Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody’s Annual Conference Coverage on the Value of Archival Labor Sessions

RachaelWoody

Rachael Woody (photograph courtesy of Rachael Woody).

This is the latest post in our series Responses and Retrospectives, which features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession. Interested in contributing to Responses and Retrospectives?  Please email the editor at archivesaware@archivists.org with your ideas!

For me, attending the annual Society of American Archivists conference is time to reconnect with beloved colleagues and reengage with topics I care deeply about. I can’t afford to attend the conference every year, so I always view the conference program before I make the final decision. Are there sessions I want or need to attend? Are there topics that are new or finally being covered? Or, does it look like the conference is repeating topics without contributing anything new? As someone who has to pay my own way, I have to make sure there’s a return on my investment of both time and money. This year, SAA’s annual meeting theme had my attention from the start: TRANSFORMATIVE!. As in transforming archives. The program sessions followed suit with panelists willing to tackle tough topics and start new conversations.

My Work on Fighting the Devaluation of the Archivist

Before I dive into my response to a block of the SAA 2019 Annual Conference sessions, let me preface by saying that the value of archival labor is a topic that I am deeply involved with. In the last two-years I’ve:

  • Written the current NWA job posting policy requiring salary ranges;
  • Performed a literary review of American Archivist articles on everything from A*Census to the multiple articles on how recent graduates are struggling to find healthy employment in the field;
  • Conducted a regional survey on the value of archival labor (with findings forthcoming); and
  • Am currently spearheading the creation of a paid internship program at Northwest Archivists.

In my research I’ve found that the literal value of archival labor has been stagnate for the last ten-years. Additionally, the student loan debt to entering archivist salary ratio has caused instability in the profession; particularly in geographic areas that aren’t flush with archival repositories with government-backed budgets. I believe that we have reached a critical point in time in which we must acknowledge this devaluation of the archivist, and address it before our entire profession atrophies.  It’s through this lens that I respond to three SAA sessions focused on the value of archival labor.

SAA Sessions: My Response

On Sunday, August 4, 2019, there were three sessions dedicated to archival labor: an open forum, session 210, and session 410. Below are links to the sessions and the session summary italicized for easy reference:

Open Forum: SAA Council Forum on Archival Salaries

This special forum, hosted by SAA Council members Melissa Gonzales and Steven D. Booth, will explore the notion of requiring salary information in position descriptions for jobs boards, the benefits and challenges of doing so, and the potential impact this ideal may have on the archival profession. Invited panelists and the audience will explore why professional associations should and should not take a position, and if so, how can archivists at all levels frame it to truly advocate for the profession and not harm it.

The open forum was well attended with several hundred seated in the ballroom. There was no formal content to present and the panelists began the discussion with SAA Council’s recent angst over whether or not to require salary ranges for job posts. What gets sticky here is that SAA makes money from the job board. So, trusting SAA to make the ethical decision to require job post quality indicators can be challenging when the system currently in place benefits SAA. As noted in several tweets, the forum discussion revealed that SAA makes $60,000-$90,000 in annual revenue from the job board. (SAA’s FY20 Budget states it revenued $85,000). Sadly, that amount is much more than the average mid-career archivist’s annual salary.

Screenshot of Tweet by @akaGladys: Learning at salary forum that SAA's job board generates $60-90k of revenue for the org a year #saa19" 10:03 AM Aug 4, 2019 Twitter by IPhone 2 Retweets 23 Likes

When reviewing the “cons” of SAA requiring a salary range on job postings there were no cogent arguments from the panelists. Instead, strawman arguments that showed more privilege than sense were provided. The following points were offered as a justification for SAA to forego responsibility of providing space to predatory job listings:

  1. People keep taking these low-paying jobs so organization will keep offering these low salaries.
  2. If SAA requires salary ranges “Will it really provide change that leads to better salaries?”.
  3. The assertion that people who seek higher paying jobs have “bad intentions”.

Screenshot of Tweet by @rachaelcristine Aug 4: Several #archivist salaries forum persons see "cons" to requiring salary range in job post. One remarks they would question motives for those who apply for jobs with more money. Me: Since when is being paid your worth a bad thing?! #saa2019 #saa19 #devaluationofthearchivist Symbols at bottom show one comment, 6 retweets, and 33 likes

The panelists who denied SAA’s responsibility placed it instead on those who are struggling against these damaging job practices currently allowed in the profession.

Patronizing statements were made by some of the panelists to those struggling, saying essentially:

  1. People should do their own research to determine what an adequate salary is. How?; when the Census data is extremely outdated and government salaries hardly translate to other organizations? SAA is in the best position to provide this information to archivists and organizations – with parameters given for organization type, geographic area, various job levels, and requisite salary.
  2. People should negotiate better. Negotiation is rarely available to those in the profession. Also, then shouldn’t SAA be providing negotiation education and support?
  3. People should be willing to move for a better job. Some of us can move. Others cannot due to family or other life obligations. This is a tone-deaf statement rejecting the real-life realities many archivists face.

