May 23, 2022

University of Iowa Libraries is Preserving Images of Spray-Painting from Black Lives Matter Protests

From U. of Iowa:

The University of Iowa is capturing and preserving images of spray-painting on campus during recent Black Lives Matter protests to ensure the messages are not forgotten and can help guide campus in its work to make meaningful changes.

The photographs will become part of an institutional archive that will grow over time, along with personal papers, documents, photographs, video clips, sound recordings, and other first-person narratives that individuals choose to contribute to the University Archives.


The photos will be fully accessible online at a later date, as staff take care with each photo to assess and preserve the digital files, add accurate descriptions to the extent possible, and craft finding aids,” says Margaret Gamm, head of Special Collections and University Archives at the UI Libraries. “This process ensures the photos will be easy to access and will raise the visibility of the vital information they contain: the voices of marginalized people.”

The messages were spray-painted during recent protests to call out continued disproportionate police brutality against people of color and a lack of racial equity and justice in the community and across the country.

“We recognize that the photos will become part of the institutional memory recorded in our university archives. As archivists, we are keenly aware of potential pitfalls in a white institution rushing to collect materials about marginalized communities of color, problems such as collecting to ‘check the box’ or collections that hurt or mischaracterize communities of color. We also recognize the problems with archival silence,” says David McCartney, UI Libraries’ university archivist. “Our efforts to document the protest will be a slow process as we listen carefully to the Black community, actively working to expand relationships, engagement, and partnership over time in an authentic and ethical manner.” 

While the spray-paint will be removed, the messages and their importance, however, won’t be forgotten thanks to photos, which will be available online.

“We have a crucial responsibility, as a community and as an institution of higher education, to recognize the meaning and the message behind the spray-painting, to honor its significance in this historic moment, and to not let the message be lost or diminished. Protesters created this spray-painting to express their grief and anger at systemic racism, and we must continue to hear that anger and listen to those voices,” says Montserrat Fuentes, executive vice president and provost. “However, we also have a responsibility to care for the property and landmarks that have been entrusted to us, and it is important that we proceed with careful clean-up and restoration.”

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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.