Thursday, March 16, 2017

Interference Archive: an interview

On April 6, HVLA will visit the Interference Archive in Brooklyn. RSVP here to join us, and check out some of Interference's other amazing upcoming events.

To learn more about this incredible treasure of materials about social and political movements, HVLA board member Hannah Mermelstein interviewed Archive volunteer Jen Hoyer. Here's what she had to say:

HM: Can you tell us a bit about the founding and purpose of Interference Archive? What is/was the gap the archive seeks to fill?

JH: Interference Archive was created to provide really open access to material produced by social movements. It fills two gaps: in some cases this ephemeral material isn’t collected, and we believe that it gives record to important grassroots history that should be preserved. In other cases, this material is collected but is held by institutions that create access restrictions to the very communities that this social movement history is about; we continually work to lower barriers to access, both through our archival use policies as well as through our (free) educational public programming.

HM: What types of materials does Interference Archive hold?

JH: The archive contains many kinds of objects that are created as part of social movements by the participants themselves: posters, flyers, publications, photographs, books, T-shirts and buttons, moving images, audio recordings, and other materials.

HM: Are there any materials that you think would be of particular interest to NYC area school librarians?

JH: We have regular class visits, and we’ve seen young people consistently connect with our zine collection -- this offers such a personal glimpse into the lives of people like ourselves, and it provides inspiration for new self-expression. We also have a lot of material that reflects strongly on the idea of self-determination, from a wide variety of groups (women, immigrants, and more), and this is a really terrific theme to talk to students about. It resonates across all ages and areas of interest!

HM: What are some examples of exhibits that Interference Archive has hosted? How do you decide on and/or curate exhibits?

JH: Putting material on our walls for exhibitions is a way to increase access -- it makes people feel really comfortable interacting with the material, and it sparks interest to look at related material in our collection. We’ve put together exhibitions about labor organizing, tenant organizing in NYC, reproductive rights, comics and identity formation, and so much more!
Our exhibitions are generally initiated by one or two people, who then invite others -- both from within the Archive’s volunteer community and from elsewhere -- to collaborate. This forms an exhibition working group which coordinates the exhibition and related programming, and continues to interact with other working groups at the Archive. The members of each exhibition working group provide an amazing opportunity to share skills and knowledge through the broad range of experience they all bring.

HM: What types of events take place in the space? Can you tell us about one of your favorites?

Art and Feminism wikipedia edit-a-thon, March 2017
JH: We regularly curate and host public events at Interference Archive that are in keeping with our mission. More specifically, our events are geared toward fostering critical engagement with culture, art, politics, and society; featuring forms of cultural production that are representative of what is housed in our collection, such as publications and films created by and for social movements; showcasing cultural objects and organizing in relationship to larger sociopolitical concerns and transformative visions; highlighting the organizational forms, processes—human and material—and  production techniques behind the creation of cultural ephemera from below; encouraging and illustrating imaginative forms of cultural production as well as interventions in relation to political organizing, social struggles and resistance movements.
I’m not sure I could name a favourite event (maybe our block party…), but I’ve really enjoyed our wikipedia edit-a-thons! They are a really terrific combination of skill-building, diving into our collection for resources, and community building as we all work together.

HM: Can you tell us a bit about the digital component of the archive?

JH: We have an online catalog ( that we’re working to populate with descriptions of material in our collection; anyone can join in as a volunteer to help with this cataloging work! We also have a born digital working group,which handles social movement materials that were originally created in digital format, or material for which we don't have physical copies. The work of the group is split between figuring out how Interference Archive should and/or can collect, preserve, and provide access to digital material, as well as thinking conceptually about trends towards born digital material production in social movements necessitates new workflows for capturing and sharing that material and knowledge. This group is also developing workflows for digitization of materials in the archive so that digital copies can be made available online.

HM: HVLA will be visiting on April 6. What will we see?

JH: You’ll see the whole archive! Our archive is open stacks, so visitors can take boxes off shelves and open drawers themselves. A volunteer will be on hand to explain how the archive runs, how our collection is organized, and how to find things. We’ll guide you towards anything you’re interested in, but you’re also welcome to explore on your own!

HM: How can individuals support your work?

JH: All of this work at Interference Archive is possible because of people like the folks in HVLA! We cover the majority of our operating expenses through individual donations. The backbone of this community are sustainers who make a regular contribution to the archive, generally of $10 to $50 each month. More information about becoming a sustainer is available at

We are also 100% volunteer run, and volunteers can help out in so many ways! If anyone is interested in joining this work, please get in touch with us at

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