Why Salary Range is so Important

Requiring salary ranges on job posts aids in salary transparency. Salary transparency reveals wage inequity and helps put a stop to gender, race, and gender identity or sexuality discrimination. Increased salary transparency across the profession will lead to healthier financial realities for archivists, and addressing wage inequity will support actual diversity within the profession. It’s important to note that both Northwest Archivists and Southwest Archivists have already made this a policy.

210 Low Pay in Archives: Review of Recent Events, and Where Do We Go From Here? [Pop-Up]

This Pop-Up Session will discuss the current state of generally low pay for archivists in the U.S., discuss SAA and regional archival organizations recent attempts at doing something about it, including archival certification, salary job listing requirements, recommended salary minimums, and the current literature in the field; look at salaries across the country and useful statistical data like the salary required to own a home in a specific city; and strategize additional ways the profession can help push salaries upwards, including possibly unionization.

This session was a little less frustrating for me as the panelists appeared to agree that something needs to be done about the financial health of our profession. Rosemary Davis was brave and bared all – including her student loan debt number. This panel delivered real talk on what many in the profession are experiencing: you have a master’s degree with the student loan debt to show for it and you can’t make ends meet because entry-level archivist positions are sub-$45,000. This session introduced the concept of the “spousal subsidy”. As in, you can only afford the luxury of being an archivist on low pay because your spouse has the pay and benefits to cover you both. This has obvious repercussions on who can afford to be an archivist and directly damages diversity within the field.

Screenshot of a Tweet by @vgillispie Aug 4: The "spousal subsidy" concept is too real. I was recently offered a job with a salary offer $20K below my current salary. The hiring manager said he was hoping I had a "family situation" that would allow me to accept the offer. I do not. #s210 #saa19. Symbols show 1 comments, 5 retweets, 27 likes.

410 Short-Term Jobs for Long-Term Careers: Designing Ethical Project/Contract Positions

With SAA defining standards for interns and volunteers, archivists on short-term projects or contracts are the next frontier in the ethics question. These archivists have barriers to completing their work–including time, funding, and skills–making their supervisor’s role crucial in designing and supporting a successful contract employment experience. Aimed at project managers, supervisors, and contract archivists, this session is intended to foster dialog among participants about ways to create more sustainable models of project positions.

This panel is an adjacent topic to archivist salaries as temporary or project positions are becoming more and more common and less of a stop-gap measure for organizations that are struggling. It also highlighted that allowing regular archival work to become temporary or project-based only helps to devalue the work. And further, we must be more precise in identifying archival labor as work, a long-term endeavor that requires skill. Versus calling our work a project, a word that indicates it’s temporary, can be stopped at any time, and potentially requires less-skills. This thinking extends to how project positions are professional positions, not pre-professional positions, and should be treated (i.e. paid) accordingly.

Screenshot of Tweet by @alexiadpuravida Aug 4: Advocate that project positions ARE professional positions, not a pre-professional position [emojis show 4 hand claps] #saa 19 #s410 (symbols show 2 retweets, 24 likes)

SAA’s Mission and How We Are Actively Working Against It.

SAA’s mission is to promote the value and diversity of archives and archivists. The anti-salary range panelists (and the majority of SAA Council) appear to contradict SAA’s stated mission. How can we say we champion diversity and value archivists when we allow rapacious practices such as low-wage jobs, no salary transparency, temporary or term jobs, and unpaid internships? (Yes, SAA Council did vote to disallow unpaid internship job postings, but more can be done to discourage the practice pervasive in organizations nation-wide). It is known that by allowing these practices we perpetuate a system built on discrimination against race, gender, and gender identity and sexuality. If you’re in a management position, in academia, or work for the government – congratulations! You’ve avoided the worst of it with your elite position. But you’re leaving the rest of the profession behind and such short-sightedness will devalue the entire profession (including you).

Conclusion

We’re just beginning these tough conversations and there’s obviously a lot to be done before we can begin to see progress. Here’s what I’d like to see next:

Recommendations for SAA Council and Organization:

  1. Officially support the grass-roots archivist salary spreadsheet. Now at nearly 500 entries, this is the most recent and robust national archivist salary data we have available.
  2. Financially commit to conducting the census more regularly. Yes, I realize it costs money. However, letting the census lapse 15-years is absolutely preventable. Decisions about how to best support the profession can’t be made if we don’t have current and accurate numbers.
  3. Call for a membership vote on whether or not to require salary ranges for job postings.
  4. Take a more active role in protecting and advocating for archivists and not just archival organizations. Explore ways in which SAA can do this; such as: conducting an exploration of how SAA can support unionization, offer collective benefits, provide guidance on appropriate job salary scales, etc.

Recommendations for Archivists Against Devaluation:

  1. This was an excellent conference, but the conversation needs to continue. For those who did panels, tweeted, and discussed the topic in-person; we need you to do more of that. For those who want to join in, please join in!
  2. When SAA calls for guideline reviews, feedback, and votes; you have to show up and give your feedback. Better yet, run for Council. Council needs your voice.
  3. Contribute blog posts and professional writings to the field that help educate and advocate around this topic.
  4. Speak up and repeatedly at your work, at your regional group, and at SAA and related national conferences.

