Bryan Whitledge is Archivist / Manager for University Digital Records for the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University. He currently serves as vice-chair of the Society of American Archivist’s Committee on Public Policy (SAA-COPP).
Have you ever considered how archives are funded? – we are talking about a true assessment of where the dollars are coming from to support archives and enable all of the work to collect, preserve, and make historical documents accessible? Chances are, it is a twisted knot of all sorts of tangled threads. And chances are, one of those threads, if we chase it to the end, involves some sort of federally backed public funding. Maybe it was a one-off grant for a small preservation project in the past couple years. Or maybe, years ago, there was major building renovation helped by a federal matching grant. Or maybe an archives is home to an ongoing multi-year project employing several people. Federal spending surely does not make up the bulk of archives expenditures at institutions across the country, but it does account for millions of dollars each year. And these dollars are often the difference between a particular project seeing the light of day or sitting on the shelf for another time.
So how does this money make it into the federal budget to be doled out to archives? Well, it doesn’t magically fall out of the sky. Nor does Uncle Sam have a particular soft spot for archives, history, and the humanities. The robustness of the programs that support the work of archivists and our researchers is because of the advocacy efforts of people across the country—people who, for generations, have worked to inform legislators about the importance of supporting archives, history, and humanities-related projects.
National Humanities Advocacy Day
For several years, professionals and students from across the country have traveled to Washington, DC, each March for a major humanities advocacy effort. In 2021, everything went virtual, but the goal is still the same: advocate at the federal level, with a core focus on increased funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). As those who work in humanities-related fields know, the NEH isn’t the only federal program that supports humanities learning, teaching, and research. For this reason, the organizers and advocates also include an archives-specific prong to their advocacy agenda: increased funding for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This is National Humanities Advocacy Day.
The name, “National Humanities Advocacy Day,” is a little misleading – it is not just a single day, but rather a major event put on by the staff of the National Humanities Alliance (NHA) and affiliated organizations. In the lead up to the event, NHA staff do much of the legwork of coordinating the advocates, scheduling meetings with legislative staff members (and, on occasion, legislators), gathering research on each legislator, and producing the concise information handouts for advocates to pass along to congressional offices.
In the days leading up the day of advocacy, advocates from each state are introduced to each other and they attend sessions to learn about legislative advocacy and the major messages NHA is asking advocates to hammer home. The NHA staff also provide advocates with research tools to find information that can be helpful when talking to a legislative staffer. For example, if a group of advocates is trying to speak to the local impact of NEH funding, there is no better source than the lists of grants awarded to a particular representative’s district. When an advocate can tell a Congressional office that the NEH has distributed $5 million of grant funding to seven different organizations in the district over the past 10 years, that gives a legislator something to think about in terms of the impact on their constituents.
In addition to information gathering and message honing, the days before Advocacy Day are used to fire up the participants with an inspiring keynote address. In 2020, the keynote, which included a special shout out to the archivists in the room (three of us), was delivered by Dr. Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress.
After a good night’s sleep, it is time for the big day – a day that could have upwards of ten meetings with different congressional offices. Advocates head to their meetings armed with their messages, their packets of information to leave with staffers, and their “I’m an Archives Advocate” pin (or another humanities-related slogan). Each meeting centers on the same kernel of information: funding for archives, humanities, and history is of critical importance.
But each meeting is a little different. For the legislator whose Facebook profile photo shows their family aboard a historic tall ship that sails the Great Lakes, maritime history is the ticket. For the staff member who mentions finding a copy of their ancestors’ naturalization certificates in the National Archives, family history is the angle. For the office displaying flags from all of the branches of the military, this is the occasion to talk about the NEH-funded programs to collect veterans’ stories as well as the services offered by NARA to support veterans.
So, what is the goal of walking miles back and forth between congressional office buildings for a bunch of 30-minute meetings with staff members who have hours of meetings each day (or clicking links for back-to-back-to-back Zoom or GoToMeeting video chats)? In some cases, the goal is action—asking a legislator to sign on to a letter of support. In other cases, the goal is getting on the legislative staff members’ radars during the budget drafting process so that they keep an eye out for archives, history, and the humanities in the proposed budgets. In yet other cases, it is about forging a relationship with a congressional staffer, someone who you can call on when there is a matter of urgency—and someone we can help when they need an archives and humanities expert.
SAA and Public Policy Advocacy
National Humanities Advocacy Day also allows archivists to connect and build strong relationships with our humanities advocacy partners. This past year, as the COVID-19 public health emergency took hold, SAA asked members to complete a series of NHA surveys about the needs of archivists and the impact of the humanities in our everyday lives. Last year, as Congress went to work crafting emergency funding bills in response to the pandemic, NHA staff used the information gleaned from these surveys to ensure that the $75 million for the NEH in the CARES Act would specifically include archive. While over 80% of NEH CARES grant applicants were denied because of the overwhelming need for emergency support for cultural organizations across the country, dozens of archives jobs were preserved by the funding and the Council of State Archivists received a grant that helped CoSA weather the crisis.
This year, two members of SAA’s Committee on Public Policy—Jess Farrell and me—were among the contingent of archivists who joined in the National Humanities Advocacy Day efforts. We show up to support our state advocacy groups and to offer an archivist’s point of view to the conversations. There is no shortage of work to be done and many members of SAA will continue to team up with our partners to advocate for archives and the humanities at the federal level.
But this will not be enough. Advocacy for archives at all levels of government will be imperative for archives to survive the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. For those who want to be more involved in telling policymakers of the importance of archives, SAA has many members who are happy to provide archivists with more information and guidance. You can start by checking out the public policy advocacy resources on the SAA site or contacting a member of SAA-COPP.
On October 22, 2020, Ryan Anthony Donaldson & Rachael Cristine Woody presented the webinar “Archives Are Always Essential” to 280 attendees. Below is a summary of the webinar complete with key takeaways, a summary of questions and answers, and a list of resources.
