What’s Inside: DC Punk Archive

Posted: November 18, 2015 by saacua in Inside the Archives
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Guest Post by: Rebecca Hoffman Moore

An Example of Participatory Archiving in Washington, D.C.

            Archives come in all shapes and sizes, as those of us who live in Washington, D.C. are keenly aware. Perhaps you have taken a tour of the National Archives (either downtown or in College Park, MD) and sensed the immense nature of their collections. You may have also been able to pay a visit to your local historical society or archive, like I did in my hometown along the Jersey Shore. While likely much smaller in size and scope, these smaller archives are an important part of your community.

The D.C. Punk Archive, a special collection at the D.C. Public Library, is an example of one such smaller archive that has arisen from the need to document an underrepresented, but nonetheless historically important, component of Washington, D.C. history. Washington, D.C., as the nation’s capital, certainly has a large population, and each community within that population contributes to the city’s unique history. The punk rock community is no different, and the DC Punk Archive began in 2014 with a mission to document how this musical movement was shaped by social and economic factors, as well as how it spread its influence outside of the city.DC Punk Archive 2015

With an interest in an archive documenting punk as a Washington, D.C. phenomenon, archivists were tasked with locating materials to include. While not nearly as active as in the 1970s – 1990s, the punk community of Washington, D.C. is still alive and well in the District. But how would the archive convince people to donate their cassettes, zines, and concert posters? The DC Punk Archive devised a novel way to blend their outreach efforts with acquisition strategies. In 2014, the Archive hosted a Punk Rock Swap Meet, a concert where members of the community could gather and learn about the archive and its mission. While monetary donations were accepted, attendees were encouraged to bring their documents and artifacts of Washingtonian punk history as a kind of admission ticket. The result was a collection of various formats, including audio-visual, zines (journals), posters, and other art. The archive complemented these crowd-sourced collections with donations from punk historians and others, and they still accept donations through their website.

The emphasis on community participation in the DC Punk Archive is notable because this archive reflects the values of those it documents. In addition to this interesting acquisition effort, the archive hosts a variety of outreach events, including documentary screenings, concerts, and lectures. The amount of community participation, whether through donations or activities, is critical, because the collection is not done growing. Artists continue to produce work, and they may still have their personal collections tucked away. By inviting the community to participate in the archive through donations, and by continuing to offer them a welcome space to engage with the collections (both in person and digitally), the archive is fostering a relationship with its constituents that will likely benefit it in the future.

Now celebrating its first anniversary, the DC Punk Archive is a thriving resource for residents of Washington, D.C. and beyond. Its success has even sparked interest in a similar DC Go-Go Archive, which is following the same acquisition/outreach tactics. Only time will tell how these efforts to documents musical history in Washington, D.C., but the initial results seem promising. Archives dealing with living donor communities can take note of these practices to engage their donors throughout their lives. Not only can this demonstrate to donors that their belongings will be cared for, but it can also foster lasting relationships and contribute to more robust arrangement and description for collections when time is at a premium for such processing activities.


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