He’s already a star. He’s employed part-time at the Puerto Rican Community Archives at the Newark Public Library, he’s a Master of Information student at SC&I, and also an active member of the SOURCE / SAA student chapter at SC&I. Now, Juber Ayala ‘13’s accomplishments are even more impressive, because the Society of American Activists (SAA) has recently named him a recipient of the 2018 Harold T. Pinkett Minority Student Award. Ayala shares the 2018 award with Jessica Tai from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Thrilled that he was chosen, Ayala said, “I applied for the award at the suggestion of Professor Marija Dalbello, who thought I was an ideal candidate for the award. After reviewing the requirements for the award and realizing that my archival experience was appropriate, I thought it was worthwhile to apply.”
Professor of Library and Information Science, Marija Dalbello said, “Juber has been involved with the field of Puerto Rican studies and archiving even before starting our MI program through his appointments at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College and at the Newark Public Library. This national award will validate the professional direction he is taking in the field of archives and it will increase both his visibility and the visibility of our program nationally.
“The fact that the award is dedicated to and named after a minority archivist Harold T. Pinkett, the first African American archivist appointed at the U.S. National Archives in 1942, emphasizes the importance of minority participation in the archival profession but also that this participation is not given but we need to actively seek to promote it. It is wonderful that Mr. Ayala-Millas has been recognized as a promising new professional.”
Ayala will receive the award at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Council of State Archivists (CoSA), The National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA), and SAA which will be held in in Washington, D.C., August 12–18, 2018.
According to the SAA website, “Established in 1993, this award recognizes and acknowledges minority graduate students, such as those of African, Asian, Latino, or Native American descent, who, through scholastic and personal achievement, manifest an interest in becoming professional archivists and active members of the Society of American Archivists.”
The SAA website notes that the award is given to students who “manifest an interest in becoming professional archivists and active members of SAA.”
Describing the type of career as an archivist he intends to pursue and why, Ayala said, “My dream job would be to expand upon the roles and projects I’ve completed as an archival assistant. I’ve processed, arranged and described numerous collections. I learned basic HTML coding to update collection descriptions available online. As part of this project, I proposed increasing the readability of the website’s text by adding visual cues and explicitly labeling links to finding aids. Many researchers explained how they could not locate the repository’s finding aids online. After making these changes, I realized the nature of research queries changed. Researchers referenced the finding aids more frequently and requested more information for collections that did not have finding aids.
“The MI program has helped me gain more knowledge about creating archival encoded descriptions and dynamic websites. Archival resources can pose a challenge to patrons who may not be familiar with researching primary source materials. I would like to continue creating online collection descriptions, finding aids and other tools to continue facilitating archival research for patrons.”
In the award letter SAA wrote to Ayala, the organization referred to him as an “archive activist” who is “working to prevent loss of or destruction of documents and ensuring community stories are kept in the historical record.”
Explaining what it means to him to be an activist archivist, Ayala said, “At the Puerto Rican Community Archives, one of the projects I worked on was Organizing Our Communities Records. I helped train an intern to identify historical records and we collectively created an inventory of a local organization’s inactive records. The inventory served as evidence that the organization had historically valuable materials which they could donate to the archives. The project taught me that an archivist had an active role in teaching community members the importance of keeping and donating their records for historical research. These materials might be discarded during a move or staff members might not know these records hold historically important information. Archivists can serve as activists for these materials and encourage community members to donate their records instead of discarding them.
“Community stories can also be preserved by recording oral histories. The New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center, of which the PRCA is a component of, conducted two oral histories projects, the Latino Life Stories and the Justice Project. I assisted in transcribing these interviews, which help document these important stories in the absence of physical records. The MI program has taught me to think critically about how to best preserve these stories. An archivist can preserve historical memory through various means, such as physical records or audio recording. Communities can be empowered through records, but it also important to think about communities who might marginalized in the process. An activist archivist advocates for preserving historical records, as well as for the communities they serve.”
The SAA also noted that Ayala has “already started a clear-cut path in the field of archives focusing on the Puerto Rican diaspora archives.”
Asked to explain the Puerto Rican diaspora and how his work archiving this information will help others, Ayala said, “I’ve had the unique experience of working in two archives that document the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States. The archives at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in East Harlem, documents the Puerto Rican experience in the U.S. The majority of their collections document New York City but also document Puerto Rican communities in Hawaii, Florida and California.
“The Puerto Rican Community Archives at the Newark Public Library focuses on this community throughout the state of New Jersey. Puerto Ricans are one of the oldest and largest Latino groups in the state. They have been fierce advocates, such as advocating for bilingual education and greater representation in government. Both repositories were founded to illuminate underrepresented communities in the broader historical narrative. My goals are to continue processing these collections and making resources available to patrons. Historical narratives are enriched by incorporating various perspectives and my aspirations are to make this information available to researchers who are interested in learning and studying this history.”
Ayala, whose family immigrated from El Salvador in the early 1980’s during the country’s civil war, graduated from Rutgers-New Brunswick in 2013 with a double major in History and Political Science.
Four years later, he chose to return to Rutgers to pursue a Master of Information at SC&I. “I applied to SC&I because of the work I was already involved in,” Ayala said. “By the time I applied to the program, I had 6 years of experience working in an archival setting. My supervisors Yesenia Lopez and Pedro Juan Hernandez always encouraged me to continue my graduate studies. I was genuinely interested in the archival field because I enjoyed applying organizational skills and historical knowledge to process collections. After four years of graduating from Rutgers, I thought it was time to return and expand upon my role as an archival assistant. I learned that Rutgers recently created an Archives and Preservation concentration. I knew it was the program I wanted to pursue based on my work experience and my eagerness to return to Rutgers-New Brunswick.”
“Mr. Ayala-Millas is a serious, motivated, curious, and capable student and I particularly liked how he approaches coursework and his research papers through a combination of original research, common sense, and careful writing and working on topics that he is keenly interested,” Dalbello said. “He worked with primary source materials in both of the classes he took with me and produced very original work. I was particularly impressed with his paper on an artist connected to the Nuyorican Movement (New York-based artists of Puerto Rican origin). He made great strides in the graduate program in his first year and I believe he has gained confidence and tools to further express his interests.”
For more information about the Master of Information degree at SC&I, click here.