“It Feels Like a Life’s Work”

Recordkeeping as an Act of Love

  • Jennifer Douglas
  • Alexandra Alisauskas


By considering a set of in-depth interviews with eight bereaved mothers, this article seeks to explore ideas about what records are and what they do. Working to centre the voices and experiences of the bereaved mothers, the article first discusses some of the objects, events, places, and bodily traces they identified that function as records. It next considers the roles records and recordkeeping played for the parents interviewed, identifying four types of records work: proving life and love, parenting, continuing a relationship, and imagining. Records and recordkeeping are shown to be instrumental in the ongoing processing of traumatic loss as well as in the significant work of ensuring a life has meaning and is acknowledged. Finally, the interviews with parents also showed how deeply imbricated are love and grief as emotions and as motivations for recordkeeping, and the article ends by articulating a call for archivists to learn to “look with love.”


En étudiant un ensemble d’entrevues de fond avec huit mères endeuillées, cet article cherche à sonder différentes idées de ce que sont et ce que font les documents d’archives. Cherchant à recadrer les voix et les expériences des mères endeuillées, cet article aborde en premier lieu quelques-uns des objets, événements, lieux et traces corporelles qu’elles ont identifiés comme jouant un rôle documentaire. Il se penche ensuite sur le rôle que les documents et la tenue de documents ont joué pour les parents interviewés, identifiant quatre types de travail documentaire : témoigner de la vie et de l’amour, jouer son rôle de parent, entretenir une relation, et imaginer. Les documents et la tenue de documents s’avèrent être instrumentaux dans la gestion continue d’une perte traumatique ainsi que dans le travail important visant à garantir qu’une vie ait un sens et soit reconnue. Enfin, les entrevues avec des parents démontrent également combien l’amour et le deuil sont des sentiments intrinsèquement liés et profondément ancrés comme motivation à préserver des documents, et l’article se termine ainsi sur un appel aux archivistes à apprendre à « regarder avec amour ».

Author Biographies

Jennifer Douglas

Jennifer Douglas lives and works on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) people. She is an assistant professor in the School of Information, University of British Columbia, where she teaches courses on personal archives, archival arrangement and description, and archival research and scholarship. Her research interests include personal and intimate archives, the emotional dimensions of archival work, personcentred approaches to archival theory and practice, and archival representation and its histories.

Alexandra Alisauskas

Alexandra Alisauskas recently completed her MAS/MLIS at the School of Information at the University of British Columbia, pursuing the First Nations curriculum concentration, and is a learning and engagement librarian at the University of Calgary. Alexandra also holds a PhD in visual and cultural studies from the University of Rochester and was previously an arts writer, researcher, and educator. Her interests include artists’ and writers’ archives, digital collections, and person-centred approaches to library, archival, and information services. She lives as a guest on the unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səlíl lwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) nations, and on the traditional territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region in southern Alberta.

How to Cite
Douglas, Jennifer, and Alexandra Alisauskas. 2021. “‘It Feels Like a Life’s Work’: Recordkeeping As an Act of Love”. Archivaria 91 (June), 6-37. https://www.archivaria.ca/index.php/archivaria/article/view/13785.