February 17, 2018

Julie Herrada | Movers & Shakers 2002

Archiving Alternatives

Archiving alternatives at the University of Michigan

Anarchy and libraries don’t seem like a good match; one prides chaos, the other values order. Moreover, few outside the world of stacks and card catalogs would think that librarians might also flirt with radicalism and correspond with one of the nation’s most infamous criminals.

However, that’s what Julie Herrada, 40, does in her capacity as curator of the University of Michigan’s Labadie Collection, the largest collection of anarchist and social protest literature in the country. It also houses the National Transgender Library and Archive, a vast repository documenting the history of the transgender movement. Established in 1911, the entire collection contains more than 36,000 books and 8000 periodicals.

But Herrada’s interests don’t just extend to collecting and cataloging the literature of less-than-main
stream groups. The daughter of a lifelong United Auto Workers member, she worked on voter registration in the early 1980s and for the Democratic Party in the mid-1980s. After a realization that the party wasn’t for her, she started working with socialist groups on issues concerning South Africa’s apartheid policies. Even today, she’s active in the antiwar and peace movements. She helped organize a local chapter of Women in Black, a peace movement that started in Israel.

“I’ve been interested in social movements since before I started going to library school,” she says. “I knew about the Labadie Collection through different people in the movement who had been using it for research. So when a position came open in late 1993 [for an archival assistant], I applied for it.”

While she didn’t get that job, she found out she was being considered for assistant curator. Now she’s in charge of collecting a literature of generally unpopular views.


Current position: Curator, University of Michigan’s Labadie Collection

Degree: Wayne State University, Detroit, MSLS, certificate in archival administration, 1990

“Part of my job is to know what’s going on in the radical press and to collect material related to that,” she says. And recently, Herrada, never one to shy from controversy, raised more than one set of eyebrows with the acquisition of the correspondence of Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, who pleaded guilty in 1998 to an antitechnology bombing campaign that killed three people and injured 22 others between 1978 and 1995. He was sentenced to life without parole in 1998.

“After he got arrested, there was a lot of press about his writings–and there was a lot of debate in the anarchist press. I kind of picked up on that…. So I wrote to his attorney asking about his papers. I thought, ‘I shouldn’t just let this pass by.'”

In 1997, she began writing to Kaczynski, asking to include his papers in the collection. Three months passed, and then one day she got a call from his attorney.

“Mr. Kaczynski is very interested,” he said.

The Kaczynski collection takes up about f
ive linear feet, Herrada says, and includes not only his manifesto but also letters from people around the world and some of his responses, pamphlets, clippings, and other material mailed to him. Herrada hopes eventually to include papers confiscated by the FBI from his Montana cabin.

But how does she reconcile her responsibility as a librarian and her personal feelings of collecting the writings of a serial murderer? “I try to remain objective,” she says. “I don’t condone that behavior, but I feel I have a responsibility to researchers in the future so they have access to that kind of material.”

Her boss agrees. “What makes Julie good at her job is the passion she brings to it,” says Peggy Daub, head of the special collections library at Michigan. “There is a definite synergy between her professional and personal interests, and we benefit from it. I believe the energy she brings to her position in the library stems partly from her belief in the importance of what she is doing.”

Now, in the midst of the U.S. “war on terrorism,” Herrada feels that the radical and unpopular views in the rest of the Labadie Collection need to be preserved and open to the public in order to maintain a robust exchange of ideas.

“They need to be known about especially because they’unpopular,” she adds. “I think people have a right to know there are dissenting views. I can’t make the judgment whether or not to provide access to controversial or unpopular ideas.”