Many of us in the field know that archives are essential, but sometimes it feels like a best-kept secret. It’s challenging to convey the true value of our collections despite our best efforts with digital content, social media, and other outreach and awareness activities. It’s time to unleash the full potential of heritage collections and archives and we’ll show you how. This webinar will review historic outreach challenges, and how they’ve been compounded and complicated by larger global events in 2020. And in honor of Archives Month, we will explore proactive and actionable responses to these challenges–including relevant examples and additional voices.
Co-Presenter: Rachael Woody is the owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC. After a successful tenure at the Smithsonian Institution and the Oregon Wine History Archive, Woody established her consultancy to teach archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations how to take care of their collections and advocate for their value. Woody has experienced precariously funded positions first-hand and has proven tactical strategies to demonstrate the value of collection work. As a result of her experience, Woody has dedicated herself to advocating for the value of collection work. She serves on SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness, established the Archivist-in-Residence (paid internship) program at Northwest Archivists, and serves on several salary advocacy committees.
Co-Presenter: Ryan Anthony Donaldson is a content strategist, information professional, and project consultant passionate about the creative and targeted uses of heritage content and archives. Donaldson previously worked as Senior Manager of Heritage and Information Services for The Durst Organization in New York City, conceptualizing and implementing a corporate archive program. He serves on the Archives Month Committee of Washington State and previously with the Business Archives Steering Committee with the Society of American Archivists.
The Archives industry has had historical issues with conveying value, as traditional outreach methods, such as events and exhibits, face significant challenges that are compounded by impacts from COVID-19. While it can be clear to archivists the potential value of heritage collections, it can be difficult to share this vision with stakeholders.
Challenges & Needs
Challenges include a sense of distance and isolation as archives are closed, trauma from job layoffs and cost reductions, with many challenges remaining unresolved for the near future.
To meet these challenges, responses and solutions need to be convenient, address existing needs, and packaged in appropriate ways and formats.
3 Related Responses
Consider the basketball pivot – stay on one leg in the same spot and turn the radius of your direction with the other foot which can feel uncomfortable.
The pivot change the direction of your delivery to achieve the same goal
Pivoting is a proactive way to reassess how to meet the needs of your community and audiences
Layers of pivots
Societal – Time to reflect on values and how archives can respond to current events through the lens of creativity, resilience, and rights. Also attention of audiences is online as screen time for U.S. audiences has increased by 1 hour in 2020.
Organizational – Opportunities for a brand audit that can leverage institutional and corporate archives; or in some cases, an opportunity to formalize or further build an archives
Career – Can be a way to involve individuals in other sectors to engage with archives; in particular for materials already digitized
Outcomes for successful pivots
Deliver on outreach initiatives amidst challenges
Increase audiences and
Retain, reinforce, & enhance online visibility
Response to changing environmental conditions
Look to organizational and industry accountability as an opportunity to express and verify cultural legacy.
Look for inbound and outbound strategies to address the inability to be on-site at the office and with the collections.
Layers of adaptations
Industries – Seek out best practices in other industries, especially art, travel, hospitality, events, service industries, healthcare
Adaptation model for traditional outreach programs are online
Increased extraordinary opportunities for engaging with colleagues globally, examining past practices critically, and to highlight a range of organizations actively communicating the value of archives.
Many programs are recorded and made available after.
Periods of adaptation reveal new opportunities for storytelling through history.
With the perceived value of archival labor diminished and resources denied, it is important to adapt through some self-care
Work and personal boundaries as distinction of space collapses
There are a variety of definitions for flexing, including those that may carry negative connotations.
Aspect of the definition to focus on:
Put your talents, abilities, and skills to use to support the collections.
Communicate the inherent untapped potential of archives to flex the value.
It can be challenging to keep attention with battles for screentime, so consider how to quickly & compellingly promote your collections online and communicate the brand story
As a subject expert, you may have the flexibility to access local cultural historical knowledge that can be shared globally.
Questions & Answers
Q: Do you have suggestions for making a business case for archives in a corporate setting?
A: Look for ways to align with marketing initiatives and core business activities. Consider what language is used with stakeholders – for instance, certain phrases may resonate more effectively than others (such as “legacy curation” for a wine business in place of “archives”). Think outside of the internal company to speak to and connect with larger milestones.
Q: What language should I use to convincingly convey the value of the collections?
A: Use general language rather than rely on technical language that has limited meaning outside of the archives industry and gives any impression of elitism. Tailor your language to your audience and to think strategically for how your audience can connect to an archives. Also consider the language of numbers and metrics, mixing qualitative statistics with some qualitative narratives for researchers and other audiences who have benefited directly from the archives.
Q: Do you have suggestions for expressing why a dedicated space for archival work is necessary?
A: Express how there is a continued value and a furthering of the initial investment in the archival materials. Be open to flexibility of multiple use spaces and developing relationships with facilities staff who maintain the properties in which the materials are housed. Develop a priority list focusing on the most fragile items for the best environment available given the resources. Reference best practices and lean into your expertise to guide discussions with other stakeholders. Calculate time and efficiences for collections being off-site without dedicated storage.
On February 22, 2021 Katherine Barbera, Archivist & Oral Historian at Carnegie Mellon University and member of the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA), talked with Clint Pumphrey and Chase Anderson about their remarkable work on the Outdoor Recreation Archive. The Archive is a unique collaboration between Utah State University’s Special Collections and its Outdoor Product Design & Development program and boasts over 2,000 items from 200 outdoor companies, from REI to Patagonia.
In the video interview, Pumphrey and Anderson discuss their special collaboration, their challenges in establishing this new collecting initiative, and their popular Instagram channel with over 7,000 followers where they share outdoor catalog covers from 1904 to today. Pumphrey and Anderson offer insight into how they “caught lightning in a bottle” in creating a home for the history of the outdoor industry.
