SAA @ UCLA presents “UCLA Information Studies: Fields of Endeavor.” The Fields of Endeavor series introduces UCLA Library and Information Studies program graduates and current interns who are out in the field taking knowledge learned in the program and putting it to use! We are excited to feature activist archivist extraordinaire Bo Doub from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.
Name: Bo Doub
Graduation Year: 2012
MLIS Focus: Informatics
Job Title and Site: Co-Project Archivist at the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG)
What do you do all day?
I was hired under a federal grant to (i) process and describe, on a basic folder-level, CSPG’s entire collection of over 80,000 social movement posters and (ii) catalogue on the item-level CSPG’s complete collection of Vietnam War Era posters. Since I am only two months into this job, and also because the archive is moving to Culver City this summer, the work so far has been in the “processing” phase. Processing, in this case, involves a lot of sorting of recent acquisitions and backlog to be put-away — sorting posters by geographical region, topic, and/or artist mainly. This sorting gives each poster a permanent location (in a folder in a big flat drawer in the archive) so that the drawers can be moved to the new building and the folders can later be described. Once the folder-level description is finalized, we will be able to generate an EAD collection finding aid for both in-house use and public use online and in the archive. I have also been cataloguing a lot of posters using MIMSY XG, the visual collections management software.
Most frequent response when you tell people what you do:
I try to tell people what I do in more accessible terms than just: “I’m an archivist.” Most often I probably say something like: “I sort and describe cool political art all day!” or I just tell them about the archive itself and the more recognizable institutional partners it has (where CSPG exhibits and loans its collections). People respond with blank stares and comments like, “I never even thought that would exist!” Though most everyone thinks the work sounds “really cool!” (however implausible).
Most interesting item, record, document, etc. you have come across:
I love the Cuban posters from artists and collectives like René Mederos and OSPAAAL (The Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America). A lot of these works came out of the 1960s and 70s advocating for the people of Vietnam against US imperialism and war. The beautiful work shown below is René Mederos’ “Viet Nam Will Win” from 1972, depicting Ho Chi Minh reading and the slogan “Viet Nam Will Win” in several different languages. CSPG has many copies of this poster and one of them hangs prominently in the main office.
What new skills have you developed through this experience?
I have gained a lot of visual recognition skills from this job. I can now sort posters very quickly by spotting visual indicators of the posters’ place of creation, main subjects, artist(s), creation date, provenance, people depicted, related events, and/or linked terms and topics. Many of these (often completely non-textual) indicators are communicated via indirect references to other art works, events, and political figures.
I have also learned a lot about historical social movements all around the world. A lot of the stories that the posters depict are truly inspiring and typically hidden from mainstream media. Lastly and more generally, this job has increased my experience in archival processing and cataloguing.
Recommendations for students who are interested in your type of work:
Voice your inner “bleeding heart” and your hunger for politically meaningful art. If you make any political art, donate it to CSPG. And CSPG is always taking volunteers; so if it sounds interesting to you, try it out! Also, don’t be shy about physical labor. Carrying around big folders full of posters takes some strength and endurance — be prepared!
One archival commandment you would establish:
Address items and acquisitions while they are on hand. I have found that it is easier and more accurate to describe or sort something while it is there in front of you. If you decide to commit what you are currently thinking about the item(s) to memory and address it later, the item can easily get lost in a backlog of other tasks and items. For example, if I put a poster aside to sort it more thoroughly later or I identify a person pictured in the poster and just decide to remember that identification for later cataloguing, that knowledge or will to sort will most likely fade over time. The poster will sit in a pile of miscellany and other posters will pile on top of it and the initial responsibility to sort it will not go away with time. It is the same with cataloguing a descriptive detail that is immediately on hand: get it down that instant and don’t trust your memory to preserve it for later!
Favorite archive to visit:
I like visiting the Wende Museum in Culver City. The Wende’s Cold War artifacts are also very political and they compliment CSPG’s collections nicely. Both archives are treasure troves of proletarian, Communist, and radical aesthetics.
Favorite course from the UCLA IS Department:
I loved Johanna Drucker’s History of the Book and Literary Technologies. That course was so interesting and fun that I forgot I was actually in a classroom whenever it was in session. During that course I got to research and write about rare books and exhibitions in YRL’s Special Collections and learn a lot of obscure and wonderful facts about literary treasures and technologies. The course was also useful in a practical way, especially in the areas of collection and exhibition development, prioritization, and deaccessioning.
Course you wish you had taken at the UCLA IS Department:
I wish I had taken one of the courses on Databases and also Christine Borgman’s Electronic Publishing. Oh, and Anne Gilliland’s Community-Based Archiving. I wish I could have taken them all!