Why Participate in the Cultural Competency Survey?

By Anne Ackerson posted 01-05-2022 01:42 PM

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By Helen Wong Smith, MLIS, CA, FSAA
Archivist for University Records, University of Hawai’i and Cultural Competency Consultant on CoSA’s Building Archival Capacity for Keeping Electronic Records (BACKER) Project

Regrettably, when a term becomes ubiquitous it is often misinterpreted or misrepresented, making it subject to appropriation and denigration.  By applying the definition of the cultural competency framework as “the ability to function with awareness, knowledge, and interpersonal skill when engaging people of different backgrounds, assumptions, beliefs, values, and behaviors” you remove the limitations of ethnicity, socio-economic status, and more importantly, the “us having to work with them” mentality. Too often, outreach to underserved communities, employing people of color, or criticizing dominant cultures are considered exercises in cultural competency when the trifecta of cognitive (knowledge about other cultures to inform their skills and practice), affective (positive attitudes are needed toward one's own culture(s) as well as the cultural heritage of your colleagues and patrons), and behavioral (ability to adapt and accommodate behaviors to a different culture) are required.

What is remembered or recorded is shaped by culture and the archive's form is shaped through archival processes and concepts which are shaped by these cultures[1]. This premise promotes the principle that creating organizations that are culturally competent is not an altruistic wish but rather a pragmatic strategy to ensure our workforce reflects, represents, and is responsive to the communities with whom we collaborate and serve and perhaps more critically, how we shape the archival record.  This goal may seem daunting but can be less so through the implementation of expert tools, such as the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Cultural Competency Standards[2],[3].

There has been an increased acceptance of the framework of Cultural Competency in the archival and allied professions as recognized by several initiatives in the past decade addressing long recognized shortcomings in our professions and the benefits of its principles.  These initiatives include the formation of the “Building Cultural Proficiencies for Racial Equity Framework Task Force” by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the American Library Association’s Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services (ODLOS), and the Public Library Association (PLA)[4].  More relevant to the CoSA community are the efforts of the Society of American Archivists in providing a full-day workshop[5] and the Academy of Certified Archivists’ Board formally passing the motion to establish Cultural Competency as a new domain through the establishment of a Cultural Competency Task Force[6], reflecting Cultural Competency as an appropriate framework toward addressing a long recognized shortcoming in the profession.

One of the actions of the CoSA’s IMLS-funded BACKER grant is to “Accelerate development and implementation of digital preservation planning and cultural competence awareness and skill-sharing among archives staff.”  As more records move online, the inequities surrounding public access increases, as does the need for archives to better understand the barriers community members face in accessing them.  The BACKER project aims to mitigate some of these gaps by working directly with archives staff to assess capabilities, develop plans and policies, and advise on infrastructure and cultural competency strategies to help state and territory archives reach their designated communities.

The training design proposes to accelerate development and delivery of educational and training programs in the form of webinars, video interviews, virtual mini-conferences, online workshops, and communities of practice that address digital preservation planning, digitization project planning, and cultural competence awareness – and skill building in tandem with public engagement best practices with strategies to help assess community barriers to records in archives as part of the direct assistance and mentor phases of the project. Training provides CoSA members with agency to participate in the design and execution of all phases of the process, which includes formation of questions, design, data collection and analysis, dissemination, utilization[7].

By completing the survey you will direct the training with a post survey capturing any changes in practices and policies with qualitative changes as a result of the training program. 

The methodology seeks to provide opportunities for the researcher and the participants to reflect on processes and learn from the feedback. The study is expected to reveal that through giving agency to CoSA members to reflect on the needs of their repositories, state and territorial archives will become more intentional and resilient community partners.

[1] White, Kelvin L., Susan Marilyn Mckemmish, Anne Gilliland, and Andrew Lau. “Race and Culture : an Ethnic Studies Approach to Archival and Recordkeeping Research in the United States”, 2017.

[2]  "Diversity Standards: Cultural Competency for Academic Libraries (2012)", American Library Association, May 4, 2012. (Accessed December 14, 2021) Document ID: c9831d45-0593-0c14-d1f0-d428464031f7

[3] Rivera, Alexandra. “Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Competencies in the Library Profession: From Theory to Practice,” 2013.



[6] Pers. Comm. Tamaro Taylor, March 30, 2020

[7] McTaggart, Robin. "Principles for participatory action research." Adult education quarterly 41, no. 3 (1991): 168-187.