Going on Air (and in print)

This post was authored by guest contributor Caryn Radick, Digital Archivist, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, and current member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA)

A few months ago, a very fortunate event happened–my institution along with several others received a grant to digitize New Jersey newspapers from microfilm through the National Endowment for the Humanities National Digital Newspaper Program. Excited to get the word out, my library’s superb communications office put out a press release (if you’re not fortunate enough to have a communications office or are interested in more direct outreach to the media, see Erin Lawrimore’s excellent post, “Effective Media Relations for Your Archives”).


Image accompanying press release from Rutgers University.

As the project director, I knew the story might result in the media wanting to talk to me, but, I still somehow felt caught a little off-guard when I learned that a local radio station, television station, and campus media outlets did indeed want to speak with me. I was more than slightly unnerved by the idea of going “on air,” but also feel it’s important that archivists get out there and talk about what makes their work so special. Although I haven’t done many interviews yet, my comfort-level is increasing.

Below are a few things I’ve picked up as I’ve started interviewing.

  1. Mock interviews. I was able to work with the communications office on this, but even having someone (preferably not someone familiar with the project) read the press release and ask questions would be useful. This will help you see what information is “at the ready” in your head versus what you might want to check (or have easily accessible), how the questions match what you are ready to say about your project, and any habits you might want to be aware of that will detract, such as fidgeting or using “umms” or “likes” when speaking. Also, think about engaging connecting points; for me, focusing on a big New Jersey story described in the newspapers gave the idea more “concreteness” (I mentioned looking at newspaper accounts of the 1916 Jersey shore shark attacks, a story that gets instant recognition, both for what happened and for why the newspaper accounts would be worth looking up).
  2. Each interview is an opportunity to learn. I was thrown by variations on the question “why is this important?” The importance of digitizing old newspapers on microfilm is something I don’t think twice about as an archivist, so I’ve now added those points to my answers (cool stuff you can see/heavy research you can do without leaving home! The possibility of stumbling across an amazing story or fact you’d never heard before). Another repeat question is “Anything else I should know?” This is your chance to get out anything you think you may have missed in the previous questions. I also realized that not all audiences are conversant with what it means to scroll through reels of microfilm and started talking about what that’s like.
  3. Microphones and sound levels. For both television interviews, the camera person/interviewer (in both cases, these were the same person…more about that later) came equipped with a microphone that needed to be attached to my clothing. For the first interview, I needed to clip a wireless microphone to my collar/lapel. For the second, the microphone was on a wire that I needed to place under the bottom of my shirt and pull up before clipping the microphone to the top. Although I did the clipping, both felt slightly awkward to me and I wondered what would have happened if I’d worn a cowl neck for either or a dress for the latter.

Also, be aware of ambient noises. For the radio interview, I had to make up for the air vent above my desk. I scheduled a television interview in a conference room with an adjacent office. Right after we finished, the office holder had an audible conversation. I’ve made a note to schedule another room or check in with the office holder for future interviews.

  1. Time frame. The local radio and television station wanted to interview me on the day that they got in touch. The immediacy has been something else I’ve needed to get used to and made me consider whether I should keep “interview clothes” at work (so far, no).
  2. The interviewers. I may be new at this, but the interviewers are not. They know what makes for a good interview and want to help you. Both television interviews were not, as I pictured, on-camera conversations between the interviewer and me. Both stations sent one person who served as camera operator and interviewer. Each helpfully explained what would happen, where I should look as I spoke, and asked questions. My responses ultimately got edited for sound bites.
  3. If possible, have some visual aids. I’ve started bringing copies of old newspapers and newspapers on microfilm to my interviews to help demonstrate what will happen for this project. All interviewers have either taken pictures or recorded these. Even the radio interview used an image of old newspapers provided by our communications office for their accompanying web story.
  4. You are not the first archivist to talk to the press! Want proof? See what the Society of American Archivists has to say about interviews, working with the media, and more at http://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/american-archives-month-the-power-of-collaboration.


