The Politics of Being an Archival Donor

Defining the Affective Relationship Between Archival Donors and Archivists


  • Itza A. Carbajal University of Washington School of Information



Traditional archival praxis oftentimes depicts the archival donor as an observer and recipient of services or benefits. One that can either comply with the rules and expectations set forth by the archivist and archival institution when donating their materials or walk away from the process and opportunity. Despite the historic role of donor contributions in the form of archival donations, donors and their needs remain overlooked in much of the archival literature. Instead, current archival paradigms tend to focus more on the archival materials more so than the people behind them. But what if donors and archivists could reimagine their relationship and the ethical obligations associated with this bond?

This article applies Michelle Caswell and Marika Cifor’s archival theory of radical empathy combined with the theoretical framework of political consciousness as set forth by Black feminism. Using these frameworks, the research study uses a mixed method approach that includes a literature review of relationships in the archival field and a qualitative conventional content analysis of collected interview data from the donor case study of living music artist donors. As archivists seek to improve collection development and acquisition practices more attention must be placed on the care, affirmation, and wellbeing of the archival donor. Through collaboration with donors, archivists can strengthen archival practices by centering people and not just the things. By combining an ethics of care which introduces “a web of mutual affective responsibility” alongside the construction of a donor political consciousness, this article shows how donor participation contributes and strengthen archival practices that center people and not just things. The article and findings offer a distinct pathway to better understand the challenges, limitations, and possibilities of donor relationships and the benefits of donors recognizing the importance of active participation and understanding of their role in the archival process.

Pre-print first published online 02/26/2021

Author Biography

Itza A. Carbajal, University of Washington School of Information

Itza A. Carbajal is a Ph.D student at the University of Washington School of Information. Previously, she worked as the Latin American Metadata Librarian for LLILAS Benson at the University of Texas at Austin. She received a Master of Science in Information Studies from UT Austin and a dual-degree Bachelor of Arts in History and English with concentrations in creative writing and legal studies from UT San Antonio.