librarians Association). After retiring, Ms. Suzuki could have donated her A.L.A. papers to the ALA Archives as a “Janet Suzuki Papers” or she could have individually donated papers from separate organizations in separate donations to create an “Asian American Librarian Caucus Subject File”. Unfortunately, neither record series has been donated yet; but, that does not mean that the search for documentation is over. For example, if we search the current donated administrative records of the Office for Library Outreach Services in the Executive Director Subject File, (Record Series 10/2/6), then we can locate a few documents. In Box 3, we have the 1976 Asian American Librarians Caucus “A Survey Report of Public Library Services to Asian Americans”! [1]

While, sometimes, we have the personal papers of a person; often, we have the administrative records or publications of an office. So just because we don’t have the personal papers of one librarian does not mean that we don’t have other records of their career or life. Let us know about your research and we will do the best that we can to support you in your research here.

Search by Record Series

The ACRL Asian, African, and Middle Eastern Section (AAMES)

If you are looking more broadly for information about Asian or Pacific studies at the library, then why not also look into the information professionals who organize and provide access to Asian or Pacific studies at your library? The ALA Archives is fortunate to have some documentation of the Asian, African, and Middle Eastern Section (AAMES) of the Association of College and Research Librarians (ACRL).

Research tip: When researchers are not sure where to find information, then newsletters and other general publications of an organization are a great place to begin searching for topics because information is presented in readable narratives designed for general audiences.

Record Series 22/28/6, the Asian, African, and Middle Eastern Section Subject File contains correspondence and meeting notes, including information about conference program planning. Researchers should always consult a relevant subject file during and after their search. Solely browsing the folder titles and descriptions of a subject file helps familiarize researchers with which subjects were significant enough to warrant for the donor to keep. Often, subject files are rich with unsorted materials or single items that were not typically filed with other records. After exhausting a subject file, then researchers should check meeting minutes agenda and transcriptions for discussions of topics.

Research tip: When researchers generally know specific subjects of interest, then a subject file is a natural place to consult to find information on a given query. Subject files can contain a wide variety of documents about any given topic.

Researchers should always consult a relevant subject file during and after their search. Solely browsing the folder titles and descriptions of a subject file helps familiarize researchers with which subjects were significant enough to warrant for the donor to keep. Often, subject files are rich with unsorted materials or single items that were not typically filed with other records. After exhausting a subject file, then researchers should check meeting minutes agenda and transcriptions for discussions of topics.

Research tip: Researchers consulting a subject file should allot extra research time for any unusual items and other exciting findings filed in the archives.

Search by Archivist (Again and Often!)

As the name suggests, researching is searching and re-searching again, which implies that all of the above research strategies could (and should) be enjoyed multiple times for a given research project. Of course, be sure to check-in with your archivist during different stages of your research. Not only will the archivist alert you to new or incoming materials, the archivist has a great amount of experience searching the archives. Your archivist should be an irreplaceable resource for your own archival research.

A.L.A. Archives Blog Posts

The A.L.A. Archives has recently written about Asian Pacific American librarian history too. While providing access to A.L.A. history, these blog posts are rich with citations to other materials too.

Announcing Digitized Chinese-American Librarian Newsletters” by Lydia Tang, describes the extent of digitized Chinese-American Librarian newsletters in 2013.

Chinese-American and Asian Pacific American Librarian Publications” by Salvatore De Sando, describes the art and history of select CALA and APALA publications.

We hope that the many uses and reuses of all materials at the A.L.A. Archives inspires some ideas and we look forward to your visit soon.

References

[1] A copy of this report was published too. Please see: Asian American Librarians Caucus. “A Survey Report of Public Library Services to Asian Americans”. Journal of Library and Information Science 3 (October 1977):182.

[2] For a historical analysis of the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association, then please see: Yamashita, Kenneth. “Asian Pacific American Librarians Association: A History of APALA and Its Founders”. Library Trends 49 No. 1 (Summer 2000): 88-109.

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