Reciprocal Archival Imaginaries: The Shifting Boundaries of “Community” in Community Archives

  • Gracen Brilmyer
  • Joyce Gabiola
  • Jimmy Zavala
  • Michelle Caswell


Drawing on data collected from focus groups composed of users of five different community-based archives sites in Southern California, and using Benedict Anderson’s book Imagined Communities as a conceptual foundation, this article examines community archives users’ imaginations, anxieties, and affect regarding other archival users and the shifting boundaries of their community. This article asks, How do members of marginalized groups imagine fluctuating boundaries of their community by specifically conceptualizing other archival users? Community-based archives users, through this research, demonstrate their imaginaries about how their community is defined – not only by community members but also by outside forces. Our data shows a wide range of affective responses to users’ imaginaries; some see themselves as drawing on a community history that they are a part of and solidifying the scope of their community, while others are anxious about new “members” or outsiders who narrow or expand the bounds of a community. This article proposes the term reciprocal archival imaginaries – the circular, continually entangled relationships between archival users, their imaginaries, and community-based archives. Given the unique relationships between community-based archives and users – who also hold other roles as volunteers, donors, and board members and influence archival practice – reciprocal archival imaginaries reflect the ways in which users’ imaginaries and archives inform one another. Not only do community-based archives contribute to the formation of imaginaries, but imaginaries also inform archival processes and decision-making. This research, located alongside other archival scholarship that explores community archives and affect, emphasizes the importance and influence of community imaginations on the archives that form them.


Partant des données recueillies auprès de groupes de discussion composés d’usagers de cinq différentes archives communautaires du sud de la Californie, et utilisant le livre Imagined Communities de Benedict Anderson comme base conceptuelle, cet article explore les imaginations, les craintes et l’affect des utilisateurs des archives communautaires par rapport aux autres utilisateurs de ces archives et aux frontières mouvantes de leur communauté. Cet article pose la question suivante: comment les membres de groupes marginalisés imaginent les frontières changeantes de leur communauté en se représentant les autres utilisateurs des archives? Les utilisateurs des archives communautaires, à travers cette recherche, nous font part de leurs imaginaires et de la façon dont leur communauté est définie, non seulement par les membres de cette dernière, mais également par des pressions extérieures. Nos données démontrent une large gamme de réponses affectives aux imaginaires des utilisateurs; certains se perçoivent comme puisant dans l’histoire d’une communauté dont ils font partie et consolidant les limites de leur communauté, tandis que d’autres sont inquiets de voir de nouveaux « membres » ou des étrangers élargir ou restreindre les frontières d’une communauté. Cet article propose le terme imaginaires archivistiques réciproques : la relation circulaire, continuellement entremêlée, entre les utilisateurs des archives, leurs imaginaires et les archives communautaires. Étant donné la singularité des relations entre les archives communautaires et les usagers – qui y tiennent également d’autres rôles en tant que bénévoles, donateurs, membres des conseils d’administration, et ainsi influencent les pratiques archivistiques – les imaginaires archivistiques réciproques sont un reflet de la façon dont les imaginaires des usagers et les archives se nourrissent mutuellement. Non seulement est-ce que les archives communautaires contribuent à façonner les imaginaires, mais les imaginaires nourrissent également les processus et les décisions archivistiques. Cette recherche, sise en parallèle d’autres recherches en archivistique qui se penchent sur les archives communautaires et l’affect, met l’accent sur l’importance et l’influence des imaginaires de la communauté sur les archives qui les façonnent.

Author Biographies

Gracen Brilmyer

Gracen Brilmyer is a doctoral student in information studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where they are also pursuing a certificate in gender studies. Their research lies at the intersection of disability studies, archival studies, and the history of science, where they explore coloniality, affect, and disability, primarily within natural history. Their work at this intersection has been published in Archival Science, and their research on entomological collections and digital archives has been published in the book The Discipline of Organizing by Robert J. Glushko and in the journals News of the Lepidopterists’ Society, DNA Barcodes, and SHILAP: Revista de Lepidopterologia. They have also published a poster, “Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives,” with Michelle Caswell in the Library Quarterly. They have a background working with biological collections and hold a Master of Information Management and Systems from University of California Berkeley.

Joyce Gabiola

Joyce Gabiola earned an MSLIS in archives management at Simmons University. Most recently, they worked as a doctoral student researcher at UCLA for the IMLS-funded research study “Assessing the Use of Community Archives” (PI: Michelle Caswell). Previously, they worked as an Association of Research Libraries (ARL)/Society of American Archivists (SAA) Mosaic Fellow at the Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University and in the Curation and Preservation Services Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Additionally, they are part of the steering team of the AAPI LGBTQ+ Archiving Collective in Los Angeles, the Program Committee Co-Chair for the 2019 SAA/ Council of State Archivists (CoSA) Joint Annual Meeting, and an active member of the #WeHere collective.

Jimmy Zavala

Jimmy Zavala is the Transforming Knowledge/Transforming Libraries Project Coordinator Librarian at the University of California, Irvine. In 2017, he earned his Master of Library and Information Science at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Michelle Caswell

Michelle Caswell, PhD, is Associate Professor of Archival Studies in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she directs the UCLA Community Archives Lab.

She is the co-founder of the South Asian American Digital Archive, an online repository that documents and provides access to the stories of South Asian Americans. She is the author of the book Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory and the Photographic Record in Cambodia (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014) as well as more than three dozen peer-reviewed articles on archives, memory, and communities.

How to Cite
Brilmyer, Gracen, Joyce Gabiola, Jimmy Zavala, and Michelle Caswell. 2019. “Reciprocal Archival Imaginaries: The Shifting Boundaries of ‘Community’ in Community Archives”. Archivaria 88 (November), 6-48.