Clint Pumphrey is Manuscript Curator of Special Collections and Archives at Utah State University and Project Curator for the Outdoor Recreation Archive. Previously, he was employed as the National Register Historian for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. Clint holds a master’s degree in history from USU and received his Digital Archives Specialist certificate in 2014. He lives with his family in an 1893 farmhouse, which serves as a base camp for hikes, snowshoe treks, and trail runs with his dog, Duke.
Chase Anderson is Program Coordinator for the Outdoor Product Design & Development at Utah State University where he helps lead the program’s industry outreach and marketing efforts. He’s passionate about helping connect students with great opportunities in the industry. He’s also spent a number of years in industry working for leading fitness / outdoor brands including ICON Fitness and Cotopaxi. Chase enjoys exploring Logan Canyon, biking Cache Valley’s farm roads, and fly fishing local streams.
Barbera [00:00:07] My name is Katherine Barbera. I’m here talking with Clint Pumphrey, am I pronouncing that correctly, Clint?
Pumphrey [00:00:15] Yes
Barbera [00:00:16] And Chase Anderson to talk about the Outdoor Recreation Archive at Utah State University.
Barbera [00:00:27] And we’re going to go through a couple of questions so they can tell you all about this amazing new project.
Barbera [00:00:34] So I’ll start off with something pretty easy. And perhaps this is best answered by Clint. But why archives? Why did you become an archivist?
Pumphrey [00:00:48] Well, I’ve been involved in cultural heritage for all of my career.
Pumphrey [00:00:53] I started out actually in historic preservation and had done archives, had worked in archives job as a graduate student and really wanted to be in the university and working with the materials that I had grown to love as a graduate student. And I think the longer I’ve worked in the career, the more I started to realize or better understand that question. And you know why I became an archivist and I think, you know, like I said, I’ve been in the field for for my whole career. I have a personal appreciation for cultural heritage and believe that it’s very important to preserve our cultural heritage, in order to preserve our identity and understand who we are. But that’s always a difficult argument to make for those who maybe don’t share that same experience. And so for me, what it really comes down to in a general sense why archives, is that I think that archives inspire. When you have a student come in and they see a book or a manuscript or a photo that they can connect to in some way, and they just think it’s just an amazing experience. I think that’s what makes archives impactful. And that’s how you can help other people understand why archives are impeccable. There are many other reasons, but I think that one is the most easily understood.
Barbera [00:02:34] I love that archives inspire, in my experience that’s definitely true.
Barbera [00:02:40] So tell me about the Outdoor Recreation Archive. Tell me the story of that project.
Pumphrey [00:02:48] Well, in 2018, Sean Michael, who was the head of the Outdoor Product Design and Development Program that chases involved in, approached us about building some collections that would support their program, which is basically Chase can give you some more information about it, but basically designing and developing outdoor clothing and gear. And so there were there historical materials we could get, we could collect that would help provide inspiration for some of those designs and that would support they also do a history of outdoor recreation class in that program. So is there anything that could be used in the classroom to show the history of outdoor products? And so he connected me with Chase and who does some of the marketing for the program. And we he immediately probed his connections and found a group of collectors who had amassed a collection of about twelve hundred outdoor product catalogs, and they were happened to be looking for a place for it. And so we were able to bring that in and digitize the covers then and to give us something visual that we could send out to promote the archive. And we’ve just kind of proceeded from there. So that’s basically how I got started.
Barbera [00:04:37] Is there anything you want to add from the marketing perspective, Chase?
Anderson [00:04:41] Yeah, so in my role working for outdoor product design and development, I’m kind of on the industry outreach and marketing side of things. So I’m constantly having conversations with outdoor brands.
Anderson [00:04:57] Primarily, I’m trying to help students find full time employment with these companies, as well as integrate more of these companies into the classroom and get getting their involvement in the teaching when it comes to teaching our program, teaching our students. And so this whole project, when I got pulled into it, was was really exciting. The prospect of bringing involving brands in the program in this way was was really exciting. And so I couldn’t wait to get involved. And as Clinton knows, I’m very enthusiastic about the project as well, even though I’m not a trained historian or archivist by any means. I it’s been fun to be a part of the process and be a part of this work. So it’s been fun to see it all come together. And in a lot of ways, it’s it’s really helped enhance the work that I do of building industry relationships to be able to share that we have this collection that’s growing collection and we’re giving back to the industry in that way. It’s opened up a lot of doors and helped me in the work that I’m doing. So it’s it’s been great to be a part of.
Barbera [00:06:08] So what is the current size of the collection? Clint, I think you mentioned twelve hundred outdoor products catalogs. Is that still the case? How large is it?
Pumphrey [00:06:19] Well, we started with the twelve hundred catalogs, but and those came in 2019, and we’ve been continuously receiving new donations and making purchases to build that catalog collection. So we’re actually up to about twenty seven hundred catalogs at this point, representing over four hundred outdoor gear companies. We also have we also are starting to build a collection of outdoor recreation and outdoor gear related magazines, some of them fairly rare, some of them a little more common and widely consumed. But that collection is I’m not exactly sure of the number, but it’s probably around five or six thousand at this point. We wanted to bring in the magazines because we really felt like even some of the more popular ones are maybe first on the chopping block and a lot of public libraries when they’re starting to address their space issues. And so we wanted to make sure that those materials did have a home. And given that we’re collecting on the theme, it made sense that we take that on. We’re also we’ve also been moving beyond the catalogs and magazines. We’ve got about five or six manuscript collections at this point. They it’s not a huge amount of stuff at this point. Probably totals about 30 or so linear feet altogether. But and also a couple of photograph collections as well. And so we’re starting to move from that catalog, the initial catalog and magazine kind of focus into more of the primary source materials and manuscripts and photographs.
Barbera [00:08:15] So interesting, it sounds like it’s it’s growing quite a bit. What were some of the challenges and opportunities you both have faced in establishing this program?
