Like nearly anyone who has written a postgraduate dissertation, I had to wonder — once two seasons’ worth of research, analysis, sweat, and tears were bound and submitted to the powers that be — what I was going to do with this thing in the future. As luck would have it, my advisor, James Lowry, then Lecturer at the Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies, was co-editing an issue of the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies (JCLIS) on “Control in the Age of Post-Truth,” which related directly to my topic: the integrity and reliability of Donald Trump’s tweets as digital records.
As luck would further have it, the deadline for submitting to this issue was extended, so I could move past post-dissertation anxiety and seriously consider throwing my work upon the mercy of the journal’s experts. After some gentle prodding from Dr. Lowry to put together an article-length version of the dissertation I had frantically finished a few months earlier, I sat down to review, edit, and update the text into a draft that hopefully would be readable and even useful.
Taking the proverbial knife to something that already exists has usually been less stress-inducing than creating from whole cloth, but in this case, the threshold for success felt noticeably higher. I had to condense a non-professional research project into an essay that not only made sense, but would withstand the rigors of professional peer review by seasoned academics and practitioners in the field. After spending more time with the thesis I had progressively written in libraries across Liverpool, the ideas and evidence it contained began to coalesce into a piece that seemed to be at least article-esque. I submitted the revised, shortened manuscript to JCLIS a few days before the final deadline in February 2018.
One element of the article submission and review process that I did not fully expect was the waiting. I assumed my article had been rejected until I got an email from JCLIS in July 2018, saying that it was tentatively accepted. The issue’s co-editor, Dr. Stacy Wood, sent back several critiques that were daunting initially but also necessary to wrestle with, to improve both the article’s depth and clarity of argument. (Dr. Lowry naturally had recused himself from anything related to my manuscript.) It almost felt like I had to rewrite the entire article to bring it up to the level of sophistication indicated by the suggested revisions — and by a deadline at the end of July — so there was nothing else for it but to do it. After multiple editing sessions, I resubmitted my article and hoped for the best.
An additional factor was that in the same week I learned my piece was accepted with revisions by JCLIS, I got engaged to my now-husband, graduated from the University of Liverpool, and began planning a move to Montgomery, Alabama, for a full-time position I had been offered. The push and pull between scholastic exploration and pragmatic practice is a major reason why I have enjoyed the field of archives and records management, but its dual nature does demand some balance and compromise in day-to-day life.
When I next heard about my JCLIS submission in December 2018, I had been living and working at the Alabama Department of Archives and History for a few months, and found hours before and after my daily schedule to incorporate the next round of edits that, while relatively minor, were again formidable, especially for a brain newly attenuated to a full-time job. Happily, I received notice from JCLIS about a week later that my article officially was accepted for publication. I worked with Managing Editor Andrew Lau and the journal’s fantastic team of copyeditors and proofreaders (one of whom caught a major mistake) during the final rounds of review over February and March 2019, and received proofs at the end of March. My article lived!
Probably the trickiest aspect of this project, from dissertation proposal to article in pre-print, was accurately and meaningfully writing about the moving target of the Trump Administration. Throughout the processes of submission, revision, and final review with JCLIS, I was struck by how quickly some paragraphs could seem dated, while others remained concurrent with developments in the political sphere. Certain subjects in my article, like former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, are still resurfacing in the national discourse as their pleas, prosecutions, and potential sentences appear to mutate according to the whims of the Justice Department.
It is a strange mix of pride and, moreover, alarm to see any work I did regarding violations of the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act, as well as widespread disinformation through social media, become and stay relevant. Especially with the Executive Branch’s habitual use of Twitter’s unstable platform to announce government policy, and its refusal to disclose documents after a number of requests by the House of Representatives – most recently during Trump’s impeachment trial – transparency and, arguably, archives and records management itself on the federal level in the United States is in crisis. If my piece at all bolsters the will to interrogate malfeasance perpetrated by those we entrust with power, and encourages others in the field to adhere to and advocate for our profession’s basic principles of preservation and access, then I am even more grateful to JCLIS for giving me the opportunity to publish with them.
Kathleen Brennan, Records Management Specialist, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority