PACSCL Spotlight: Amplifying BIPOC Voices in the Field

An interview with Tracey Williams

What is your role?

I am the Deputy Commissioner of the City Philadelphia Department of Records. I have administrative responsibility for 10 working units, which includes the Philadelphia City Archives (PCA) and approximately 59 team members.

How did you get into the field?

I was going through a process of evaluating my career and thinking about where I could work and be most impactful when I saw the opportunity posted for the position of Deputy Commissioner of the Department Records. Although I am not an archivist or librarian, my undergraduate degree is in Political Science. I like to consider myself a “first cousin” to the field.

What is your favorite collection item?

I always keep the currency from different countries where I have traveled.

What is your favorite collection item at your institution? What’s the most surprising thing you’ve come across while working in GLAM institutions? 

I honestly don’t have a favorite item yet. I am still learning about assets within the collection and I am intrigued by the stories behind the history. We have over 2 million photos in our collection!  My office is adorned with photos of the visits to the City of musicians Stevie Wonder, Luciano Pavarotti, and Sammy Davis Jr. 

The most surprising thing I came across was my mother’s name listed in the hospital registry of the historic Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH). My mother gave birth to all of her children at this hospital, and I thought it was the coolest thing that all of us were listed on the Birth Record Certificate Receipt Form located in the Philadelphia City Archives!

Tell us about your experience in the library field?

I have been working in the administrative end of the field for the past three years, and I am really enjoying networking with GLAM professionals and broadening my knowledge base.

Please highlight any projects related to BIPOC art, history, and culture that you are working on.

PCA, in partnership with Little Giant Creative and Mural Arts was awarded a grant from PEW Center for Arts & Heritage in the amount of $240,000 for a proposal we submitted on the 7th Ward Tribute.  (Today the 7th Ward Ward is made up of Washington Square West, Rittenhouse Square, and Fitler Square, between Spruce and South and 7th Street and the Schuylkill River).  By the early 19th Century, more than 15,000 African Americans lived in the 7th Ward neighborhood, a higher concentration than anywhere in the North. The project will work with artists and historians to create a series of physical artistic installations around the borders of the 7th Ward to unearth and revive the untold political, artistic, stories and achievements. We are really jazzed about this project!

How do you think your experience as BIPOC influences your work as GLAM professional?

As an African American woman working in this profession, it is important for me to shine a light on the GLAM industry and expose our young people to possible careers in this field.

If you weren’t a librarian or archivist what would you want to be?

If I was not working in this field, I would probably be working in an administrative role in education or public health, where I would have the authority to create and expand more socio-economic partnerships to change the trajectory and influence in the lives of young people.

What do you wish more people knew about your job?

The Records Department is one of the smallest departments in City government, but through our “Archives to Actions Panel Series,” we boast an impact and determination to share our historical assets with the community, encouraging dialogue and courageous conversations that will bring about systemic changes.  Pre-COVID, the Archives kicked off our first panel discussion on fair housing, with a focus on the history of Whitman Park housing development, which is located in South Philadelphia. More than 70 community members attended the panel discussion, from residents who lived in the neighborhood during the time period, including the attorney who represented the tenants for whom the housing development was being built. The panel discussion was an extension of the exhibit we installed on Fair Housing and presented an opportunity to invoke inclusive discussions about racial and systemic inequities about past and present day housing practice as the landscape of Philadelphia continues to transform.

If you could give advice to emerging professionals, what would it be?

Always be open to network with people in many different industries and be willing to broaden your skill set. Listen with both ears.

What are you currently reading or listening to?

I listen to a variety of music–I have a teenage daughter!

What is your personal philosophy?

Buy the shoes. Eat the cake. Life is too short to have regrets

What are three things you enjoy outside of work?

Spending time with my family, volunteering in the community with my Sorority Sisters (those lovely ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.), and writing.  I love writing fictional stories and poetry.

Where would you like to go on a dream vacation?

South Africa

What have you always wanted to try but never have?

I would love to try zip lining! The idea of being suspended hundreds of feet in the air and accelerating quickly to a destination is super electrifying to me.

You’re happiest when…

I’m laughing until my belly hurts with my most trusted friends, especially while we’re eating our favorite foods and talking about everything under the sun. In those moments, nothing else really matters to me!