Spencer Research Library

The Spencer Research Library began archiving tweets last summer that used the hashtag #BlackatKU.

After Tiara Floyd spearheaded the #BlackatKU hashtag last summer to highlight Black students’ experiences at the University of Kansas, the Spencer Research Library began the process of archiving tweets using the hashtag. Floyd, KU's first woman of color student body president, started the hashtag at the height of Black Lives Matter protests last summer to share her experiences with racism at KU. 

Beth Whittaker, Director of Spencer Research Library, said in an email to the Kansan that KU Libraries personnel recognized #BlackatKU as a record of the lives of students of color. Before starting the archiving process, the library consulted with former Interim Vice Provost of the Office of Diversity and Equity Jennifer Ng and former Assistant Vice Provost for Equity & Inclusion  Precious Porras. Porras then reached out to Floyd, who confirmed her support of archiving. 

“In recent years, we have attempted very intentionally to build collections that reflect and amplify diverse voices,” Whittaker said. 

The archives at Spencer Research Library include photos, film and audio tapes documenting various events at KU. The library is currently growing their digital collection, which includes websites and digital photos. 

“So, #BlackatKU fits right in alongside the other physical and digital records of the university and its community, such as websites from KU and the Lawrence-Douglas county area about the COVID pandemic, another recent project KU Libraries undertook to document the present before it becomes history,” Whittaker said. 

To archive tweets, the library captures the IDs of public tweets that use the hashtag and stores them, while they investigate how to continue the project. 

“Any future distribution of the dataset of tweets as a whole would include only numeric identifiers for the individual public tweets, not the content of the tweets themselves, partly because of Twitter’s terms of service,” Whittaker said. “A potential researcher using the collection would need to “rehydrate” the tweet IDs -- basically run the identifiers back through Twitter so that Twitter could return the tweet itself.”

Floyd said it’s important to expand the boundaries of what recording history looks like. 

“I think a lot of history that we learn is in a vacuum, and I think archiving the internet and archiving this hashtag goes beyond those boundaries and digs up things and questions things that students and alumni have known or felt for years,” Floyd said. “By archiving that, the Spencer library is saying that ‘we acknowledge the history of this university, and we want to include all of it.'”

The KU Black Student Coalition was formed last year by students who felt there needed to be more social justice initiatives on campus. Keir Rudolph is a member of the BSC and said #BlackatKU is important because many don’t know what Black students at KU go through. 

“The archive will keep a record, so say we’re in 2040 and you go to the archive and see the same stuff is happening on KU’s campus, and that’s something KU can look at and say, ‘we’re really not doing anything to change this,’” Rudolph said.  

Whittaker said it’s necessary to include informal, daily stories when documenting the history of KU. She adds that archived tweets and social media will allow future students to better understand those who came before them. 

“Because it’s clear that the experiences of Black students have been, overall, very different than those of white students,” Whittaker said. “The #BlackatKU hashtag is important to show us the long way we have to go until all students are included fairly and equitably in the culture of the university.”