Community Inquiry Self-Reflection / Susan Barrett

This study path asks learners to research the history of a local community and develop outreach strategies, and could be conducted as a small group or individual activity.

By Susan Barrett, Director of Library Repository Services and Technology, Arizona State University

Archivists, museum professionals and librarians, especially lone professionals, are responsible for a wide-variety of communities. Investigating unfamiliar traditions, beliefs or behaviors builds personal flexibility and culturally responsive behaviors. This assignment asks students to learn about the history of a local community prior to outreach activities and could be conducted as a small group or individual activity.

Learning Objectives

The student will:

  • Identify methods of inquiry concerning marginalized communities.
  • Reflect and write about personal biases, flexibility and responses to potentially uncomfortable situations.
  • Develop a process for inquiry about unfamiliar communities.

Reflection/discussion Prompt

You are an information professional who desires to build stronger relationships with a community with whom you have little or no experience. Reflect on how you would learn about the community and prepare for outreach activities.

Self-reflection Writing or Discussion

  1. Perform a literature search and web inquiry about a local community with which you have few connections or no relationship.
  2. Does your institution already hold collections related to these groups? If not, are there other organizations that do have collections or existing relationships with these communities?
  3. How will you address historical conflicts that may exist between your institution’s predecessors and the community? How will you feel working with community members who have a conflict with your institution?
  4. Describe the ethical dilemma involved with outreach to an unfamiliar community?
  5. Identify the community leaders. Why are they community leaders?
  6. How should you address or approach community leaders? How will you feel and respond if your outreach is rejected? How will you feel if your outreach is welcome?
  7. Who in the community should you contact to learn more, and why?
  8. What did you learn about the community and why would it affect your outreach approach?


Assessment is tied to the resources discovered by students, and less on the resources provided by the instructor. Assessment will include:

  1. A written project plan involving an outreach and documentation strategy for the specific group under study.
  2. A final reflection essay about what the student learned about their role as archivists in these larger relationships between their institution and user communities.



Carter, Rodney. 2006. “Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence.” Archivaria 61.
Dunbar, Anthony. 2006. “Introducing Critical Race Theory to Archival Discourse: Getting the Conversation Started.” Archival Science 6 (1): 109–29.
Ettarh, Fobazi. 2014. “Making a New Table: Intersectional Librarianship.” In the Library with the Lead Pipe, July.
Greene, Jennifer C. 2006. “Toward a Methodology of Mixed Methods Social Inquiry.” Research in the Schools 13 (1): 93–98.
Kools, Susan, Angela Chimwaza, and Swebby Macha. 2015. “Cultural Humility and Working with Marginalized Populations in Developing Countries.” Global Health Promotion 2 (21).
Wakimoto, Diana K., Christine Bruce, and Helen Partridge. 2013. “Archivist as Activist: Lessons from Three Queer Community Archives in California.” Archival Science 13 (4): 293–316.

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