This post was written by Rachael Cristine Woody, a member of The Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). The opinions and assertions stated within this piece are the author’s alone, and do not represent the official stance of the Society of American Archivists. COPA publishes response posts with the sole aim of providing additional perspectives, context, and information on current events and subjects that directly impact archives and archivists.

There’s An Archivist For That! Interview with Brad San Martin, Digital Archivist, Apollo Theater

This is the latest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this entry, Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachel Seale brings you an interview with Brad San Martin, Digital Archivist for Harlem’s Apollo Theater.

Brad San Martin

Brad San Martin. Photo credit Amber Duntley (www.flickr.com/adunt).

Prior to entering the archives field in 2015, Brad San Martin worked in the music and travel industries as a copywriter, content developer, and product manager, among other roles. He has also produced and/or annotated a number of acclaimed historical CD reissue projects, including Kevin Dunn’s No Great Lost: Songs 1979-1985 and Harlan County USA: Songs of the Coal Miner’s Struggle.

How did you get your gig?

I arrived at the Apollo after spending most of my professional life working in the music industry in a few different — including publicity, radio promotion, project management, copywriting, and artist relations — capacities. While in that world I had overseen several archival releases, compiling new CD collections from old tapes, researching the best available sources, clearing the rights, annotating them, and so on. Putting projects like those together inspired me to explore archives as a full-time pursuit. So, eighteen years or so after I finished undergrad, I went back to grad school to get my master’s degree in Library Science with a concentration in Archives. Throughout grad school I worked processing audiovisual materials at the Southern Folklife Collection, which was an incredible opportunity to learn about the nitty gritty of archiving and about the variety of media formats that are out there. I thought I knew them all…

When this position came across my radar, I was thrilled: What fan of popular music hasn’t been affected by an artist, a song, or a movement that was forged onstage at the Apollo? Being here feels like the culmination of everything I’ve been doing before — and it draws from all areas of my experience.

Tell us about your organization

The Apollo Theater takes inspiration from the rich legacy of the theater’s past in order to enrich the future. Through its education department, the theater introduces young people to the incredible contributions that have emerged from Harlem and the Apollo, while also offering students opportunities to learn about what goes on behind the scenes: production and tech, publicity, programming, and more. The Apollo is also positioning itself as a catalyst for a new canon of works, producing and presenting provocative, powerful new pieces of theater, dance, and music.

I always like to stress that while the Apollo has a remarkable backstory, what our programming team is doing now is every bit as vital. And being the archivist means that I get the best of both worlds: I get to help document the new programs we develop while also watching over the materials that allow us to tell the story of the theater’s history.

Describe your collections

The Apollo Theater Archives is a new initiative. I have been here for just about a year and a half now. The fact that I am here at all is a testament to the long-term vision of the Apollo’s past and present leadership — people like Laura Greer and Mikki Shepard, who kept the torch for the archives burning for years before I arrived. Over the past fifteen years, whenever funding was available, portions of the collection were inventoried and preserved. So when I got here, there were a mix of processed and unprocessed collections, in various stages of preservation. 

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Photo by Megan Rossman. Working with Smith Fund intern Samantha Scott to arrange A/V materials in the Apollo’s collection.

The Apollo collection spans pretty much every conceivable audiovisual format, in addition to photographs, posters, program booklets, three-dimensional artifacts, ticket stubs and passes, and business records. In the mid-1980s, the Apollo had full broadcast and audio recording studio facilities, and as a result we have a lot of ¾” and open-reel video from both the theater and recorded for production clients. One of the most informative and illustrative areas of the collection is a set of more than 2000 hand-tinted photographs of artists who performed at the Apollo from the 1950s through the 1970s. Taken as a set, they tell us so much about who worked here — and not just the big stars, who are certainly represented, but the ventriloquists, the dancers, the MCs, the animal acts, and others who may have otherwise been forgotten. 

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

We face the same challenges that other largely audiovisual collections contend with: obsolete formats, unclear rights provenance, storage and preservation issues, et cetera. The Apollo is a working theater in Manhattan, so on-site storage space is at a premium. One of the biggest issues we face is that there is no way the collection can match the formidable legacy of the Apollo. People imagine a goldmine of photos, video, handbills, and posters documenting every one of the thousands of shows that happened here. But the Apollo was a working, for-profit theater for most of its life — people were too busy getting paying customers into the seats to prioritize creating a historical record. 

With that in mind, the collection is also not continuous: We have elements from all eras of the theater’s 85-year existence, but not all eras are represented evenly. A number of materials related to the theater were donated to the Smithsonian by the theater’s former owners. But thanks to the growing capacity of digital tools, we’re able to partner with other institutions and share certain items digitally, enriching our holdings and what we will eventually be able to offer potential users.  

