A Timely Tome: Documenting Student Activism In The Digital Age

In 2016, the UC San Diego Library created a “living archive,” a collection of materials presented in a way that allows for the expression, exhibition, documentation and preservation of a sentiment or movement in a particular community.

Tamara Rhodes, librarian for Psychology, Cognitive Science, Human Developmental Sciences and Linguistics along with a small group of fellow librarians and Library staff, spearheaded this type of “archiving,” the only living archive documenting student activism in the nation. The “Tell Us How UC It” archive documents student activism in its many shapes and forms whether it is through art, film or writing.  

Last summer, UC San Diego medical student Sarah Bassiouni documented Rhodes’ work as part of a photo essay project for her Introduction to Photojournalism class at UC San Diego Extension. Her photo essay will be exhibited by the Reference Wall (Geisel West, 2nd Floor) in Geisel Library during the month of March as the university kicks off Women’s History Month.

“I’m thrilled to have my work exhibited in the Library,” said Bassiouni. “I have a lifelong love of libraries and have been an amateur photographer for 17 years, so documenting Tamara’s work felt like a natural fit.”

Over the past decade, the UC San Diego campus has experienced a number of incidents targeting specific underrepresented groups. These events affect all students, underrepresented or not, and demonstrate the need for a conversation about the way students experience the university’s climate. The goal of the archive is to bring people together to raise questions, spark conversations and promote intersectional understanding.

While working on the project, Bassiouni explains she was particularly thrilled by how the Living Archive felt simultaneously timeless yet current.

“While the needs and desires of students may have changed since UCSD was founded, the overall goals of students striving for equity, community and inclusivity continue to endure.”

With this project, Bassiouni hopes people can leave with a deeper appreciation of both the crucial work of librarians and the essential role libraries continue to have in society. In addition to photography, Bassiouni’s academic interests range from reproductive health to LGBTQ issues. After graduation, she wants to pursue a career in academic medicine and global surgery.

“Libraries inspire my inquisitive nature and reinvigorate me. I always leave a library with more knowledge and serenity than when I entered,” Said Bassiouni. “This holds for Geisel Library as well because there are always a plethora of exhibits for me to explore.”

Photo Credit: UC San Diego Librarian Tamara Rhodes reads through and digitizes new pieces for the “Tell Us How UC It” Living Archive. Photo by Sarah Bassiouni