Bring out your bi stuff!

We know what you did last summer (and the summer before that, and the one before that too). Or at least, we will…

Yes folks, it’s every BiCon exhibitionist’s dream come true.  We are officially collecting evidence on what went down, when, where (and possibly with whom, if it’s in the national interest), regarding all things bi and UK. Bi archiving is go!

At the excellently attended ‘Raiders of the Lost Archive’ workshop at this year’s International BiCon, the idea of collecting and archiving material from the UK bi community was enthusiastically discussed. The workshop covered a broad range of archive-related topics.

First, our guest speaker, Sue Donnelly of the London School of Economics Library archives, gave a presentation on the Hall–Carpenter Archive of UK lesbian and gay activism. Sue gave us a brief history of how the HCA had been collected, and of the various lesbian and gay community shenanigans which eventually landed the HCA at the LSE Library.  (Should you wish to take a peek at this massive queer studies resource, access is easy – basically, turn up to the LSE Library and ask, although a phone call in advance would be nice.)

Discussion then galloped about in a spirited fashion, churning up such interesting topics as: whether the HCA is regularly updating (yes); collection bias and archiving censorship; confidentiality and copyright; public accessibility issues; and what type of material can be archived.

Sue D mentioned other, independently run queer community archiving projects, such as the RUKUS Black Lesbian & Gay Archives project, Brighton Our Story, and the Manchester LGBT Archives.

In Boston, the Bisexual Resource Centre has archived its papers with Northeastern University, Massachusetts, and Ellyn Ruthstrom of BRC talked briefly about this process.

Bi web geeks were advised that the British Library has started a website archiving project. The British Library also collects community recordings of oral history – could this be useful for bi history recording?

Sue D emphasised the importance of cataloguing queer community material so that it makes sense – for this, community insight and professional skills are both highly desirable.

So many ideas, so little workshop time!

In general, we all felt that archiving bi stuff matters.  Queer studies researchers have a huge archive of UK lesbian and gay material to draw on, but a comparatively miniscule amount of evidence on what UK bi life has really been like since the first bi conference in 1984.  It’s important to put the record straight (as it were).

Later on at BiCon, a focus group met to discuss how to take things forward.  Offers of old bi stuff, rumours, vague memories and cryptic clues had already begun to arise (tales were told of a mystical box deep in the subterranean bowels of the Edinburgh Lesbian and Gay Centre, holding the esoteric secrets of the Edinburgh Bi Group and quite possibly the Key to All Knowledge (don’t tell Stephen Hawking)).  We quickly realised there was a large amount of UK bi community material out there, hiding in old files, storage boxes and lofts.

We were also interested in searching out stuff from previous International BiCons. As IBC isn’t ‘owned’ by any particular country, storing its records in a UK archive may possibly be a good idea.

We decided that the best way forward at this stage was to get together a big list of what bi stuff people had, and then regroup next BiCon and decide what we want to do with it.  Our options include (1) starting up a central, privately housed community archive, (2) including bi community material within the HCA at the LSE, or (3) launching a brand spanking new, separate bi community archive at the LSE Library.  More information on the pros and cons of each option is obviously needed before we make a decision.  If necessary, we may need to vote on how to proceed, either in a BiCon workshop or at the Decision-Making Plenary (oo-err!).

So, bi hoarders of the UK, now’s your chance.  Bring out your bi stuff!  If you’ve got bi community publications, newsletters, zines, event programmes, leaflets, badges, videos – anything of bi community historical interest basically – and if you’d be willing to donate them to a central, public archive, please send us an email listing what you’ve got (with as much relevant detail as possible, e.g. publication year, issue number, author) along with your name, location and contact details.  Please email us before January 2011 if possible, so we can get an idea of what we’re dealing with.  Send emails to bihistory@bisexualindex.org.uk.  We’ll compile a list and bring it to next year’s UK BiCon.

Finally, join us at 2011 BiCon for ‘Raiders of the Lost Archive 2: the Blockbuster Sequel’, where the secrets of our quest will be revealed!

Lisa Colledge
(Thanks to Ian W for the title)

If you’d like to join the UK bi history emailing list, send an e-mail to bihistory@bisexualindex.org.uk.

Bring out your bi stuff! Send your list to bihistory@bisexualindex.org.uk, and help shape UK bi history