Speaking of users, the Apollo Theater Archives are not yet open to the public — so it’s also a challenge for me to ask interested people to wait while we catalog, digitize, and preserve the materials in the collection in preparation for them to be accessed.

What is the favorite part of your job?

I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to discover new objects related to the theater’s history and performances on a very regular basis…but even more exciting is seeing the elements of the collection utilized on behalf of the Apollo Theater’s missions. We preserve these things for a reason, and that’s to share them. So watching them become a part of an educational or community program, or referenced by a visiting artist who is working to create a new work, is incredibly fulfilling.

IMG_1655

Photo by Lisa Mullins. Presenting materials with WNET’s Jenna Flanagan from the Apollo Theater Archives on stage at the Apollo’s annual Open House event, February 2, 2019.

That said, the best part of my job is continuing to discover just how much the Apollo means to people — especially those with roots in Harlem. The theater has been more than a performance venue: It’s a pillar of an incredibly vibrant, dynamic community. I see the theater’s role in people’s lives most vividly through our community events, which engage a largely local audience in conversations about history, culture, and politics. The delight and appreciation they express when they discover that we’re working hard to preserve and extend the legacy of a place they love so much is overwhelming. 

Stay tuned for future posts in the “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, featuring stories on archivists working in places you might not expect. If you know of an archivist who fits this description or are yourself an archivist who fits this description, the editors would love to hear from you—share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!

Advocacy and Outreach Opportunities at the Archives*Records 2019 Annual Meeting

This week is the start of the SAA Annual Meeting. Here is a list of some recommendations for awareness and advocacy sessions and activities.

First things first — stop by the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) table! We’ll have a table in the conference registration area.

  • Saturday afternoon, 3:15 – 4:30 PM the Kitchen Sisters will be at the table playing clips from their podcast!
  • The Archives in Context podcast team will be at the table Sunday from 8:00-10:30 AM and 3:00-5:00 PM to record your elevator speech!
  • Elevator speech postcards – get them while they last!
  • Crafting Your Elevator Speech puzzle – a repeat of last year’s puzzle, be part of the team that puts it together!

Storytelling Workshop with Micaela Blei

Learn how to tell your story—and tell it well! In this introductory COPA-sponsored workshop, you’ll work with two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner (and former Moth director of education) Micaela Blei, PhD, to find stories that you want to tell, learn strategies for delivering riveting stories, and feel great doing it.

“Sing Out, Louise! Sing Out!” The Archivist and Effective Communication

This session includes panelists providing strategies for effective communication, examples of communication fails, and includes Q&A so attendees can share experiences too.

Are you ArchivesAWARE? Teaming up with SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness to Create a Stronger Archives Community

COPA members share successful initiatives and then engage with audience to brainstorm outreach strategies, solutions to outreach obstacles, and how we can better engage with communities that may have barriers to accessing archives.

Community Connections: Unleashing the Potential of Programs and Services Aimed at Underserved Stakeholder Communities

Archivists who oversee labor and social justice collections share their collaborations, programs, and services that have reached beyond the usual academic or institutional stakeholders and discuss the impact of reaching out to underserved communities.

Get With, or at Least On, the Program: Crafting Session Proposals for Archives-Related Sessions at Non-archives Conferences

Panelists from this session share the history and accomplishments of the Society of Southwest Archivists’ new committee, the State Partnerships and Outreach Committee.

What’s Your Elevator Speech?

The Archives in Context podcast team and the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) are joining together to record your elevator speeches at this year’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas.

COPA will have a table in the registration area with a Crafting Your Elevator Speech puzzle. Stop by to work on the puzzle and to record your elevator speech with the Archives in Context team for inclusion in a forthcoming episode. The podcast team will be at the COPA table on Sunday, August 4 from 8:00-10:30 AM and 3:00-5:00 PM.

We want these recordings to sound like real conversations, so we’re also looking for your help creating some conversation scenarios.

Three ways to participate:

  1. Contact the Archives in Context team at Chris.Burns@uvm.edu ahead of time to set up an interview or to pitch a scenario (doesn’t have to occur in an elevator).
  2. Stop by the COPA table in the registration area on August 4 between 8:00-10:30 AM or 3:00-5:00 PM.
  3. Can’t make it Austin but want to participate, record your own elevator speech and send it to the email address above.

A Finding Aid To My Soul

This year’s show will be hosted by two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner (and former Moth director of education) Micaela Blei. Featured storytellers: Arielle Petrovich, Katie Moss, Travis Williams, Katie Dishman, Joyce LeeAnn Joseph, Cliff Hight, Kira Lyle, Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Leah Harrison, and Joanna Black.

Blowing Off the Dust: How to Move Your Archives from the Basement to the Public Square

This interactive session is about how to partner with your public radio and includes best practices for pitching to public radio, how cultural institutions and public radio complement each other, and information about a current collaboration between an archive and public radio.

Archival Value: Tales of Professional Advocacy

This session features professionals from a variety of archival settings who share how they advocated for themselves, their staff and students, and their colleagues to get administrative support for the resources they  needed.