Pumphrey [00:08:30] I can kick this one off Chase, too, and feel free to jump in and add anything you want.
Pumphrey [00:08:37] I think probably the challenges getting started with the archive. I think a big one was just tracking down the materials know, talking about catalogs. Catalogs are ephemeral. And so, you know, a lot of I mean, everyone knows what it’s like when they get a catalog in the mail, they might flip through it. But ultimately, it’s going to go into recycling pretty quickly. And so the amount of these materials that have survived over the last several decades is very few. And so we were lucky to be connected with that initial donor who had collected those over the years. So I think that’s one challenge. The other challenge with tracking down materials is that a lot of the the potential donors to this collection, the people who started a lot of these early outdoor product companies, they sold those companies.
Pumphrey [00:09:34] And so over the years, those the records that they may have created have gotten dispersed among the various founders or they’ve gotten transferred to the companies. And understandably, the companies want to maintain a lot of those materials in-house. And so, you know, we’ve tracked down a lot of really influential and significant people in the industry. And some of them just don’t have anything. I mean, they’ve gotten rid of it or passed it along. And so so that’s been a challenge, I think challenge that an archivist is going to face starting any new collection is convincing people that, you know, their university is where their treasured material should be, especially early on. We didn’t have a whole lot to show. We just kind of had this idea of creating an archive around outdoor gear and recreation. And so we’re and we’re talking to people from all over the country. And so that question of why should those materials come to Utah State University? And we had to do some convincing a couple of times. I had to call. Chase, said, can you call this person and make sure because they’re not quite sure who we are and what we’re up to, and then you just kind of reassure them that, you know, the materials are going to have a good home. So there’s been some of that. In terms of opportunities, I think I would just say that, you know, one of the things that made it easier for us to start has been Chase’s program, outdoor product design and development. I mean, when you can tell a donor that their materials are going to be used by the next generation of outdoor gear designers, I mean, that’s a pretty powerful thing to tell them.
Pumphrey [00:11:29] And then the last thing I’d mention about opportunities is just that. I think the timing is really good for this collection. This archive, a lot of the people who started a lot of these kind of the modern outdoor recreation companies that started in the 60s and 70s, they’re starting to think about what they’re going to do with their materials and, you know, a lot of them are in their 70s at this point. And so it’s also just really good timing to to talk to people and kind of see what kinds of materials they might be willing to donate to the archive. So that’s sort of how I see the the challenges and the opportunities at this point.
Anderson [00:12:15] Yeah, I would echo everything that you said Clint and in terms of challenges, I know that we’re still kind of facing this a little bit is really defining the scope of the collection. And that’s that’s a something that I think you probably wrestle with more than I do. I’m kind of out there talking to everybody and excited whenever and whenever anyone wants to send us something. And I think Clint, I mean, you’ve always been good about trying to make sure that we define what is it that we’re collecting around because we could open up this kind of a collection, outdoor being such a broad term, and we could quickly be overwhelmed and Clint’s team could be overwhelmed and probably are already a little overwhelmed with the amount of materials that have been coming in.
Anderson [00:12:58] But I think that that scope has been a little bit of a challenge. But I think we’ve we’ve kind of really figured out what our lane is and what we want to collect around what areas, what activities.
Anderson [00:13:08] And then the opportunities. I mean, like Clint said, I just think the opportunity is to not only continue to to gather more of these materials, but now put them into use and make them available is kind of the exciting part. And where I feel like I’ve been able to contribute and play a small role in this is now how do we integrate this material into the classroom more or engage some of our industry partners to when in a non covid situation, come to campus and use those materials to inspire future designs. I mean, we’ve had a number of companies who have approached us even during this the last year asking for details about, you know, the early days of their own company that they don’t have a record of. And so I think there’s a lot of opportunity here in the future to just not only preserve the material, but make it more widely available for companies, individuals, researchers, students to access.
Barbera [00:14:16] I’d like to talk a little bit about your cross departmental, cross disciplinary collaboration, and that’s one of the most fascinating parts about the two of you working on this archive together. Can you talk a little bit about how that came about and what it’s like?
Pumphrey [00:14:35] So when Chase and I first got introduced, the first thing I did was I brought him into the archive and our our department generally, and I showed him the stacks. I showed him collection material. I showed him the way that we described things. And I showed him our office space and, you know, work that was in progress. And just really to give him a good sense of how our operation worked so that he could have a better idea of what we’re about and what we can do and what we can’t do. And so I think that was a really good way to start, was just to give him that that tour and give him that exposure to to the department. But since then, I mean, I think one of the strengths of our collaboration is our communication. You know, I think Chase and I are both very passionate about the collection, which is obviously a huge help that we’re much more willing to work together and create great things when you’re when you both share the passion. But just kind of give you an example. We were just texting last night about a collection that I had was going was bringing in and sending in photos of some of the items and kind of telling him how I got into this that that collection. And so, you know, it’s a fruitful collaboration and it’s a close collaboration. And I think that, you know, that shows from the way that we’ve been able to get the word out about the archive and the great collections that we’ve been able to build.