Beyond the Elevator, no. 6 (American Archives Month Edition!)


authorsportraitsBeyond the Elevator is a cartoon strip created by Mandy Mastrovita and Jill Severn. The strip expresses their heartfelt belief that the magic of archives can and should be worked into ANY conversation or situation.  The prospect of this axiom has exhorted the two into paroxysms of giggles, chortles, and howls despite the sober and noble subject matter.  Indeed, they have spent hours cooking up likely scenarios to bring to life in future cartoons.  These little gems appear in ArchivesAWARE! onmonthly basis for the foreseeable future, or until they run out of ideas. Which is where you, the reader can help. Tell them your best stories about talking archives—the wilder, the weirder, the crazier; the better They will even take an elevator story if you make it good. To share your story, please send a description of your concept, relevant details, and contact information (your name and your email address) to beyondtheelevator@gmail.com.

Finding the Hook

This post was authored by guest contributor David Carmicheal, State Archivist, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and former Chair, SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA)

Good advocacy is always targeted to a specific audience—specific people who need to hear a specific message to drive a specific outcome. In governments, for example, that audience is often legislators who need to hear the message of how the archives benefits citizens so that those legislators, in turn, will be more likely to support the archives with adequate authority, budgets, facilities, and such. Every archives needs support from governing authorities, users, the public, and others who may need to hear targeted messages. But before the target audience can hear the message the archives must grab their attention; we have to find a hook.

Normally archivists use the historical documents themselves as the hook. We tend to believe that the thrill we get from our collections is felt by everyone. After all, what could be more exciting than holding an actual George Washington letter in my hands? Our outreach is often built on the premise that target audiences will visit the archives if we give them the opportunity to experience the delight of hands-on history. And while that often works, it’s not a guaranteed strategy. It’s a good idea, then, to think about other experiences you might use to encourage key audiences to visit the archives.

When the Pennsylvania State Archives held its annual display of William Penn’s original 1681 Charter in 2015 we decided that the excitement of seeing the original document might not be attraction enough for many. So, in addition to advertising the event we sent personal invitations to state legislators offering them a private, fifteen minute viewing of the Charter with the state archivist and an opportunity to have their photo taken with the document, which they could publish in their constituent newsletter or display in their office. More than sixty legislators accepted our offer—a record for the archives—with the happy result that we extended our two day viewing schedule to three full days in order to accommodate the requests. Many legislators brought along key staff members for the photo op (an opportunity for us to meet the people who create policy briefs and provide data to the legislators). Some brought family members, including their children, to see the document and be part of the photograph. All of them took the opportunity to ask questions about the Charter and learn how the archives helps to protect the legal and financial interests of the commonwealth and its residents, beginning with Penn’s Charter.

Tweet from the office of Pennsylvania State Senator John Rafferty following his visit to see the 1681 Penn Charter while it was on view this year. Rafferty is pictured with State Archivist David Carmicheal. View the Storify of tweets from this year’s Charter Day event.

A very different attraction drew staff from a key agency to the archives: a trip to the roof of the archives tower. The panoramic view from the top encompasses the city, the surrounding valley, and a distinctive bird’s-eye view of the State Capitol building. The first stop on the tour, though, was the ground floor meeting room where the visitors saw a display of key documents from the archives’ collections and heard a brief explanation of the value of the archives to the commonwealth. The route to the roof passed through storage areas and provided opportunities to discuss the records as well as the aging facility itself. No doubt some of the staff visited the archives solely because of the lure of the rooftop tour, but all of them came away excited about the documents.


The State Museum of Pennsylvania and State Archives Complex in Harrisburg, PA Source:_http://statemuseumpa.org/50th-anniversary/_

Even if you don’t have a tower archives you can probably devise unique experiences that will attract key people to your archives. Just remember, it pays to think beyond the documents when you’re looking for the hook.

If you have examples of innovative archives outreach that you would like to share on ArchivesAWARE, read more about the editorial process on our About page and contact the editors at archivesaware@archivists.org!

October 5th is Ask An Archivist Day!


What Is #AskAnArchivist Day?

It’s an opportunity to:

  • Break down the barriers that make archivists seem inaccessible.
  • Talk directly to the public—via Twitter—about what you do, why it’s important and, of course, the interesting records with which you work.
  • Join with archivists around the country and the world to make an impact on the public’s understanding of archives while celebrating American Archives Month!
  • Interact with users, supporters, and prospective supporters about the value of archives.
  • Hear directly from the public about what they’re most interested in learning about from archives and archivists.

How Does It Work?

On October 5, archivists around the country will take to Twitter to respond to questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist. Take this opportunity to engage via your personal and/or institutional Twitter accounts and to respond to questions posed directly to you or more generally to all participants.

Questions will vary widely, from the silly (What do archivists talk about around the water cooler?) to the practical (What should I do to be sure that my emails won’t get lost?), but each question will be an opportunity to share more about our work and our profession with the public. Visit SAA’s Storify that summarizes the 2014 #AskAnArchivist Day to get more examples of questions and answers. Last year generated thousands of questions and answers, some of which have been Storified:

Between now and October 5:

PROMOTE #AskAnArchivist Day among your users and constituents via your institution’s website, Twitter account, blog, newsletter, and any other mediums available to you.

For additional inspiration on what your promotion of #AskAnArchivist Day might look like, see our Storify of marketing from the 2014 #AskAnArchivist Day, as well as these great examples of museums’ promotions of past #AskACurator Days:

Examples of possible Twitter promotion:

  • Happy #AskAnArchivist Day! Our archivists are waiting for YOUR questions. Tag us at @TWITTERHANDLE and use #AskAnArchivist.
  • Archivists at @TWITTERHANDLE are gearing up for #AskAnArchivist Day on October 5! Literally—documents and photo boxes stacked and waiting!

ENCOURAGE the public to use #AskAnArchivist and your institution’s Twitter handle (e.g., @smithsonian) when asking questions so you won’t miss any that are intended for you and so we will be able to track questions and answers to measure overall participation.

TALK to your staff and colleagues to develop a plan for responding to tweets throughout the day.  Will one person respond to all tweets?  Will you share the task? Will individuals sign up for time slots and let the public know who will be available when?

Here’s one example:

  • During #AskACurator Day, one person at the Indianapolis Museum of Art was selected to monitor both the general hashtag and tweets sent directly to @imamuseum. When direct questions came in or interesting general questions were posed via the hashtag, the designated monitor sent the questions to participating curators via email. The curators (and their archivist!) replied with their answers, and the monitor posted all answers from the @imamuseum Twitter account. (See the Storify of the IMA’s participation in #AskACurator Day for results.)

CREATE an institutional Twitter account if you don’t already have one. #AskAnArchivist Day and American Archives Month are both great opportunities to start one! Click here to get started.

And if an institutional Twitter account is not an option for you, answer questions from your personal Twitter account! If your institutional affiliation and job title are not already listed on your profile, be sure to add that for the duration of #AskAnArchivist Day.

If you plan to participate, please email SAA Editorial and Production Coordinator Abigail Christian with your Twitter handle so we can create a list of participants.

TWEET and GREET! Take advantage of this opportunity to join with archivists from around the country to talk to and hear directly from the public on October 5.

Undergraduate Archival Internships: Opportunities for Professional Development -AND- Student Outreach


Gene Hyde headshotUntitled-1This post was authored by guest contributor Gene Hyde, Head of Special Collections, and Ashley McGhee, archival intern at University of North Carolina Asheville

The University of North Carolina Asheville is the designated public liberal arts campus in the UNC system, and as such we serve an overwhelmingly undergraduate population. In Special Collections we work closely with the UNCA History Department to offer a credit-bearing internship experience for undergraduates. An internship is the equivalent of a 3 credit hours History course, and interns are vetted by the History faculty in collaboration with Special Collections.