Know of other outreach- and advocacy-related sessions, events, and general happenings taking place next week that didn’t make our schedule? Tell us in the comments below, or let us know which of these and other annual meeting events you are most looking forward to!

 

Carpe Media Redux

In this post, authors Vince Lee and Rachel Seale, members of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) follow up with some attendees from last year’s COPA-sponsored “Carpe Media! Communications and Media Training for Archivists” workshop at ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2018 in Washington, D.C. 

Sometimes, to truly evaluate the impact a workshop has had on it attendees, it’s often helpful to revisit it after some time has passed and we are quite as close to the event. This separation  offers an opportunity to gauge the perspectives from others. Basically, we wanted to see how our attendees may have applied what they have learned back to their workplaces, and what next steps that they took. We also wanted to see if there were challenges as well, what didn’t work from the workshop, and if there were things that the workshop fell short with in regards to meeting expectations. 

Then

Below is the feedback we collected shortly after the workshop commenced. For a fuller recap of the Carpe Media workshop visit: http://bit.ly/recapcarpemedia2018.

  • Be concise and consistent.
  • Be repetitive, don’t assume people are going to see your one Tweet amidst the 500 million other Tweets that day.
  • Your brand is a promise to deliver something to your customers and also how you are perceived.
  • Resist the temptation to be clever.
  • Stick to the message, don’t be cute or snarky or that’s what the journalist may cut out of context and use in their piece.
  • Choose the platform/s that is most used by your customers and users. Don’t know which platform? Survey!
  • Always be connected (ABC)-think about who you are connecting to and with and what message your audience wants/expects to receive.

A summary of what attendees shared they wanted from the workshop:

  • Tools to raise awareness of what they do and the collections they have to the general public
  • Make communications more interesting and impactful to targeted audience
  • Communicate more strategically
  • Awareness and advocacy targeted to grass roots audience on why archivists and their organizations need additional resources/facilities to house and process their collections
  • Donor communications and bridging perceptions on archivists and our roles
  • Awareness and community outreach to potential donors
  • Get “buy-in” from organizational leadership for additional resources
  • Communicating history and heritage to internal stakeholders
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Group photo of attendees. Photo courtesy of Teresa Brinati.

Now, A Year Later

Below are responses to a survey we sent out to attendees as a follow-up to see what impact, changes, or challenges that the workshop provided to their work.

Cathrine Giles, Manager, State Records Branch, Archives and Records Management Division, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives

Mr. Steinhauer’s workshop was very helpful. It was a great space that allowed attendees to be open and engaging about our communication concerns and questions. He delivered some hard truths about social media and encouraged us to refocus on how we think about and use different communication platforms.

I had great takeaways and notes from the workshop. I’ve worked on applying some to my agency’s social media strategy, such as more distinction between Twitter and Facebook posts. If SAA was to have this workshop again or something similar, I would certainly recommend it.

Andrea Jackson Gavin, Grant Writer, AUC Woodruff Library

I was fascinated by the Carpe Media workshop and the History Communications concept. I was unfamiliar with History Comm, but I follow Jason on social media, and read a bit more about how this developing field can help historians and archivists do their work effectively – especially public historians and archivists.  I have transitioned to a grant writing role, but I think the workshop helped me to consider how my writing to grant funding agencies can be improved with less jargon and more appealing language that will speak to a broader public about the importance of history. Additionally, in the past year I’ve had the opportunity to speak with potential donors and used some of the techniques we practiced during the workshop to help make a case for why archival collections and accompanying monetary donations can be helpful to advance society, research and scholarship.

Vince Lee, Archivist, University of Houston Libraries-Special Collections 

The Carpe Media workshop has made me realize that the work of Archivists and Archives is “invisible labor” and “investment” by the public and donors alike. People know we are there and what we offer but take for granted what we do and don’t realize what it takes to process a collection and make it accessible. I think as Archivists we need to better articulate the value/cost of our work better. How I have tried to apply this to my work after attending the workshop is by trying to let donors know that we not only need their material support, but also their monetary support in trying to either acquire or process collections. In working with our Head of Special Collections and Director of Advancement, we have created an informational brochure providing the value of archival supplies-acid free folders, photo sleeves, archival boxes, etc and the hourly rate we pay a Graduate Assistant to process an incoming collection. By providing these metrics to interested donors, we are also giving them the tools to share and advocate on our behalf of the investment and costs that are involved when we process a collection.

Julie Schweitzer, Archivist, United States Memorial Holocaust Museum

The Carpe Media workshop has not impacted my work as much as I had hoped, mostly because our social media team remains a strong but separate department. However, as I have been following our social media presence after this workshop, I have been pleased to see that our social media team largely follows the recommendations made during the workshop.

