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CLIR Postdocs Delve into Equitable Community-Based Research

Jan-March 2024

CLIR Postdocs Delve into Equitable Community-Based Research

By Erin O’Donnell & Christa Williford

In December 2023, the 2022 cohort of CLIR postdoctoral fellows met virtually to share updates on their “inquiry group” project, a longstanding tradition within the fellowship program. This collaborative learning opportunity, introduced to a new cohort in their first year and revisited throughout their fellowship, allows fellows, guided by Emily Beagle and Jennifer Garçon, to refine research and project management skills while collectively working on a project of their choosing.

Previous inquiry group projects have encompassed courses, symposia, papers, panel presentations, and online publications, such as the “Curated Futures Project,” a collection first published in 2022 that incorporates a variety of scholarship, including the Future Libraries, Archives, and Museums in Excavation (FLAME) podcast.

These inquiry group projects not only serve as a learning opportunity but also enable fellows  to engage more broadly with CLIR and its network of fellowship alumni.

The 2022 cohort’s inquiry group is collaboratively exploring a key question: What does it mean to engage in equitable community-based research? To tackle this multifaceted question, each fellow is producing a review or “dispatch” reflecting on a community-oriented research project centered on transparency, inclusivity, accountability, actionability, and communication. The unique form and style of each dispatch aim to provide ideas for researchers, archivists, librarians, and others for implementing “ethical and relational attentive processes for feedback from community stakeholders, participants, and collaborators.” The final outcome for the group’s work is undetermined, with possibilities ranging from a live panel presentation to a  published collection of short pieces.

In their December discussion, the fellows delved deeper into their research process, observations, and how they are addressing  the shared theme of community, including:

  • The occasionally problematic definition of the term “community.”
  • Strategies  to highlight diverse voices and perspectives within historical communities.
  • Approaches to attending to multiple distinct voices within a contemporary community.
  • Addressing tensions between principal investigators, administrators, and community needs in funded research efforts.
  • Honoring community principles and visions.
  • Ethical issues arising from changes in technology, including digitization and online publication.

The exploration of equitable community-based research by the CLIR postdoctoral fellows is important for several reasons. By deliberately seeking out and embracing the frequently underrepresented voices and viewpoints within communities, their work fills in important research gaps. By ensuring a more thorough and equitable understanding of varied groups, this dedication to inclusivity helps to mitigate historical biases that may have gone unnoticed in the past. Putting an emphasis on equitable community-based research is an essential first step in promoting an equal and courteous approach to scholarly efforts and creating a research environment that values and respects all participants.

The inquiry group anticipates collaborating on an introduction to the project, where they can leverage their experiences to narrow in on how definitions of community impact research project decisions and design. The fellows see the potential for this introduction to evolve into its own project, influencing future research efforts.

As the meeting concluded, Garçon expressed her excitement about the inquiry group directly addressing the problematic nature of the term community head on. Beagle agreed, emphasizing that while “each piece is individually interesting, together they will “drive an important conversation [about community] that the postdoctoral fellowship program has been trying to advance.”

The CLIR postdoctoral fellowship offers recent Ph.D. graduates the opportunity to develop research tools, resources, and services while exploring new career opportunities at institutions of higher learning. Additional information about this program is available at

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