Defining Community-Centered Archives Since 1987

The UCI Libraries have been at the forefront of community-centered archives for more than 30 years. In the mid-1980s, members from the Southeast Asian American community in Orange County proposed that UCI Libraries preserve their histories. In response, research librarian Anne Frank founded the Southeast Asian Archive in 1987 with the goal of documenting the experiences of refugees and immigrants from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam in the region. Since then, the UCI Libraries have worked hand-in-hand with these local communities to document their unique and valuable histories. Meaningful relationships established as a result of these community-university collaborations are, at the core, driven by a need for populations to take a prominent role in determining how to share their histories with future generations. The establishment of the Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive (OC & SEAA) Center in 2015 solidified UCI Libraries’ Special Collections & Archives’ commitment to fostering community-centered archives.

Transforming the Historical Narrative

Community-centered archives come into being through collaborative partnerships between mainstream archival institutions and communities that are underrepresented in the historical record. The goal is to empower communities in the process of telling and preserving their own histories. In a community-centered archive partnership, archival institutions like the UCI Libraries Special Collections & Archives, Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive Center are:

  • Attentive to inequities reflected in archives
    • An institution should seek to understand how communities have been misrepresented, absent, or maligned in historical documentation.
  • Responsive to the community’s needs
    • An institution must be flexible, adaptable, and take an iterative and ethical approach to responding to how community memory and evidence is preserved, described, and made accessible. This means being willing to bend and stretch how archival work is defined to reflect what matters to the community.
  • Collaborative through shared authority
    • In a community-centered approach, the institution focuses on shared authority, making decisions together and respecting the value, expertise, and perspective brought to the partnership by the community.
  • Cognizant of the divergent priorities of communities
    • Community-institution partnerships must vary depending on the needs of each community, from the level of involvement by specific contributors to decisions about what archival material to collect.

We trust in a community’s expertise and lived experience as the impetus for building impactful community-centered archives.

What We’re Doing Now

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Research Project

In Spring 2017, the UCI Libraries was awarded a prestigious Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant in the community anchors category for “Transforming Knowledge/Transforming Libraries.” This three-year research project will explore the outcomes of undergraduate students applying what they learn in ethnic studies combined with lived experience in contributing to community archives. The research team will partner with the UCI departments of Asian American Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies and African American Studies, as well as stakeholders representing organizations throughout Orange County, California. Additionally, this collaborative partnership will work to connect library and information studies practice with the ethnic studies curriculum and provide undergraduates with first-hand experience in building and providing access to the digital cultural heritage of under-represented communities.

Research on History of Asian American Studies at UCI

In 2017, the UCI Libraries celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Southeast Asian Archive (SEAA) and joined the School of Humanities in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Department of Asian American Studies. Department Chair Dr. Judy Wu and SEAA Curator Dr. Thuy Vo Dang led a research internship for five students and one staff member/recent alum who worked collaboratively to research the history of Asian American Studies at UCI.  The research team began with archival research in Special Collections and then conducted oral histories with alumni.  They presented their research at the national American Association of University Professors (AAUP) conference and received funding from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) to continue their research and development of a short documentary, exhibit, and website.

Dr. Ana Rosas' Class and Exhibit - “The Material of Memory: Revisiting Our Histories of Immigration”

This student curated exhibit, which was on display in the UCI Student Center Viewpoint Gallery in March-April 2017, featured personal mementos of student family immigration histories. The exhibit was curated under the faculty advisement of Dr. Ana Rosas, Associate Professor, Chicano/Latino Studies and History. The project was co-sponsored by the Department of Chicano/Latino Studies, Department of History, School of Social Sciences, UCI Special Collections and Archives, UCI Illuminations and UCI Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion. UCI Special Collections and Archives will preserve material from the exhibit in the University Archives.

What We’re Exploring

Documenting the Black Experience at UCI and in Orange County

A project aimed at documenting the lived experiences of UCI’s black students in an effort to record an under-documented aspect of UCI’s dynamic history. The project will include facilitating the collection of oral histories and documentation (including photographs, slides, video recordings, audio recordings, scrapbooks, organizational records, departmental records, publications, event literature such as posters, postcards, flyers, and handbills, and other ephemera) from UCI black alumni, faculty, and staff.

Korean American Women's Archive (KAWA) Project

A two-year project to record the life histories of 50 Korean American women in the Southern California region, reflecting the challenges, triumphs, and impact of this under-documented community, who help to preserve family traditions, values, and culture and are civic connectors. The project will include recording, preserving, transcribing and making accessible these stories in a digital collection, open to researchers around the world.

What Our Community Partners Are Saying

 Thomas A. Parham, Ph.D., Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, UC Irvine

“The great African American historian John Henrik Clark was fond of reminding us that ‘history is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day.’ Even though the history of Orange County generally and Irvine specifically is sometimes seen as a portrait of cultural sterility to some African American folks, a more informed view of the historical record presents us with examples of people, programs, and events that illustrate and highlights people’s attempts to carve out their own cultural comfort zones in the midst of the places and spaces they occupy. In knowing where you are going, one has to have a sense of where they have been and the legacy they have inherited.”

“UCI’s ‘Transforming Knowledge/Transforming Libraries’ is an exciting initiative that seeks to transform archival practice and the librarian profession.  TKTL will recruit students from diverse backgrounds who are interested in understanding social inequalities and advancing social justice.  Together, the staff and students will reach out to underrepresented communities to help preserve valuable private archival collections.  This work will allow future generations of students, scholars, and the general public to learn about the rich history and life experiences of diverse communities.  UCI’s TKTL is a pioneering program that will train a new generation of professional librarians to become community stewards of knowledge.”

praCh, Cambodian-American Musician & Founder, Director at Cambodia Town Film Festival

"As a child of the Killing Fields it is important that we archive our history. The [Khmer] Rouge tried to wipe our culture from existence with their social cleansing by killing artists and scholars, using temples as weapon storage, burning books and turning schools into interrogation chambers. Currently some schools are not taught about this dark period of time, so it is the utmost importance that we have an institution like the Southeast Asian Archives (SEAA). Who are we without our history? And history tends to repeat itself if we don't learn from it. SEAA is not just a treasure for the community but it serves as an open time capsule of our people to share with the world. I am proud and honored to be a SEAA Ambassador."

Cathy Lam, Co-Founder and President, Our1World and Board Member, Vietnamese American Non-Governmental Organization Network

“I have introduced the UCI Libraries’ Southeast Asian Archive (SEAA) to many visitors from Vietnam, new immigrants, performing artists, and filmmakers. Many people did not know that the refugee exodus happened. I’m grateful for the UCI Libraries’ dedication to preserving this history; it was very much Dr. Thuy Vo Dang who convinced me to work with my father, Tony Lam, to archive his papers. He is the first Vietnamese American elected to political office. To me, the vast resources at the SEAA weave personal stories, documents and artworks to create hope for humanity, for a global understanding of the effects of war and the displacement for those in search of freedom.”

Key Opportunities to Invest in a Trusted Community Institution

Naming the Orange County and Southeast Asian Archive Center

The Orange County and Southeast Asian Archive (OC&SEAA) Center helps to document and preserve our regional history for future generations, and has become a popular venue for bringing together campus and community members. The 2,200 square feet of space provides flexible research/study areas, a reconfigurable space for programs and instruction and an oral history studio. This space also includes the circulating collections for the Southeast Asian Archive and Orange County Regional History. Funds to name the Center could support staffing, acquisitions, teaching and service/outreach activities to the campus and community.

Named Lecture Series

Funds from a named lecture series will provide ongoing support to bring renowned scholars focused on Orange County, diasporic communities in Southern California or the Southeast Asian-American experience to the Libraries--enhancing the visibility of our collections and creating meaningful engagement with the communities we serve.

Named OC & SEAA Film Series

A named film series fund will provide ongoing support for the Libraries to host film screenings and focused group discussions in the OC & SEAA Center. Through the film series, we aim to raise awareness of diversity issues on campus and beyond—using film as a platform for dialogue, education and productive inquiry and action.

Named Collection Funds: (various opportunities)

A named library collection fund provides a lasting source of income that enables us to purchase (or acquire access to) essential books, journals and other educational materials in all formats (print, online, multimedia, etc.) that support the teaching and research on campus, as well as enhance the Libraries' role as a major information resource for the community.

Collections Support: (various opportunities)

To ensure that our collections are preserved and made available for use, gifts to support our collections will help to process, digitize and/or preserve a single collection.


Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive Center

University of California, Irvine

Located in Lower Gateway Plaza Facing Aldrich Park

(949) 824-4968