Ashley Selima, State Archivist and Public Administrator, Rhode Island Department of State

One of the biggest shifts for me after the Carpe Media workshop was definitely taking a more proactive approach with our Communications Department and sharing content, ideas, or trends that I thought would assist in highlighting the Archives. I’m fortunate that we have a Communications Department but Jason’s workshop provided tools for working with them and being a better partner to spread the word about our holdings, our work, and our goals

Other respondents who wished to remain anonymous

COPA’s planning/facilitation of the workshop is very much appreciated, and I am thankful to have been awarded a spot and the opportunity to attend. I cannot say that the workshop has explicitly benefited me over the past year—perhaps I have not actively sought enough advocacy/communications opportunities. A key reminder that was helpful: refrain from using jargon and/or prepare to explain it to a general audience.

I did participate in the survey directly after SAA (in early September) and I think at that time I noted the workshop was somewhat different than I expected. It was more general and basic than I anticipated and did not seem tailored to the audience: e.g. the archival community is very active on Twitter for scholarly communication and public communication (often led by national institutions). The intro to specific media formats did not seem to take this into account. The role-playing was more helpful and I appreciated hearing my colleagues make pitches and work to tailor them.


The workshop was definitely helpful in terms of giving me a set of steps to think about in formulating the best approach to different types of external – and even internal – interactions with different stakeholders. I felt the workshop was much more beneficial in terms of planning internal conversations than necessarily external/media communication – and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I remember it not being something that I had expected. Though at this point, it could just be that was the part of the workshop that most stuck with me.


In general, I liked the workshop, though I had been expecting more of a focus on speaking to the media and on camera than advocating for staffing to administrators.  Speaking to the media has been an aspect of my position that I’ve struggled with and, though the workshop was interesting and helpful, I would have liked to have more guidance on that.


I have used what I learned to communicate more efficiently with colleagues and to get support from my administration. I evaluate what evidence I have that would influence administrators to give us the resources we need.

I am more strategic, overall, in the emails I send and the information I put out on the social media platforms we use at work. I do practice ABC (Always Be Connected) when I craft messages for internal or external users and customers. 

Another thing I have taken away from the workshop is to practice communicating high stakes or high pressure conversations. I remember being nervous at the end when we were role playing and Jason played the part of administrator. Practicing stressed me out then and stresses me out now, honestly, and the stress doesn’t really go away. until I can have that stressful conversation or send that email. However, when I rehearse for that difficult conversation, I am more prepared and perform better. 


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Workshop facilitator Jason Steinhauer role-playing with an attendee. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Final thoughts

Based on feedback a year later, it seems that the workshop has improved attendees’ communication strategies. At least two respondents used what they learned to educate donors on resources required to make collections accessible and available to the researchers. Also, the sentiment we’ve received is that  a workshop on communicating with traditional media would still be helpful, though it should be specific and not as general or broad. Finally, it seems that most respondents have come away from the workshop with a newfound awareness of the critical components involved in a successful communications strategy whether it is working internally with their own communications department, or taking a more proactive role when working with different audiences.

Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody on Myspace and the Precarity of User Content on Social Media Platforms

RachaelWoody

Rachael Woody

This is the latest post in our series Responses and Retrospectives, which features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession. Interested in contributing to Responses and Retrospectives?  Please email the editor at archivesaware@archivists.org with your ideas!

 On March 18, 2019 the world learned that Myspace lost millions of songs, photographs, and videos posted prior to 2016. Myspace reports that the loss of data occurred due to a server migration project gone wrong. Such a loss of digital content received mixed reactions as some were horrified and others relieved that their Myspace content was lost. Once a major social media platform from 2003-2008, Myspace has since declined in usership with the rise of Facebook as the predominant social platform. Now, in 2019, Myspace is mostly used for musicians to share work and connect with fans.

It Can Happen to You

What happened to Myspace isn’t an isolated event. It can and will happen again. Social media platforms are not oriented to prioritize the preservation of user generated content. These platforms have the capacity to store user data, but don’t necessarily have backup measures in place for their digital content – as was the case for Myspace. Or, if you are of the more cynical persuasion, some technology experts believe that Myspace may have intentionally deleted millions of digital files so as to not have to maintain them.

When these social media platforms emerged and for almost a decade into most of the platform’s lives, there was no way to download your content. If you wanted to leave Myspace you had to delete your account and there was no way to download any of the content you uploaded during your time using the platform. How do I know this? Because, like many of you, I began on Myspace only to leave it a five years later for Facebook.

Myspace Love Letters

I joined Myspace the summer of 2005 and left the spring of 2010. Myspace had photos, posts, and messages that I didn’t have anywhere else thanks to a computer hard-drive crash and the nonexistence (in my world) of smart phones with cloud syncing. Sure, I could have selected and right-clicked on every photo to download, and copy+paste each post, but that would’ve been a tremendous amount of labor. However, there was one cache of data I could not leave behind: the love letters my husband and I wrote to each other when we first began dating. I consulted with several of my digital archivist peers to figure out if I had any options available to me to save those love letters. The consensus? Print them out.

MyspaceLoveLetters

We Need an Exit Strategy

As archivists, when we consider things such as a collections management system (CMS) we are now experienced enough to know that any platform considered must have an exit strategy for the collection data. Things change, software companies fold or merge, collection needs change, technology changes, and budgets change. Any one of these reasons is enough to instigate data migration to another CMS platform.