Our interns work 150 hours over a semester with a set schedule. Internships start with readings in archival theory, followed by hands-on arranging and describing of a collection, creating finding aids, and creating a display and/or blog post about their work, all accompanied by plenty of one-on-one mentoring. We have interns most semesters, and sometimes we’ve had two or three at time. Interns seem to enjoy the experience, and often express interest in careers in archives, librarianship, or public history. Indeed, part of the mentoring process often entails discussing these career options.

Last year Special Collections received an internal UNCA grant to purchase a significant local history collection and hire a student intern to process it, and we hired Ashley McGhee. Ashley had previously worked in Special Collections as an intern and had proven herself as gifted and hard-working, plus she is from Western North Carolina and has a strong interest in Appalachian history. As part of her internship responsibilities she was required to process the collection, join me in meeting with the donor and discussing the collection, and write a process paper describing her internship. Her process paper is below.

Gene Hyde, Head of Special Collections, UNC Asheville


Ashley McGhee in the UNCA Special Collections Reading Room

The John Brown Land Speculation Collection Papers
A Process Paper by Ashley McGhee

          When I came to UNC Asheville to pursue a second degree in History I had no idea how the Library’s Special Collections would have an impact on my life.  I spent more time in the library than I did in class, and quickly made the acquaintance of both the Head of Special Collections, Gene Hyde, and the Archives Assistant, Colin Reeve.  After I worked a summer internship in Special Collections, Gene realized how at home I was among books and manuscripts and asked if I would be interested in working on an additional project.

A private donor who is an amateur historian of Western North Carolina (WNC) and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park had offered Special Collections papers from the Brown family, which were related to the Speculation Lands Collection already housed in UNCA’s Special Collections.  The Speculation Lands Collection documents land acquisition and ownership in Western North Carolina during the late 1790s -early 1800’s, when land speculators sought land for investments instead of settlement like most frontier residents, and it provides an intimate, and often unique, look at land business dealings during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Brown family papers document land speculation efforts by John Brown and three generations of his relatives.  After securing the details regarding the collection, Gene and I traveled to the donor’s home to meet with him and his wife to discuss some of the finer points regarding the collection.  As noted, this private donor is a historian of Western North Carolina, and every nook and cranny of his personal library contained books, maps, and pictures, all housed in a warm wooden room full of soft lighting and squishy chairs, a bookworm’s dream come true.

The donor was willing to share what he had already learned about the Brown collection as well as provide extensive notes of his research. This was the beginning of background research for the collection, but it only scratched the surface.  Since the collection was related to the larger Speculation Lands Collection, the obvious research choice was to start with that collection and then work backwards.  After perusing it, and then books such as Sadie Smathers Patton’s Buncombe to Mecklenburg: Speculation Lands, along with the previously published “John Brown’s Journal of Travel in Western North Carolina in 1795”, I realized I was going to have to go back even further in my research.  Eventually, I ended up having to go all the way to the mid-1600’s with the first England Land Grants that were chartered for North Carolina, and then the original Eight Lords Proprietors.

When Special Collections received the papers, they were in a big box containing several manila folders with all the documents mixed together. The donor purchased the collection at an estate sale, and there was no evidence that any original order was intact by the time it was obtained by Special Collections. After examining the collection and conferring with Gene, we agreed that the logical way to organize the collection was to separate the documents by each speculator. Most all of the documents were from speculators within the Brown Family, but each man worked in different areas and in different time periods, so I wanted their documents categorized unto each of them so their work could tell their individual stories.

Before even getting to that though, I had to relax the documents, which involved placing the documents overnight into the bottom of a dry plastic container and then sitting that in a larger, deeper container which held a couple of inches of water in the bottom, thus reintroducing moisture and making the items more pliable and less fragile when handled. The materials were then laid flat between acid-free sheets of paper and weighted down to flatten out. Finally, to wrap up the project, I described the folders of material, wrote a detailed description and history of the collection, and created a finding aid.

Once the collection is made public on the UNC Asheville Special Collections website, it will be available for all to use.  Gene and I plan on stopping in to see our friend who donated the collection again, and enjoy his hospitality and talk Western North Carolina history and archives.

