May 27, 2017

Chaitra Powell | Movers & Shakers 2017 – Innovators

Chaitra Powell

CURRENT POSITION

African American Collections & Outreach Archivist, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill Libraries

DEGREE

MLS, University of Arizona, 2010

FOLLOW

@chaitrapeezy (Twitter); library.unc.edu/wilson/shc; afamfamilies.web.unc.edu; chaitralocksinarchivesland.blogspot.com

Photo courtesy of UNC Development Office

MS_logo_300x81

Making the Invisible Visible

At the 1964 summer Olympics in Tokyo, sprinter Marilyn White and her teammates won the silver medal in a relay event. She later became an elementary school teacher, genealogist, and motivational speaker.

Nearly 50 years later, Chaitra Powell met White in Los Angeles through White’s affiliation with the California African American Genealogical Society and the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, where Powell was an Archivist Fellow. She was determined to organize and archive White’s collection and record her oral history.

Working with both organizations, Powell launched a fundraising campaign via phone call solicitations, mailings, grant applications, and a website—all done “out of my apartment,” Powell recalls. “I believe that I am privileged to be an archivist, and I am [committed] to support[ing] people in the preservation of their stories.”

That same commitment informs her work at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, where since 2014 she has been the African American collections and outreach archivist for the Southern Historical Collection (SHC), working to expand its relevance and scope.

Dating to 1844, SHC has 20 million items in more than 5,000 collections. But while African Americans are mentioned, their voices have “historically been absent, marginalized, or minimized,” notes Judy Panitch, director of library communications at the university. “It is a paradox that Chaitra refers to as being ‘invisible in the archive,’ and…she has tirelessly set out to address [it].”

Powell has done so by both bringing to light those voices in the collection and acquiring new materials, most notably through the African American Families Documentation Initiative.

An advocate of community-driven archiving, which encourages localities to preserve and curate their own history, she’s provided expert guidance to the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project and the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance, among others. In San Antonio, Powell organized and led a daylong charrette with stakeholders to begin charting a course for the creation of an African American History Museum and Community Archive there.

She’s also leading the fundraising efforts sparked by a $500,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, awarded in 2016 to endow SHC’s archivist position and outreach. The SHC must raise $1.5 million toward a total of $2 million, Powell says. By the end of 2016, it had raised more than $508,000.

“I’ve heard great metaphors about people’s stories functioning like colored paint on an easel, elements in the periodic table, or spices in a cabinet,” Powell says. “We can’t make the best painting, most useful compound, or delicious dish without access to as many perspectives as possible.”

Save

This article was published in Library Journal's March 15, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Share
Professional Development for Today’s Librarian
Stay ahead of innovations and changes impacting the library profession with timely resources and tools from Library Journal and School Library Journal. Staff and stakeholders from all settings and at all levels can participate in hands-on live workshops, enroll in immersive online courses led by leading industry professionals, and access insightful webcasts covering a range of relevant topics.
Register for the LJ Day of Dialog Livestream!
  For the first time in Day of Dialog history, we’re offering livestream access for those unable to attend in person! Tune in on May 31 to watch a full-day of author presentations and panels. You’ll also receive access to the event archive for two months.
Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  4. Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media, per our Terms of Use.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*