Most social media platforms are beginning to offer exit strategies. The top platforms now offer options to retrieve your content, though, I admit, from an archivist’s perspective the options aren’t great.

How to Get a Copy of Your Content

First of all, if you use a smartphone then chances are good that the digital content captured on the phone is syncing to a cloud. That’s good because it means that you still have access and control over all of your original content and its original file quality. The top three social media platforms each offer a way to retrieve a copy of your data. Facebook allows the most customization as you can select a time period, type of content, and a low/medium/high quality setting for the files. Facebook will then provide you an HTML or JSON file for you to download. Twitter offers to send you a file of your content but there is no way to customize what you receive, nor is there mention of what type of file you receive. Instagram lacks customization as well and will provide you a JSON file.

Archivists and the Appraisal of Social Media Content

When we use social media platforms we tend to share without a thought given toward how we might sustainably access the digital content later. As archivists, appraisal as we know it tends to only happen when a length of time has passed. Time and perspective help archivists decide on whether the material in question is of sufficient historical value to be accessioned. As social media users and digital content generators, we may need to save all digital items for a future appraisal to take place. But how can we guarantee access to our digital content? Why is there no easy way to do this?

Preserving Digital Content Isn’t Easy

As digital archivists are well aware, the management and long-term access to digital files is amorphous and hard to predict. Why is preserving long-term access to digital files hard to manage or predict? Here’s a few reasons:

  • Changing file formats and software used to create and access files
  • Poor past practices
  • No intuitive file naming conventions
  • Data corruption
  • Physical medium damage to disks, USBs, CDs, etc.
  • Inability to digitally migrate the content to an accessible format

Preserving (Digital) Objects with Restricted Resources (POWRR) is a great resource for those who want to learn more on how to protect their digital content.

How to Safeguard Your Content

Being proactive is the best strategy to help safeguard your digital content on social media platforms. Here are a few recommendations to consider:

  • Make sure you have a digital file backup system in place and that it’s working. I’ve encountered many people who thought they had a backup system in place only to find out it wasn’t working like they thought it would.
  • If you have the option to automatically sync your content to a cloud then do so.
  • Invest in cloud storage with trustworthy companies that practice at least some digital preservation principles (such as Dropbox or Google Drive).
  • If you’re an institution that generates a lot of web content then consider services such as Archive It for additional support.
  • Request a copy of your “archive” from the social media platforms you use.
  • When in doubt, (if it’s important to you) print it out. Paper is still King when it comes to formats we know will be around for a while.

This post was written by Rachael Cristine Woody, a member of The Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). The opinions and assertions stated within this piece are the author’s alone, and do not represent the official stance of the Society of American Archivists. COPA publishes response posts with the sole aim of providing additional perspectives, context, and information on current events and subjects that directly impact archives and archivists.

Keeping ArchivesAWARE: News and Highlights

This is the latest entry in our series Keeping ArchivesAWARE: News and Highlights, a recurring roundup of some of the latest archives-related news stories, features, commentaries, announcements, and projects that have caught our eye, with links to the original sources. This post written by COPA member Nick Pavlik.

Jody Rosen writes in a recent New York Times Magazine feature about the disastrous 2008 fire at a Universal Studios Hollywood warehouse that served as the vault for the most historically significant master recordings of the Universal Music Group, in which approximately 175,000 master recordings were destroyed.

A Europol press release details how three men were arrested in France last month for stealing rare maps from archival collections from different libraries throughout Europe.

NPR reports that while digitizing a collection at Mexico’s National Sound Library, archivists came across a recording containing a voice they believe may be that of celebrated Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

New Hampshire State Archivist Brian Burford was recently featured in an article in the Concord Monitor, in which he warned of the risk posed to the state’s digital records in the absence of a statewide digital preservation program.

The New York Times recently featured an article on the donation of Nachman Blumental’s personal papers to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.  Blumental, a philologist and one of the earliest historians of the Holocaust, documented how the Nazis’ “used the German language to obscure the mechanics of mass murder and make genocide more palatable to themselves.”

In The Conversation, Axel Bruns writes about the National Library of Australia’s newly launched Australian Web Archive, and the immense web archiving challenges the Library will continue to face going forward.

The University of Pittsburgh Library System recently acquired the archive of legendary horror filmmaker George A. Romero, which will serve as the foundation for a larger horror studies archive that the university intends to establish within its Archives & Special Collections.

The Monuments Men Foundation recently donated the diary of S. Lane Faison to the National Archives.  Faison, a member of the “Monuments Men” unit during World War II, supervised the return of millions of historical artifacts stolen by the Nazis to their countries of origin.

Controversy recently arose at Doane University in Nebraska after the director of the university’s Perkins Library was placed on administrative leave after including a photograph showing students wearing blackface in a “Parties from the Past” exhibit outside the library.

The CBC recently reported on the launch of a new website from the City of Edmonton Archives that provides access to thousands of digitized historical photographs from the Archives’ collection.

