PUL and HBCUs collaborate to revitalize summer ARCH program

Princeton University Library (PUL) joined forces with six Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to offer Archives Research and Collaborative History (ARCH), a program aimed at introducing participants to archival work through hands-on, experiential learning with Library collection items and access to professionals in the field.

Kentucky State University student Erica McPheeters (center) confers with her faculty mentor Professor TaKeia Anthony.

Kentucky State University student Erica McPheeters (center) confers with her faculty mentor Professor TaKeia Anthony. Photo credit: Brandon Johnson.


This year, the program expanded to include a joint initiative with Princeton University Art Museum, the Practice, Leadership, Artistry, Curation, and Equity program (PLACE), during which students spent one week with PUL collections and one with the Art Museum. The partnership began with PUL’s ARCH inspiring a similar Art Museum program that launched in 2019.

“The program is an outgrowth of the Princeton and Slavery Project,” said Dan Linke, University Archivist and Deputy Head of Special Collections. “Research during that project brought a focus on the University’s archives and how the narrative history of slavery in Princeton has been shaped by which materials archivists choose to preserve.”

Originally launched in 2018, this year, 14 students and seven faculty participants visited PUL to learn about everything from processing physical collection items donated by Library patrons to managing the acquisition and records of born-digital items. 

The week provided a holistic education during which students could both thumb through folders of items and ask librarians and staff questions, as well as have the opportunity to learn from each other and the backgrounds they bring to the archives. 

“My favorite part about the whole program was attending the closing reception and hearing how this excellent cohort of students had really bonded with each other over the course of the two weeks,” said Processing Archivist Phoebe Nobles

Nobles, along with Will Clements, Public Policy Papers Archivist, and Caitlin Abadir-Mullaly, John Foster & Janet Avery Dulles Fellow, ran an Archival Processing session, which considered the ways Library staff manage incoming items and the importance of legacy processing across generations of archivists. 

In a session with Sara Logue, Assistant University Librarian for Special Collections Public Services, and Emma Sarconi, Reference and Outreach Specialist, on instruction in Special Collections, the students investigated records from the Princeton Comparative School Program (PCSP), an “Upward Bound program with the purpose of increasing the pool of qualified college applicants who are ‘disadvantaged by race, economics, or both.’”

Students examined program records and the ways that the types of materials referenced — such as public-facing press materials versus behind-the-scenes documents — can create variations in how the program was interpreted. 

Some materials, for example, included published quotes lauding the program without any attributed speaker. Others were advertising materials that spoke to the benefits program participants would receive. 

Students sift through boxes of materials related to the Princeton Comparative School Program in PUL Special Collections

Students sift through boxes of materials related to the Princeton Comparative School Program in the Special Collections Large Classroom. Photo credit: Brandon Johnson

The students quickly realized, however, that despite being archived, the messages were not necessarily what they claimed to be. 

“Do you trust this document?” Sarconi questioned the students throughout the session. “And if not, ask why you don’t trust it.” 

Sarconi added, “The legacy of this program is complicated and the students grappled with the language used in internal documents to describe the participants in this program, the discrimination Black instructors in the program faced from administrators, and how little is known today about what the student experience of the program was actually like. This opened up great conversations about bias in the historical record and the emotional experiences of working in the archives.”

Later in the week, ARCH program goers also got to see the other end of an item’s lifecycle in the Preservation and Conservation Lab. Led by Book Conservator Mick LeTourneaux, Paper Conservator Melody Chen, and Preparator Brian George, the ARCH students crafted book wrappers, which are protective housings for collection items.

Ebube Maduka-Ugwu (left) and Rokhaya Ndiaye, both of Delaware State University, visited the Preservation and Conservation lab

Ebube Maduka-Ugwu from Delaware State University and Lillian Jackson, from Hampton University, visited the Preservation and Conservation lab to learn how to make protective book wrappers. Photo Credit: Brandon Johnson

In addition to PUL staff, ARCH collaborates with Caryl McFarlane, a Higher Education Diversity Programs and Strategy consultant who recruits the students, advises the Library on the program, and participates throughout the week to help make everything run smoothly.

Princeton University's Office of the Vice Provost provides support and guidance that makes the program possible. The Friends of the Princeton University Library also provides substantial funding for the program.

Being that participants spent two full weeks learning at and living on Princeton’s campus, ARCH also included informal opportunities for participants to see the town and interact with Library staff. One night, the group visited the Princeton Garden Theatre for a screening of Spike Lee’s 2018 film “BlacKkKlansman.” 

During one session, they had an informal conversation with Library staff about being people of color in primarily white workspaces. 

“The students were incredibly engaged and curious in all of the information sessions, discussion sessions, and extracurricular events,” said Processing Archivist Amy Vo. “They brought in a lot of different thoughts, approaches, and viewpoints, and I loved all of the questions that they asked. Especially in the BIPOC conversation session, I feel like we had a really earnest and far-ranging discussion amongst all of us in the session–PUL staff, visiting HBCU staff, and students.”

And while the program followed a tight schedule to ensure students could see a variety of departments, the students’ enthusiasm often led to impromptu changes to the flow of each session.

“My favorite part of the program was getting to see the excitement the students have for memory work,” said Valencia Johnson, Archivist for Student Life. “They were super engaged during the born-digital processing session and had wonderful questions that led to a lively discussion. Annalise [Berdini] and I didn't get through our slides because the conversations we were having were fantastic.”

The group also visited the new Stoutsburg-Sourland African American History Museum in Hopewell, New Jersey. 

“Students were able to see a nascent museum and how you can create and cultivate something remarkable,” noted Linke. “Everything that is a success starts with an idea, and the museum is an idea aborning. We also traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian.”

“The students impressed me with their enthusiasm, dedication, and thoughtfulness,” added Linke. “It was great to be back in person after a long hiatus, and it reinforced that, as much as we can do virtually, teaching and learning with cultural materials is best done in-person.”

Published on August 10, 2023

Written by Brandon Johnson, Communications Strategist

Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications