Marjorie Bryer at work in the archives of the GLBT Historical Society

Visual AIDS reposts an interview from the GLBT Historical Society & The GLBT History Museum
Marjorie Bryer brings exceptional experience to her post as managing archivist at the GLBT Historical Society. She has been involved with the institution for more than a decade in such positions as volunteer, board cochair and project archivist. Marjorie holds a Ph.D. in U.S. History and a master's in library and information science. She has previously worked for the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, the National Park Service and the National Archives and Records Administration. Both her academic pursuits and her work as an archivist reflect her commitment to preserving the history of marginalized groups.

Why is it important to preserve GLBT archives?
Historically, archives have been the domain of the privileged, and archiving practices in the United States have often documented just the lives of heterosexual white men. But GLBT people have long recognized that knowing our history is both emotionally validating and practically important; it's instrumental in creating identity and pride and in building movements to fight for the rights we have been denied.

The founders of the Historical Society were highly aware that GLBT people have too often been erased from history. For nearly three decades, we've carried on their work by gathering the records of Bay Area GLBT communities so scholars, filmmakers and others can show how GLBT history is integral to U.S. history. Our collections attempt to document the diversity of GLBT experience, telling deeply human stories of pain, courage and love.

What kinds of projects have brought researchers to the archives?
Researchers come in to do all sorts of projects, including exhibitions, films, articles, college papers, dissertations and books. In the past few weeks, we've had researchers working on masculinity in the forties and fifties, gay liberation, AIDS activism and immigrant communities, and faith and the transgender community. And an artists collective recently had some films digitized for their upcoming projects.

Nearly 200 patrons from across the United States and several other countries visited the archives last year. Obviously, the archives are essential for people doing research on queer history. But anyone interested in San Francisco history, local and statewide politics, family history, gentrification and urban renewal, labor history, the history of medicine, diversity issues and a wide variety of other subjects also will find important material in our archives.

What have been the top priorities for the archivists in the past year?
Our archivists are both historians and advocates for social justice. Our primary role is to make historical documents accessible to the public. When we get boxes of materials, we have to process the contents -- describing them, putting them in an order that makes sense, transferring them to containers that will help preserve them, creating a catalog record and writing a guide to help researchers. One challenge we share with all archives is processing backlogs. Few institutions have enough space, staff and funding to keep up with all the material coming in.

Luckily, we have been completing a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission that enabled us to survey all our manuscript materials and update our catalog. We have processed over 415 linear feet of records -- or about half of our previously unprocessed material. And we're about to start work on a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources that will enable us to process more than 20 additional collections. As a result, researchers using the archives soon will be making further discoveries about GLBT history -- and visitors to The GLBT History Museum soon will be seeing previously hidden treasures.