New library archivist position focuses on black experience of students, faculty at NU


Colin Lynch/Daily Senior Staffer

The circulation desk in Main Library on Northwestern’s campus. NU Libraries recently announced a new archivist position to document the lives of black students, faculty and alumni.

Madeleine Fernando, Assistant A&E Editor

Northwestern University Libraries hired an archivist to document the lives of black students, faculty and alumni, the University announced Tuesday.

Charla Wilson will be the first archivist for the black experience, according to a news release. The position was created in collaboration with the NU Black Alumni Association, NU Libraries and the Office of the Provost, dean of libraries Sarah Pritchard told The Daily. The first official proposal for this position came from NUBAA and a group of NU students following demonstrations held in 2015, Pritchard said.

Despite the position’s recent proposal, Pritchard said there have been people within the NUBAA and at NU Libraries working on archival materials separately for some time.

“Time is of the essence in terms of chronicling these legacies,” NUBAA president Jeffrey Sterling said in the release. “We will have a living, breathing archive that helps encourage and motivate students, community members and alumni to engage with Northwestern and support each other.”

NUBAA submitted a proposal directly to the Office of the Provost noting several ideas for how the University could better support NUBAA archives and the Black House, Pritchard told The Daily. She said Provost Dan Linzer then reached out to her asking for her opinion about a new archivist position and about NU Libraries’ process regarding the NUBAA archives.

Pritchard told The Daily that NU Libraries were “very supportive” of the idea and spent about six months in conversations with members of NUBAA, library staff and Jabbar Bennett, the associate provost and chief diversity officer at Northwestern.

According to the release, Wilson will join the NU Libraries staff in July. In the past, she worked at the Barona Cultural Center and Museum of California, the release said. She also worked as a library, archives and museum collections manager at the Women’s Museum of California, the release said.

Wilson’s first project at NU will be working with the NUBAA to coordinate the donation of its archives to the University, Pritchard told The Daily.

“Not only will this collection tell the stories and experiences of African American students, faculty and staff, but it also will broadly enrich the history of African Americans in the Midwest, Illinois and in higher education,” Wilson said in the news release.

Pritchard told The Daily that Wilson will also prepare archival materials for the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Bursar’s Office Takeover, which will be commemorated next year. Some material from the archives would be featured in an exhibit, Pritchard said.

Although the first priority is the time-sensitive work on the NUBAA archives, Pritchard told The Daily the position is called the archivist for the black experience because NU Libraries envisions this role extending beyond the NUBAA archives and relating to many different students, faculty, academic research and organizations at Northwestern and in the Evanston area.

“The position is fully within (NU Libraries) and yet expected to be heavily collaborative,” Pritchard told The Daily. “There’s so many audiences that this person will work across.”

University archivist Kevin Leonard said Wilson’s position will assist NU Libraries and archives to do much more work in expanding and improving their holdings relating to the black experience.

Leonard said the new position is a “very positive development,” adding he is looking forward to Wilson’s arrival on campus.

“She has the right experience that we need for the job,” Leonard said. “We are very optimistic about her chances for success here.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @madeleinemelody