Anderson [00:16:29] You stole my story, I was going to share that as an example of how how well this has worked. I mean, the fact that we’re having these conversations and we’re both excited about, you know, identifying a new collection or bringing something in or finding a new lead. I love getting those texts. Those are exciting for me to see. And I think what has made this interesting is and I think I would hope, you know, maybe opens the door for other departments to do the same or other programs is we’ve found a way to make the archive, I guess, valuable to our program or we’ve just found ways for it to enhance what we’re doing as a program. And so it makes sense for me as I’m doing industry outreach anyways, to have this one more thing in my back pocket that I can present to a brand and say, you know, here’s the list of opportunities for you to be involved in our program from speaking in the classroom to hiring our students to doing sponsor projects. But on top of that, we have this Outdoor Recreation Archive that we would love to involve you in. And for most companies that I talk to, they really perk up when they hear about this project. And in a lot of cases, they’re more than willing to help support us, either sending materials or they want their designers to access the collection in some way. So I think our collaboration works really well because it’s not on all on Clint to do everything. I mean, Clint is doing so much of the finding, but I can also be there to tap the resources that I have, the connections that I have, and we can bounce those ideas off of each other and work together in tandem. But I think overall, the fact that our program really values what archives is doing makes makes a big difference and that I can be a part of it. And and kudos to my department head who sees this as a part of my role. And this this wasn’t in my initial job description there that the archive wasn’t a thought when I when I when I was initially hired by the university in this capacity. And so I think it’s a credit to the university for being open to recognizing that, oh, this could fit within industry outreach and this is worthwhile. And an example of how this has been worthwhile. You know, the collecting for collecting sake is extremely valuable and worthwhile on its own. But, you know, because we’ve been able to do this and we’ll get into the art or the Instagram conversation, but by creating an Instagram account and promoting the collection, it’s made my role doing industry outreach so much easier. We’ve we’ve met with so many more brands in the last year or so through the archive than ever before. So there’s a lot of value in it for our program to to buy in and contribute and be a part of this.
Pumphrey [00:19:35] Yeah, and I’ll just echo what Chase said about sort of sharing the work. I mean, I think we we complement each other and our strengths, too, because, you know, I’m obviously I think a lot of the archivists who will hear this probably have that experience where you’re sort of involved in every aspect of the collection from the donor relations through the processing work and all the way into the outreach. And, you know, Chase’s strength in his position is marketing and outreach.
Pumphrey [00:20:12] And so, you know, while I can kind of help organize the information and make sure that we’re we’re staying on scope and kind of work that in, Chase is really good about finding new potential donors and then by marketing the materials that we’ve already brought in and that I’m organizing and digitizing and those things. And so I think that works really well. And I think that it can’t be understated how important it is that, you know, what Chase said about how the archives helped his program. I mean, that’s been the key to this whole thing. I mean, if it wasn’t helping his program, this whole collaboration wouldn’t really work.
Pumphrey [00:20:56] And so I think it’s kind of an interesting collaboration in that sense that, you know, maybe what started off as like an interesting collecting area to explore, maybe to have a few things that we can put in and that they can use in some of their classes and things has turned into a much bigger thing and a much more important thing, I think, both for us and special collections and Chase and his program.
Anderson [00:21:30] If we can go back to the challenges that the collection faces, just briefly, I’m sure one of the challenges that Clint has to face is my sometimes my overenthusiasm for the collection. He has to rein me in a little bit when it comes to reaching out to people, because I do get excited about reaching out to people. And part of that is to the credit of the collection. It’s like I’ve caught the bug for for archival work and again, not trained in any way, but I definitely bought into the value of of the work. And I’m sure I don’t know. I’m sure archivists feel this way. But like, I’ve got the high, like I get that high when you open up that box and you see some material in there that was hidden away and has a lot of interesting stories behind it. So I’ve definitely caught that and it’s been fun for me.
Pumphrey [00:22:22] So Chase would say that you’re inspired?
Anderson [00:22:24] I feel inspired. Archives do inspire.
Anderson [00:22:31] No, I feel fortunate to be a part of this work because, I mean, as an undergraduate, I you know, like many people, I changed my major three or four times, but my first was history. And so I’ve always had an interest in this. But to be able to blend to the work that I’m doing in a albeit small way, you know, that interest in history with my work and marketing has been been really interesting. So I feel fortunate that I can be a part of it.
Barbera [00:22:58] So you’ve touched a little bit on this already, but what advocacy really looks like for the Ourdoor Recreation Archive. Chase, you just mentioned that you caught the bug. How are you using that spirit to spread the news to other folks? What does advocacy look like for this project?
Anderson [00:23:24] You know, it takes a lot of different forms, and I don’t want to jump ahead of the question. You know, I’ve just kind of integrated advocacy for the collection into my day to day role. Part of it is the Instagram account, and we’ll touch on that more. But I mean, I’m daily interacting with the materials now. And part of that is I’ve just built it into my day to day role is that I am sharing the materials through university channels now through our marketing channels.
Anderson [00:23:55] And so part of that is I’ve just I’ve just found ways to integrate the collection into my day to day. And so it just is more natural for me to have those conversations and advocate for the collection. When I’m talking to a brand, it’s just top of mind for me. So those are a couple of ways that I found I find myself advocating for it. Is like, in the early days of the collection, it was like, OK, this is a cool thing that we’re working on and now it feels like this is part of my job description. And so I feel the responsibility to to keep up on it. It’s not a side project anymore. This is like a core part of what I’m working on.
Anderson [00:24:39] I don’t know if that answered your question, if I didn’t keep me on track.
Pumphrey [00:24:46] I think one of the things that has been new for me, advocating for this collection, I think a lot of times with the work that we do in archives, we spend a lot of time doing advocacy among our peers or maybe to people who are closely related to our work like historians. And I know that I presented about a lot of my work at archives conferences that I’ve published things about what I’ve been working on in history journals. So this has really forced me to move beyond some of the traditional ways that we advocate for our work into a more popular, I guess, venues and Chase I have been, I don’t know, seven or eight interviews with nationally or internationally circulating magazines or websites related to the outdoor industry or design or fashion and a lot of those different areas. And so. And again, a lot of those opportunities have come through the work that Chase has done with with Instagram and some other things, and, you know, it’s weird because it’s like it’s like once you get the ball rolling on that, then it just it just builds on itself because, you know, just to kind of give you a kind of an odd example of how know advocacy has become more advocacy. I had a visual artist from Brooklyn reach out to me and say, hey, I saw what you guys are doing. Like, it’s so cool. Is there any design work I could do for you pro bono that would help get the word out for the archive?