At the end of May, the New York Times reported that the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture had acquired the personal collection of Fred “Fab 5 Freddy” Brathwaite, the original host of “Yo! MTV Raps,” which first aired in 1988.

Have some interesting archival news items or highlights you’d like us to share?  Email us at archivesaware@archivists.org and we may include it in our next Keeping ArchivesAWARE roundup!

An Interview with Micaela Blei, Award-Winning Storyteller and Educator

The Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) is pleased to bring Micaela Blei, PhD, two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner and former Moth director of education, to ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019 this August in Austin, Texas at the JW Marriott. Blei will be teaching a FREE two-hour  “Storytelling Workshop” on Saturday, August 3 (1:00 PM – 3:00 PM) and hosting a storytelling event, “A Finding Aid to My Soul,” on Sunday, August 4 (8:00 PM – 10:00 PM). Pitch Your Story by June 27 for a chance to participate in the event. If selected, you’ll receive guidance from Blei to help whip your story into top shape.

In this interview conducted by Chris Burns of the University of Vermont and past chair of COPA, Blei discusses how she got into storytelling, her time working at Yale’s Beinecke Library, storytelling education, what we can expect from her as the host of “A Finding Aid to My Soul,” and how archivists can apply storytelling to their own work.

profile-3-copy

Micaela Blei has years of experience working with individuals, organizations, and communities to shape and share the important stories of their lives. Her acclaimed workshops are invitations to reflection, spaces for discovery, and—most of all—a lot of fun. Her own stories have been called “heartbreaking and hilarious.” She’s appeared on The Moth Radio Hour and live on sold-out storytelling stages nationwide. In 2016, Micaela wrote the storytelling curriculum now used by more than 1,500 educators around the world. Some of you may also know her from her keynote address at RBMS in 2017.

Burns: How did you get into storytelling?

Blei: I found storytelling in 2011, when I left teaching to go to graduate school in education, and could finally stay up late enough on weeknights to go to shows. I found myself at a storytelling show in Brooklyn, and I loved the feeling in the room, loved the kind of community it created—I got up there and it just felt really right! I started going all the time, began teaching it, and ultimately I changed my doctoral research to be about storytelling and identity.

Burns: You actually have some firsthand knowledge of archival work. Can you tell us a bit about your time as a student employee at the Beinecke Library at Yale?

Blei: I often say it’s the best job I ever had (it’s a tie between that and scouting real estate in the Caribbean, which is a whole other story). It was my work-study, to help out Pat Willis (then the Curator of American Lit at the Beinecke) with her correspondence and filing. But we got along so well, and I got really passionate about what she was doing, so slowly I got to do more and more curatorial things. Pat let me be in charge of exhibits—small ones at first—and it was my first experience with really going on an independent intellectual/research journey. I’m so grateful to her for that!

Burns: Your experience educating aspiring storytellers is pretty impressive and includes creating The Moth‘s educational program. What’s a favorite moment of yours from a past storytelling workshop?

Blei: I think my favorite moments are when storytellers are finding out new things about each other through their stories, even if they already knew each other. One of my favorite moments was in a high school workshop: two boys had signed up together and they were best friends. They cracked each other up all the time, and then one of them shared a story with the group about how it felt when his dad passed away the previous year. When it was time to give “feedback” and responses, the teller’s best friend said: “I had no idea, man. You seemed so together that year. I’m so glad I know what you went through.” It reminded me that sometimes, weirdly, it’s easier to share vulnerability with a group than a trusted friend.

Burns: You will be hosting SAA’s storytelling event this August during ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019 in Austin. How do you think about making the night work for both the storytellers and audience? Will there be any surprises? Big musical numbers? Pyrotechnics?

Blei: No big musical numbers planned, unless there is a big demand, in which case I’ll pack costumes . . .

I think a lot about the kindness of a storytelling audience: this isn’t about impressing each other, it’s about connecting with each other. It takes the pressure off. On the audience side, it’s this chance to step into someone else’s experience and realize—that’s happened to me too! Or I never realized that’s what that’s like!

As host, I will also be trying out my absolute best archive jokes from my Beinecke days.

Burns: What are the odds that you might share a story?

Blei: Quite high! I’ll tell a little something at the beginning of the evening, to help set the mood . . . and in my workshop on August 3, which I am so excited for, I’ll probably start us off with a story.

Burns: Why do you think archivists should consider learning more about storytelling as it relates to their work?

Blei: I think learning more about storytelling can help introduce some new tools, but more importantly, remind you that you already have powerful tools that you can use with new intention. We tell stories all the time! Realizing that this is something we are already good at—and can apply it with an awareness—can be so effective in archives work.

I also think that this workshop will help re-frame what “having confidence in public speaking” means. It’s a little bit of a different approach and so many people have found it really helpful.

Burns: Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding your work as a storyteller and educator?

Blei: Not at the moment! If you want more, apply to be in the show, or come to my storytelling workshop, or “A Finding Aid to My Soul”!