Abdi Roble

Abdi Roble
Learning Log

Abdi Roble

Report date
December 2017
Fellowship term
24 months
Learning log 3

The arc of my leadership, throughout the duration of the fellowship, has been transformative, personally, and, has enhanced my practice as a community archivist. At the center of this transformation is self-awareness — the ability to know the drawbacks in my leadership in order to work on them and the foresight to use my strength to serve me well to be a better leader. Awareness, keen observation, and mastery of a certain knowledge are the foundational basis of becoming a leader. These critical points lead one to recognize the “way sign”; “a trace (or a mark) by which something is known” (Ismail, 2014: 11-12). Way sign, or mark, guides a traveler to understand and pinpoint the destination where one needs to reach (Rosenthal, 2007: 1-2).

Knowledge produces awareness, which is a tool for identifying an issue, generating questions and finding solutions. Prior to the fellowship, my leadership experience was an autodidact one. However, having a coach to mentor me through this journey helped me a great deal, and the fellowship has given me this opportunity. I can see the difference the fellowship has made in my practice and my approach to understand and solve issues within it. My mentor was able to see and access my leadership as only someone on the outside could and in the process help guide me to make informed decisions.

To solve any issue, first, one needs to understand before they can solve the task at hand. One aspect that I have been practicing, which helped my way of thinking in leadership, was that any issue has a cause and effect. Therefore, understanding the cause in depth requires, among other things, consultation with other people or those in the community who are more aware of the content of the issues, rather than the one who is trying to "solve" the issue. My fellowship focuses on community archiving. It is a very crucial focus and it does not only require "leadership" but also having the knowledge and expertise in the field of archives.

From a theoretical and practical approach the “way sign” has become for me a philosophy that I could explore and incorporate into my work in order to get tangible results. Since I had an idea and knew my goal of becoming a community archivist — the direction I needed to go or my “mark” (destination) has been a focus of my fellowship. I knew that much of the knowledge I needed at that time was within my reach given the strong archival institutions based in the Twin Cities. I knew that I had to put forward a proposal to an institution that specializes in the archival field in Minneapolis.

I understood from early on my fellowship goals; the development of my leadership and the direction I chose to embark on in this new field that would impact my trajectory would be a long journey. Fulfilling these goals would enable me to gain the skills that will transform my career from a documentary photographer to community archivist and curator of a unique collection of materials. Therefore, this has led me to approach one of the premier archival institutions at the University of Minnesota — Immigration History Research Center Archives (IHRCA).

Six months after my fellowship, the Immigration History Research Center Archives (IHRCA) at the University of Minnesota, established Community Archivists Residence, a unique model for volunteers to work with the Archives. My facilitation and negotiation to influence the university in this particular avenue have been exciting and immensely rewarding. This kind of residency requires confidence and having a long-term vision and plan to acquire things such as offices, computers, online access, advisory, mentoring, exposure to other institutions, feedback, lecture programs for the community-at-large, and an archival academic setting, both local and national. Observing closely the activities within the institution has been very helpful and learning how they maintain the operation of the institution. Institutions are interested in the community they serve and they initiate the first point of contact to either collaborate or cooperate. Institutions have the power to engage with the community; however, this has to be done in the manner that best serves the community. This new position at the Archives shows how this collaboration can take place and how simultaneously the community can benefit from this engagement when they initiate the conversation.

There are many programs and projects that institutions have targeted at certain groups in the community. However, it should be part of one's leadership process to inquire how these institutions come up with such programs and what made them create them in the first place. Was it something that the community needed and had in mind? What is the purpose of such "collaborations"? And can both the community and the institutions see the same result or outcome at the end of this "collaboration"? In my case, through the fellowship, I was the one who initiated and approached IHRCA. We discussed the ways we could collaborate, create and present in order to best serve the community. Both IHRCA and I had something to offer in this exchange; the institution could help me with my leadership development in the field of community archives and I could help them learn about the resources I have and the connections I have with the community.

I have been a Community Archivist Resident at the IHRCA since February of 2017 and would complete my residency in February of 2018. Since the beginning of the fellowship, my leadership has changed over this time. I have been trained as a community archivist and exposed to theories and practices in the archival field. Since my residency at IHRCA, my knowledge and understanding of my practice have increased and my leadership development and approach as well has expanded manifold.

This opportunity to collaborate with IHRCA through the fellowship has given me many other possibilities. For instance, I became a member of the Society of American Archivists, which is the oldest and the largest archivist association in North America. With this new opportunity, I am expanding the visibility of my role as a community archivist both nationally and internationally. In addition, becoming a member affords me favorable networking with other archivists, gain guidance from fellow archivists, solicit feedback, access to the organization’s literature to mention a few. This opportunity will give me updated analyses, materials to read and discuss with colleagues, research, and fresh understanding of the critical debates within the archivist community and the field’s cultural heritage.

My capacity as a leader in community archiving is to encourage preservation of heritage, acquire material objects and broaden community archiving field for future generations to come. I am expanding the visibility of my role as a community archivist among the largest communities in the Twin Cities and beyond.

Self-care requires healthy ways of thinking, broader understanding of what needs to be accomplished at this moment and what could wait, without being overworked or burnt out. Since I am what they called in the archival field, “Lone Arranger” — meaning: working alone for long hours inventorying materials, indexing, researching and cataloging. This kind of work could be exhausting and could be detrimental to one’s physical and mental health. So, I feel it is important for me to take time to practice self-care in order to reap its benefits for my well being which will allow me to be re-energized and focused on the tasks at hand. I do practice doing many things such as; spending time with family, friends, going to community events and engaging in other things that don't pertain to my work. I do put time aside and work towards having free time for myself like reading other materials that I enjoy for relaxation. Moreover, I make reminders to check in with myself every time to see whether I am on the right track of taking care of my well-being so that my leadership goals don’t suffer.

I always self-evaluate myself on how my own leadership has changed throughout the entire duration of my fellowship. Also, I continue to work on how to sustain, continue to develop and at the same time ensuring self-care is part of my strategy. Furthermore, I am always taking inventory of my leadership and asking myself what is working and what is not.

This holistic way of approaching my leadership guides me or gives me a way to pause, re-think, and re-evaluate my own progress or lack thereof. It’s very helpful to have a mentor which the Bush Foundation has provided me that I can communicate with, discuss certain issues that might arise at any juncture in my leadership journey. In addition, my other mentors within the Immigration History Research Center Archives (IHRCA) at the University of Minnesota provides me with overall support in how best to achieve my long-term goal of becoming a leader in the archival community field.

The combination of self-evaluating, self-caring, self-sustaining, self-development, is a process that I will continue throughout my fellowship and even long after my tenure at Bush Foundation ends. The knowledge that I have gained thus far, I believe, has planted the seeds in me that some of the fruits from this labor I am able to reap at this moment while I believe some of these seeds are underground, germinating and will be able to bear fruits in the future.

Lastly, I am able to share the knowledge that I been gaining throughout the fellowship with the youth, my mentees and the community-at-large. It is my hope that through my leadership I will be able to make the field of community archiving a little more accessible to those who want to pursue it as careers either in academia or to those who are passionate about the field for their own benefit.