Pumphrey [00:26:44] And so I emailed Chase. I was like, do we need any outdoor recreation arcade swag? And so we talked about all of it. And I finally thought a great thing would be a sticker. Like whenever you order something from REI or I guess Back Country, you know, they send you the little goat sticker. A lot of these outdoor brands. I ordered some Lems shoes and they sent me a little Lems sticker. I was like, that’s a big thing in outdoor industry is to send stickers. So I was like we need a sticker. So this artist is going to design a sticker for us and we’re going to have that printed up to try to promote the collection. But, you know, I think there’s some other ways that we’re reaching out too that are coming up. I don’t know if you want to talk about the history summit that we’re maybe hopefully working on.
Anderson [00:27:41] Yeah, if I talk about it, then we have to do it. You know, then it’s on the record.
Pumphrey [00:27:46] Just in the planning stages, we don’t know exactly what it’s going to be yet.
Anderson [00:27:52] Yeah, no, I’m happy to talk about that. I think we’ve wanted to find new ways for people to interact with the collection. And so we kind of have this idea around.
Anderson [00:28:05] Well, I’ve I’ve been having I’ve been doing some of my own oral histories or just interviews as a part of our larger effort as a program. I’ll do interviews, podcast interviews with people who are currently in the outdoor industry. We’ll record presentations that our guest speakers who visit our classes virtually, we realized, oh, if we have Under Armor here on campus, why aren’t we recording that presentation and then using that as content and pushing that out to our audience?
Anderson [00:28:36] You know, as a part of that, I thought, well, I should be talking to some of these early people at some of these these companies and recording their stories as a way to not only tell their story, but, you know, talk to them a little bit more about the collection and, you know, gain their trust to have a conversation with them about their life and their contributions to the industry. And so we’ve done some oral history work as well, talking with some of these key early gear pioneers. But I’ve also had some conversations with corporate archivists at some of the big outdoor brands. And those have been really interesting conversations, too, just to talk about why it’s important for some of these these companies to preserve their own history, not all of them are going to send their material to us, but we want to help them do better archival work at their company, too. So out of that initiative, we started to have this idea of what if we brought some of these corporate archivists from some of these key outdoor brands together and put together some kind of virtual summit where we can talk about the benefits of doing this in the outdoor industry and why it’s important that we take care of our history.
Anderson [00:29:50] And so we’re again, we’re in the beginning stages of kind of figuring out what something like that looks like. But we see our collection as being more than the collection as it is now, but an opportunity to bring together a community of people who who are also interested in these ideas and this material and the history of this industry. So that’s more information about that will be coming. But we’re excited about the prospect of of bringing together a community of people in that way.
Pumphrey [00:30:21] We were also scheduled to do a panel at outdoor retailer, which is the big gathering of all the outdoor brands in Denver. They have a summer and a winter one, but because of the pandemic that was canceled. And so we’re hoping to do that in the future, too, in addition to sort of being like a, you know, a lot of like, you know, business sales and negotiations and stuff going on. There’s also panels and panel discussions about various topics in the outdoor industry. And so we hope to do one of those in the future.
Barbera [00:31:00] It sounds like you’re taking advantage of many different opportunities to engage the community in the archive, including incorporating parts of outdoor culture, the stickers into your promotion of the archive itself. It all sounds really wonderful and fascinating. A couple of times you’ve talked about the Instagram channel, which I myself looked through and went down a bit of a rabbit hole exploring the different covers from old periodicals and magazines. But I’m hoping you can share a little more information about about Instagram.
Anderson [00:31:38] Sure. So the Instagram, we started that in I believe it was 2019. I’m not sure when I’d have to go back and look at the date, but started that and I think late 2019. And part of that was motivated by kind of an amateur. I don’t know, I feel bad calling him an amateur archivist. He’s done so much work but he’s not formally trained. He’s a photographer based out of New York, Brian Kelly, and he had personally taken it upon himself to gather the some of the early materials of the New York Transit Authority. He started collecting ticket stubs and he would take pictures of these ticket stubs and he created an Instagram account where he would share some of this material that he found relating to the New York Transit Authority. And then eventually he started having people sending him materials, old uniforms from employees and patches and all sorts of material. And so he’s got thousands of items now. And he would just he documented them all in this format. Nice, clean, white background, top down, you know, shooting these items. And I think he ended up I don’t know if he ended up making a book for that, but that that ended up turning into another initiative where he started collecting national parks brochures. And so along the same lines, he would collect national parks brochures and photograph them and kind of the same format and then would share them on Instagram. And I discovered both of those accounts and just fell in love with the format. And just really his initiative and his collections have gained a lot of traction and a lot of interest. And he has since published a book for the parks brochures that people have been very interested in, had some good success there. But I, I just recognize that, you know, Clint and his team, the student workers are scanning these these catalog covers for the digital exhibits that we have on the website already. It’s if the material is already there, it’s easy enough to create an Instagram account to share this material more widely. And a lot of that was motivated by this idea of there’s so many people who use Instagram to explore, to get design inspiration. A lot of designers use it as their personal mood boards. And and so I just I really saw this combination of factors and thought people would love this, like people would love to see this material. And Instagram is the perfect way of bringing this material out from behind this barrier that can be the university and put the material out in front of people where they are already consuming content. And so that’s where that’s where the Instagram really started. And and when Clint you know, when we had these twenty seven hundred catalogs plus the thousands of magazines, like, I just thought I could post every day for years and still have enough content. And so I just, I just started posting every morning a catalog every day and it has just slowly well not so slowly recently, but it slowly grew from there and through the help of people who have larger accounts, who have shared our work. It’s grown especially in the last few months. To give you an example, we have an example of the types of people who are who are accessing the collection or find it interesting. But we had an article written about the collection from HypeBeast. So it’s a well-known publication kind of in the the street wear fashion space, they interviewed Clint and myself and that story was published. And then they they posted on their Instagram account and linked to our account. And since that. Since that story was posted, we went from about two thousand followers to close to seven thousand, and that’s over the course of maybe maybe five months, maybe four months, we’ve just seen some pretty exponential growth. And it’s people from the fashion space, from architecture, from graphic design, from the outdoor industry. That’s probably the smallest segment at this point, people who are following the collection. But but I think that we’re also just seeing that Outdoor is really having a moment right now. And by putting it on Instagram, we’re reaching people who are really interested in this material who otherwise wouldn’t know where to find it if it wasn’t just presented before them in their feeds that they’re on every day.
