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CoSA Cultural Competency Programming: A Pause, A Pivot, and A New Direction

By Anne Ackerson posted 11-03-2023 10:30 AM


CoSA Cultural Competency Programming: A Pause, A Pivot, and A New Direction                   

The broad topic of cultural competency was identified as an important element of CoSA’s IMLS-funded BACKER: Building Archival Capacity for Keeping Electronic Records grant, particularly as it related to public access of electronic records. As we stated in our baseline report, Relevant, Responsive, and Respectful: Government Archives in the 21st Century – An Overview of Cultural Competency in State and Territorial Archives in 2022,A key outcome of the BACKER project is to integrate electronic records access with an intentional awareness of current and potential records users so that state and territorial archives become more conscientious and resilient community partners.” It seemed clear that opportunities existed for CoSA members to address inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) issues at the same time solutions were being developed for preservation and access to their electronic records. How could CoSA help?

Following up on the report, we offered a series of virtual cultural competency awareness-building workshops that were designed and led by our project consultant, Helen Wong Smith, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library Archivist and President of the Society of American Archivists. The workshops were then supported by a series of regular conversations, led by Smith and often topic-based, with workshop participants. Resources were gathered and made available to workshop participants, as well.

A Pause and A Pivot

Sparse conversation attendance over several months led us to rethink what members need and want in terms of information, training, and resources. As one state archivist shared, cultural competency is a “journey of awareness,” never fully learned, but always in a state of learning. We knew it would take time to engage with CoSA members around the aspects of cultural competency and it has, indeed, been a journey.

It was time to take a pause, gather some additional insights, and reflect on where we could make the biggest impact with the remainder of the project.

A New Direction

As BACKER moved into year three, we’ve shifted strategy. First, we've changed the name of this portion of the project from 'cultural competency' to 'managing cross-cultural differences'. As a result, we're emphasizing issues and methods of working effectively in cross-cultural situations by managing differences among staff and the communities our members serve. Secondly, we will continue to build a resource library that is available to all CoSA members, not just those who attended workshops. Today, we're unveiling a new section on the website that includes self-assessment tools, bibliographies, videos, and templates. In the coming months, we'll be debuting a 10-module, self-directed course that builds off of Helen Wong Smith's virtual workshops.

Last, but not least, Helen Wong Smith with continue her work with CoSA, providing one-on-one mentoring and training as part of BACKER technical assistance. If your agency wants to work with Smith, please reach out to BACKER project coordinator Nick Connizzo at