Raquel Flores-Clemons from Chicago State University
The second installment of CCC's Member Spotlight series features an interview with Chicago State University Archivist and Director of Archives, Records Management, and Special Collections, Raquel Flores-Clemons.
Tell us about yourself. What do you do at Chicago State University Archives?
I am a native Chicagoan, proudly born and raised on the West Side! I work as the University Archivist and Director of Archives, Records Management, and Special Collections. In a nutshell: I do it all. As a lone arranger, I must. Processing, collection building, policy development, exhibits, and public programs – you name it! I perform all the necessary duties to activate the archive! My core responsibility is to collect, preserve, and identify records as they relate to the University's history, which also includes the history of the neighborhoods in which the University resides. Chicago State University is located on the South Side, and, while it was located in Englewood for most of its 150-year history, it has been at its current location in the Roseland and Burnside communities since 1972. You definitely get a sense of synergy between the community and the University with the archival records.
In addition to processing archival records, I also provide archival reference services as well as work with students and visitors teaching them how to engage with our primary source materials and databases.
On a professional level, I love to stay engaged with other organizations in the city, such as the Black Metropolis Research Consortium. There are so many common threads between our collections. Staying involved with like-minded organizations usually leads to collaboration!
What are some of the interesting things your institution has on EXPLORE?
We have a massive collection from R. Eugene Pincham, who was a civil rights attorney, judge, politician and activist in Chicago from 1953 through 2003. He presided over and represented people in some really interesting cases that are notable in the fight for civil rights and criminal justice reform in Chicago, such as the Ryan Harris case and the Steven Shores case. We also have his collection of scrap books, photographs, and letters, as well as a permanent exhibit in the archives that is a re-creation of his office.
Also, the CSC (Chicago State College) Oral History Project, also known as the Neighborhood History Collection, is a collection of tapes, transcripts, and preliminary research of interviewees that participated in an ambitious city-wide oral history program conducted by the University’s History department in the late 1960s. Some notable people that were interviewed include African-American Studies scholar Arvarh Strickland, Bernard Johnson, and Margaret Burroughs – founder of the DuSable Museum.
Additionally, the Cook County Normal School and Chicago Normal College collections are the records of Chicago State University predecessor institutions and reflects the University’s early history. It also speaks to the early history of public education. Another interesting collection on EXPLORE is Chicago Renaissance: A Festival Celebrating African American Art, which includes photographs, flyers, vibrant and colorful posters, and correspondence that help to tell the story of the development of the festival.
What can we look forward to from your institution in the future?
The Provident Hospital Collection, which was the first African-American owned and operated hospital in America. As the custodians of that collection, we partnered with the Provident Foundation to care for the materials and make them available to the public. In fact, just last year there was an exhibit at the International Museum of Surgical Science on the legacy of Provident Hospital. They presented the collection so well! It was a great exhibit.
We also have a photo collection and audiovisual collection that speaks to the time that Illinois Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks taught at the University. Beginning in 1990, the CSU community had the great honor of having Ms. Brooks serve as Distinguished Professor of English until the time of her passing. The photo collection reflects her teaching, her interaction with the campus community, and the development of the Gwendolyn Brooks Writing Center. It also touches on the work around the development of the MFA program, which is one (if not the only) program in Chicago and one of a handful in the nation that focus on African American Literature. Additionally, CSU has over 20 years of video footage that documents the Gwendolyn Brooks Black Writer’s Conference (1990-2010), which includes Professor Brooks on much of the earlier footage. It is a real treasure for which we receive many inquiries.
What are some of the ways you've used the EXPLORE portal in your job or while interacting with patrons?
When I first came to CSU in Fall 2016, I had so much to learn about its collections. While I had the foundation to build on as a Chicago native and archivist with research interest in local history, I had to build on and deepen that CSU-specific knowledge quickly. So, I used EXPLORE portal as one of the tools to teach myself about CSU, the collections we had, and how the public discovered these historical materials. I was also really curious as to how topics related to our collections were being represented and used in other spaces. There are so many threads and shared narratives across the city. EXPLORE is the place where we can see many of them come together.
What have you liked about using EXPLORE?
It is such a slick site! The website, design, user experience – all on point. I’ve used it as a model in redesigning CSU’s Archives database and website, which is scheduled to re-launch later this semester. EXPLORE is so well thought out and organized. I have been reviewing EXPLORE for inspiration to shape how I might want our institution and its historical records to be represented in the digital landscape. It’s often lost upon folks how public facing the archive is! Of course, we’re in the classrooms and connecting with professors, but a lot of my work and research inquiries come from scholars at other institutions. The EXPLORE portal has been a model for me in developing an access point to our records that is user-centered, user-friendly, and beautifully designed.
By: Lauren McKeen, member of the Chicago Collections Communications Committee and librarian at Northwestern University Libraries