Pumphrey [00:36:45] Yeah, the Instagram has to say that the outdoor catalog and magazine Instagram has like I don’t know, six times as many followers as the the library’s Instagram. So I think a lot of times, you know, I think archivists are pretty good about pushing out some of the things that they’re working on through their own archives or the library, social media channels. But, you know, if you’ve got a cool collection, you can give it its own social media presence. And it could take off way more than if you just tried to work on it through through your own existing channels. So that’s been really cool to see that that grow.
Anderson [00:37:31] And we couldn’t get to where we are in terms of the the the size that the following has as gotten to without the help of some of these other accounts. We have our own advocates and ambassadors it feels like people who just love the archive. There seems to be kind of a movement on Instagram towards like sharing an esthetic or sharing certain graphic design. There’s there’s a lot of focus on, I don’t know, the correct term for it. But there’s there’s some accounts out there that are just curation accounts. And one is is called organic lab dot zip. And they’re one of the biggest when it comes to outdoor culture and outdoor design. And daily, they’ll post vintage outdoor materials. And they really latched on to our account and have been really supportive of us and and share our material. And they’ve got hundreds of thousands of followers versus our six thousand. But it’s people like that who recognize the value of what we’re doing. And that really helped take us to another level. So we’ve we’ve been fortunate to have advocates and been fortunate to find these communities that we’ve tapped into, which is, I think, an opportunity for other collections that want to get in and try new media as a way to connect with a community is there’s communities that you can tap into that will likely respond really well to this material. We’ve just found ourselves tapping into existing communities and those communities have been really good to support us. So I think there’s a there’s an opportunity for four other collections to do that as well. I think we’re just fortunate that our material is so visual. It just makes sense for Instagram. Not every archive is so visual, but I think we’re just fortunate that those catalog covers, many of them are iconic, they’re beautiful, they’re striking. And people on Instagram want to see that right now. And the tool is, is it’s perfect for the content that we’re sharing.
Barbera [00:39:44] It sounds like you’ve developed this cycle of advocacy, building more advocacy and building more advocacy. What other lessons have you learned from working on the Outdoor Recreation Archive? And do you have any strategies or approaches that you would recommend for other archivists or other teams of collaborators who are working on collections?
Anderson [00:40:09] I I’ve got one and it kind of relates back to the Instagram account. But I think the more that we’ve given away, the more good things come back.
Anderson [00:40:20] I think the the Instagram account is kind of the embodiment of that. It’s like we are giving something of value to the industry and the industry recognizes that. And through that, like you said, that cycle of advocacy is in full effect. And I think it’s because we obviously we want to grow the collection. And that’s part of the motivation of building the Instagram account and trying to build a following. But I don’t think we explicitly come out there and say that. And I think the original intention is we just want people to experience and access this and appreciate it like we do. And that has led to more opportunities for donations. It’s helped us connect with other people who want to be who want to contribute to the collection. And so I think the more that you can give away something to a community that really values it, that advocacy will come. And I’ve seen that through the Instagram, for sure.
Pumphrey [00:41:22] I also want to add, and I know we’ve talked about this already, but the partnership that we’ve developed is just so important. I think archivists I think we know that any good collection relies on building relationships with donors. And if you’re collecting across, you know, a theme of some kind, building many relationships with donors, and those relationships can take years and years to build. What I found in Chase is someone who’s already built a lot of those relationships. And so it gives you a head start on the collecting that you want to do. And so I think if you recognize an opportunity to collect for your department, look for people who already have the relationships that you would need to build a successful collection. That’s just been so important for what we’ve done here.
Barbera [00:42:29] This relationship sounds key to the success of this program. As you’re establishing additional collections and continuing to build the reputation of Outdoor Recreation Archive. What are the remaining challenges that you’re facing?
Anderson [00:42:54] Clint, I don’t want to speak for you, but I feel like just bandwidth, right? Like that’s you probably just need more people. You have so much that you’re doing in terms of scanning and cataloging and doing all of that work that I never touch. And sometimes I can get caught up in the collecting and advertising the service that I forget, oh, someone’s actually got to record all of this and store it and go through that process. So I know you’ve kind of got a backlog right now of materials, and that’s a great problem to have. And so I think one of the challenges is just keeping up. I would I would think. But I don’t want to speak for you.
Pumphrey [00:43:38] Yeah, I think that we’ve been able to keep up pretty well with the processing, creating the finding aids, we’re a little bit behind on the digitization. I just hired one of the students in Chase’s program to do some of the scanning for us. So hopefully we’re going to catch up there pretty soon. But I mean, I feel like and obviously this is only part of my job. I have you know, part of my job, too, is the document, the history and culture of northern Utah and southern Idaho. And so so it’s not the only project. But, you know, in order for us to show the work that we’re doing and be able to show that work to potential donors, we’ve got to have those finding aids created. We’ve got to have that digitization done. And so have we worked really hard to prioritize that and make sure that it is out in front of a lot of the work that I’m doing. Certainly, it’s a challenge. I mean, all archivists have backlogs and we know that prioritization can sometimes be a challenge. But I was talking about this the other day with my wife, actually. I said, you know, I think in some ways we’ve caught lightning in a bottle and we just need to ride this thing as far as we can, as you know, and just put everything that we have toward it. She also works in the library. So she’s always she’s involved in some of the things that we that we do to. And so that has been a challenge, I think, in terms of moving forward with the collection especially we started, I think that people mainly I mean, since our catalogs were so out front, so out in the front with the Instagram and with the digital exhibit that we have, I think a lot of people saw it as a catalog collection. And what we’ve been trying to do since that, since then, since we started, is to kind of move use the catalogs to move past and move into other materials. That’s one challenge I see is like moving out into the the other materials, the photographs and sketchbooks and different records from these designers and businesses. And we’ve had some success in that. And so I’ve been able to get those finding aids online and we’ve been able to send those findings to other donors to show them what we’re hoping to do.
