Bonnie Wildie is a presenter and blogger, in addition to her work as an assistant curator. She won the ALIA Student Award in 2017 for the Master of Information Studies (Librarianship) course.
How did you become involved in the GLAMR sector, and what attracted you to archives?
My career is probably similar to a lot of other GLAMR people, in that I came into it from another discipline. My first degree was a Bachelor of Arts, with a double major in English and History. During this period of study I worked in hospitality (forward sizzle – this is going to be important later on). I then went on to complete Honours in English Literature, and started to contemplate where my qualifications might take me. I saw a library assistant role and thought it would be a great fit. I had first class Honours with a dissertation in Victorian literature! I had an undergrad in literature and history! I had many years experience in customer service! I was perfect and this was definitely my job! And of course, I didn’t even get an interview.
I started to look at why I had been unsuccessful. For starters, I wasn’t suitably qualified. Luckily, a colleague of mine had just completed the Diploma of Library and Information Studies and recommended the course to me, suggesting that it would ‘suit my temperament’. I had a look, and decided to enroll in both the Diploma and a Master of History while I worked out what I wanted to be when I grew up. At the same time, I got a job working in digital archiving. I was handling records each day, so it was really my first introduction to GLAMR.
Towards the end of the Diploma, I was successful in my application for a library assistant position at an academic library. I was still studying, so I was driving over an hour in the morning to my class, and then over two and half hours to my job (on a normal day the commute was one and a half hours). My first library technician role was at an international hotel management school – a lesson that your previous experience and skills are so often applicable in the realm of GLAMR. From here, things really exploded – in addition to working in the library, I was lecturing at the school and teaching library science at TAFE. This period was incredibly busy, and incredibly rewarding. I was an absolute privilege to teach so many wonderful students who have entered GLAMR as marvelous contributors to the field.
From here, I moved into the realm of cultural heritage. I can’t describe what it is like to work with original materials; each day feels like a dream, and you can’t be sure that what you are seeing is actually real, because how can it possibly be!? Reference work had always felt like a better fit for me, given my experience working in customer service and in teaching. But I also realized that the library hierarchy was going to prevent me from fully realizing my potential – my Master of History wouldn’t mean anything without a Master of Information Studies. So I enrolled, and graduated top of my class in 2017.
I have recently moved into a curatorial role, and it honestly feels like the absolute best fit – a sort of amalgamation of my experience and qualifications coalescing into absolute dream work that I love. I get to share my love of history and cultural heritage with people and spend my days treasure hunting.
What has motivated you to engage with the historical records in a physical way, and how have you done this?
My first opportunity to engage with historical records in a creative way was presented by Tim Sherratt, who posted an invitation to the GLAMR community on Twitter to get creative with the#redactionarthe had discovered in digitized ASIO files. The community response was wonderful and creative. I was engaged with the process on Twitter, and wanted to contribute to the conversation, but wanted to do it in a way that was meaningful to me. I didn’t want to just replicate what others were doing; I wanted a very ‘Bonnie’ response to these records.
The response to #redactionart was interesting, in that it was a very physical response. People made tattoos, stickers, brooches, cookie cutters, cookies, cakes etc. The response was tangible. So I thought about what I could contribute that would also be tangible, would also have physicality. I learnt to sew in high school, and the majority of my wardrobe is handmade, so it made sense to me to sew something. The more I thought about, the more I liked the idea of wearingthe records. I started to look at clothing and the body as a site of protest, and realized that a dress would not only be tangible, unique and pretty cool, but that it would also tap into a long history of textiles-as-subversive. So I created a dress made of #redactionart ASIO files that also provokes conversation about access, information control, and collection reuse.
I presented on this work at the #LCA2018 conference. Donna Benjamin also presented at the same event, and her presentation about her online campaign to #DigitisetheDawn, as well as the conversation that emerged on the day, prompted me to make a second dress. This dress uses the masthead of Louisa Lawson’s feminist magazine ‘The Dawn’ to start a conversation not only about Australia’s female suffrage movement, but also about the way digitization priorities are decided and communicated.
The discourse about GLAMR often posits a dichotomy of analog versus digital. In this framework, there is only one or the other and I seek to disrupt this. I used the digitized copies of physical records to create textiles I could wear, and shared them and engaged in conversation about them in both physical and virtual spaces.
Would you encourage others to also engage with history in this way?
I think we should all be engaging with our history; moreover, I think we should be engaging critically with our history, and as GLAMR professionals, analyzing our role in developing systems that record and disseminate the objects and records that form history. Are we promoters of comfortable narratives, or are our collections (and metadata) bold and diverse and reflective of a multitude of voices and experiences? How have the structures imposed by our institutions influenced the stories that make up our history? How can we disrupt them?
Find a way of engaging that makes sense to you. Make your response your own. For me, it was about making a dress. My dressmaking drew on a skill that I learned in high school, but taps into a broader conversation around the exploitation of women’s labour, the value of craft vs maker culture, and the concept of slow fashion. On a personal level, it taps into a story of casualization and employment uncertainty, and the need to ‘make do’. And it taps into an emerging conversation of subversive textile (centuries old) meets online world, where conversations occur not only locally, but also globally. I chose to wear the conversation. You response might be something quite different. Above all, create community.
So yes, I would encourage everyone to get out there and have some fun with our amazing cultural heritage. Changes to copyright laws means 2019 will be an absolute bonanza of records just waiting to be reused and remixed. Get amongst it, and share your creations!
Finally, is there any advice you would like to give library students and new professionals?
Gosh, so much!
Most importantly – your experience entering and working in GLAMR will be unique. The advice of others, the things that worked for them and the things that failed, may apply to you, or they may not. It doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or done something wrong, it just means good for them, not for you.
Some people advocate for professional profiles. I myself am an advocate, but it comes from a position of realizing the inherent privilege associated with being able to have a public persona, of being okay with being found. Because, for a long time, being found was not an option for me.It was something I did not want, something that was not safe. So I would say – engage in the GLAMR community in a way that is safe for you. It might be a full and complete public profile, or it might be an anonymous Twitter account. Each is fine, and some of the best people in GLAMR I recognize only by their Twitter handle. The onus is on the GLAMR community to ensure that our professional development, our networking, and our hiring practices are inclusive of people with both public and private personas.
Engage in professional development for yourself and your own career. Real talk – it may come as a shock, but not all GLAMR professionals are life long learners. You will work with people who do not undertake professional development and it can be incredibly frustrating, particularly for those of us who are temporarily employed. Wasting energy on those people will not help you. Getting frustrated will not help you (trust me – I know this from experience). What will help you is continuing your professional development despite this.
I want you also to know that we aren’t neutral. Never have been, never will. Question our profession and question the what and why of what we do. Be an advocate, absolutely, but also think critically about the structures we support and uphold.
And honestly, GLAMR can be tough. I’ve cried over a lot of rejections letters. I’ve felt frustrated and angry and despondent and ready to give up. But what helped me through this was a core group of GLAMR people who genuinely want to help. Find your people. Find the people that you can trust, and who trust you. Find the people who will help you, and who you want to help. Find the people you can ask anything of, the people that will encourage you, the people who will commiserate with you, the people who will proof read a million cover letters and send inspirational Leslie Knope GIFS (I am looking at you @catandcardigan and I am ever grateful).