University of Houston Libraries welcomes Joyce Gabiola as the new LGBT History Research Collection librarian.
Please describe your role at UH Libraries. How does your work align with the research and teaching priorities of the University?
I’m building on the work of LGBTQI+ community members, along with archivist Vince Lee and the Special Collections team to preserve materials with historical meaning and make them accessible for researchers and the general public. In addition to archival appraisal, processing, curating, etc., part of my role is to build relationships and collaborate with members of the UH community and LGBTQI+ communities to support their teaching, research, and creative interests concerning LGBTQI+ history. This includes but is not limited to research assistance, instruction, discussing ideas for projects, selecting materials for exhibits, providing guidance for preserving materials, or just exploring the collections. The possibilities are endless.
Since I’m working with collections that were donated by members and organizations of historically marginalized and minoritized communities, acknowledging the power I hold as an agent of the academic institution that maintains these collections is essential to my work, as it is to the research and teaching priorities of the University, particularly concerning its strategic goal of social responsibility in building equity and inclusion.
Please share a bit about your background and research interests. How do these inspire and shape your approach as a librarian/archivist?
Houston is my hometown, so after 10+ years of living in Boston, L.A., and San Diego, I have returned in probably one of the best ways possible. It’s incredibly awesome that I get to do this work with the UH community (especially as an alum!) and fellow members of LGBTQI+ communities.
My direct and indirect experience spans academic, community, corporate, familial, and government environments, which have all shaped my approach as an archivist as well as a leader, mentor, researcher, and editor. For example, navigating academia has helped me pay more attention to structural powers that impact our work and relationships in archives, the field, and higher ed. Directing the daily operations of a precarious nonprofit LGBTQ community-powered archives with a low budget forced me to make challenging decisions that would have an impact on the safety and mental health of staff, interns, the community, and myself during a pandemic. And being a parent reminds me of all the jam hands that could possibly be near historical documents, which has prompted me to consider opportunities for K-12 engagement as well as policies around access to our material environment. My overarching approach is to intentionally work toward mitigating potential harm that can emerge in archival environments.
My latest publications explore power structures concerning marginalized or minoritized communities and archives. I’m the principal author of “It’s a Trap: Complicating Representation in Community-Based Archives,” which was published in The American Archivist this past July. My solo-authored essay, “(En)countering the Archival Sidekick,” was published in the Asian American Studies anthology, Q&A: Voices from Queer Asian North America, and it’s based on research that I conducted in four Texas archives as well as my autoethnographic experiences as a queer, more masculine-presenting person of color in the reading rooms and traveling between these different Texas cities.
What are one or two things you’d like people to know about working with archives?
Working with archives is powerful. I would venture to say that a lot of the public, including academics, either don’t know what archives are or they hold misconceptions of them. And yet, archives (plus folks who keep and care for historical materials) are essential to producing knowledge and understanding communities, cultures, and societies, as well as scientific and technological advancements. And it’s one thing to read about an historical event; it’s another to touch a document or object that physically connects you to that history.
Another thing I’d like people to know is that it’s okay for us to let go. Not everything is meant to or should be preserved. And depending on the context, it’s okay to forget and use our agency to protect through our own silence and absence. Some people intentionally subvert documentation of their histories and that of their communities as a way to protect against harm that can emerge through archival environments and relationships. Representation is complicated.
Working with archives is not simply about preserving historical materials and providing access to them. Among feelings of celebration and representation, archives are about people holding, abusing, or being impacted by structural power and navigating those realities through time and space; and it’s about how we consider those histories in order to resist or perpetuate that oppressive power in our present moment in an effort to shape the future. As I’ve stated, working with archives is powerful.
But also, working with archives is just plain cool…and the fact that I am able to do so with such a significant collection of LGBTQI+ history not only of UH, Houston and Texas, but of the nation (and eventually, the world) is beyond amazing.