Live Blogging from RAO Marketplace of Ideas, Group 3

The SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) is excited to be joining this year’s purveyors of hot topics and cool demonstrations at the Reference, Access, and Outreach (RAO) Section Marketplace of Ideas at the 2016 Annual Meeting. In the spirit of trying new avenues for outreach, we are not only encouraging attendees to live tweet with #ArchivesAWARE, but are also experimenting in LIVE BLOGGING–RIGHT NOW.

Group 3

Group 3

We are asking groups of Marketplace shoppers some outreach-related questions to get discussions going, and below are some of the responses we are getting LIVE:

1. What was the best new outreach initiative you’ve tried? If not new, what is your go-to for archival outreach?

    • Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. Outreach resides with the Museum. Tumblr blog for Library. Has 13,000 followers to date. Have a big following among tattoo artists, who like illustrations. Interact with them through Tumblr. Also have a First Friday program with pop-up exhibits.



    • Temple University. Cookbooks, do a potluck with older recipes. People come in and find recipes from a selection of cookbooks.
    • Stanford. History of Information class. Students had to make recipes.
    • Go to. Tufts – Alumni events around commencement..Bring a button maker featuring Jumbo the elephant. Flooded with activity. New series of Tufts traditions.
Tufts button maker and buttons.

Tufts button maker and buttons.

2. How do you measure success for outreach activities? What are your benchmarks?

3. That being said, what have been some of your outreach fails?

4. Who do you consider an outreach superstar (not just archives!)

Live Blogging from RAO Marketplace of Ideas, Group 2

The SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) is excited to be joining this year’s purveyors of hot topics and cool demonstrations at the Reference, Access, and Outreach (RAO) Section Marketplace of Ideas at the 2016 Annual Meeting. In the spirit of trying new avenues for outreach, we are not only encouraging attendees to live tweet with #ArchivesAWARE, but are also experimenting in LIVE BLOGGING–RIGHT NOW.


We are asking groups of Marketplace shoppers some outreach-related questions to get discussions going, and below are some of the responses we are getting LIVE:

1. What was the best new outreach initiative you’ve tried? If not new, what is your go-to for archival outreach?

  • Chicago. Open Archives Day. Did a tour on a day when enrollment management was doing tours. Got middle school children in to see archives.
  • MIT. Centennial of move from Boston to Cambridge. Made a coloring book and had crayon packets. Hands out at cookouts on campus with children, hands them out at commencement.
  • Arlington, Virginia. Lobby displays in the public library. Took a colorful business postcard and turned it into a puzzle. Have now made five of them. 48-piece puzzle. Adults and children both like it, serves as a conversation starter. About $60 to make one.
  • Library of Virginia. 2 year anniversary of transcribe program. Have programs once a month to have people come in to transcribe. Get a diverse audience of transcribers. Just did a Facebook post on two-year anniversary.
  • Go-to and a fail – inexpensive banners. Picture and a paragraph. Can bring them to different events. Have brought them to County Fairs with someone there to talk about posters, but people didn’t really engage. Over-reliance on go-to activity.
  • Go-to. Behind the scenes tour at the Corning Glass Library. Can be a lot of traffic. Looking at a virtual tour option.
  • Library of Congress. Have users tweet. Give them hashtags.
  • Social Media is a go to.
  • Exhibits and public programs are go tos.
  • Meet-ups at the Library of Congress have been successful, in-person and online.
  • Flicker feed has gotten a lot of people talking about collections and providing information

2. How do you measure success for outreach activities? What are your benchmarks?

  • Statistics. Best performing posts, traffic and interactions.
  • In the case of the puzzle, people continue to use it.
  • Very little setting of benchmarks before events.
  • Measuring the impact by gathering feedback through conversations.

3. That being said, what have been some of your outreach fails?

4. Who do you consider an outreach superstar (not just archives!)

  • Corning Glass Museum.
  • University of Iowa Special Collections social media, especially Tumblr and YouTube.
  • Austin Archives Bazaar.