[00:46:24] And so that’s that has helped a lot. And I think with any project I’ve been involved in collecting projects before where, you know, you start out really, you know, really going gangbusters. And then it just you hit you hit a stumbling block or a hurdle and things just kind of fizzle out. And so I think just keeping that momentum going is so is also going to be really important. And so, Chase and I have got a lot of leads right now, so I don’t see that happening any time soon. But just continuing to reach out, build those relationships and follow any leads when they come.
Anderson [00:47:07] Yeah, I’d agree with that, especially the last part there just juggling the amount of leads, I think that we have and I think I think that’s good. That’s a great problem to have. But just managing those relationships is not a challenge, persay. But we have a lot of potential collections that we have our our eyes on. And so just keeping up with those and and continuing to reach out and make ourselves available and build those relationships and build trust is always, that’s a constant that we’re working on.
Pumphrey [00:47:44] And I say, you know, better to have too many leads and too few, so, you know, we don’t want to say let’s just pull back a little bit because, you know, we’ve got enough work for now. Like, I think we just have to keep chasing it and trying to bring in those collections. And if we do truly get overwhelmed, which I don’t feel like we are now, then we may have to revisit. But, you know, one thing that actually I was thinking about when Chase was talking about like. Actually, it kind of goes way back to that question of like, how did my own Chase’s relationship start? And I talked about bringing him in the archives. We’ve also had him scan stuff. So he knows about how particular cultural heritage institutions are about the standards at which we scan things, the way that we name our files, the way that we create JPEGs and TIFFs and PDFs and like all these different kinds of copies. And so when he gets questions about, well, why aren’t all of your catalogs digitized and online? He’s like, oh, let me tell you. You know, we’ve got so many and it’s such an involved process that we’re just not there yet. So it just kind of reminded me we were talking about, like scanning and do we have the bandwidth to keep up with everything? And he knows what it’s like.
Anderson [00:49:08] So I definitely do. Yeah. I spent a little bit of time doing that and can definitely appreciate the work that you and the student workers do every day.
Anderson [00:49:19] I think to that point, that’s one of the challenges that I think we’re still figuring out, like the collection. But I don’t think we by any means, like figured it out. I think we have good things going for us. And but that is the most common question that we get as well. Why can’t I just look at every catalog, the entire collection, and then we have to walk them through that, the process and how time intensive it is to to make even the covers available. So I think continuing to find ways to provide access to the collection is something that Clint and I are always talking about. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to scan everything, but I think we’re always trying to find new ways to just make the collection more available for people, because the more it’s available, the more people get value out of it. And I guess, again, that advocacy work comes comes from that, people accessing it and getting value out of it and then telling their friends about it. So I think that’s that’s definitely something that we’re looking at more and more in the future.
Barbera [00:50:28] So wrapping up here, in addition to building momentum, seeing your backlog as a good problem to have, which for an archivist isn’t necessarily how we would always characterize it so I loved that phrase. But in addition to all of these strategies that you have in place that we’ve already talked about, do you have any advice for other archivists or teams who are starting out with a new collecting initiative at their organization?
Pumphrey [00:51:08] You know, I think looking at your university and thinking about what do you what does your school have or your institution have that is unique, where you could start collecting in a way that no one else has collected. Chase’s Outdoor Product Design and development program is the first of its kind in the nation and I believe one of two that currently exists in the country. And so, that program has allowed me to justify the collecting that we’re doing in outdoor gear and outdoor recreation, and obviously we talked at length about the partnership and how that’s made that collecting successful. And so, you know, there may be it may be that at whatever institution that you’re a part of or the other archivists are working, that there’s some similar kind of program that you could approach and try to build some sort of connection with to build some sort of collection that reaches a little bit beyond what you have normally considered your collecting areas.
Anderson [00:52:41] I guess for I don’t know if I get I’m not on the archive side, but I would say for anyone who might be listening, who is on the program side, look outside of your program. I think it’s easy to be heads down and just be focused on what you’re doing and just working within the four walls of your department or college that you don’t look outside. And so I think and that’s a credit to Sean Michael, who kind of kicked off this relationship between our program and special collections with Clint, is that willingness to engage across, you know, across departments, across colleges. And so I think a lot of that is on the programs and departments to extend that hand or at least reach out, get to know what resources exist on campus and be willing to work across colleges and departments. So I think some of that rests on us as well to be open to those relationships.
Pumphrey [00:53:46] And I think I would add one other thing to for any head of special collections or supervisors that are out there. You know, I know that there are certain restrictions that you have maybe budgetary maybe they’re collecting scope but I think one of the reasons that I’ve been able to be successful in this project is because my supervisor has strongly encouraged it. She I guess she has allowed me to pursue a passion that I have. And obviously, if you’re passionate about something, you’re going to do a great job at it. And the reason I bring this up is I actually just recently had my annual review, which is not something you normally talk about in these public settings. But, you know, I was talking with my supervisor about this project and she said, you know, the reason I think this project is great and it is going to give us the opportunity to get our name out in a way that we haven’t in the past. But she’s like, I also really like it because it makes you happy. I can tell it makes you happy. And I think that sometimes the supervisors that are out there just, you know, sometimes letting your curators or your archivist pursue their passions, I think can result in some really great work. And I really appreciate that here.
Barbera [00:55:21] Incredible. Well, thank you for sharing your time with me today. It’s been really interesting learning more about this initiative and how archives can be tools to inspire. So is there anything else you want to mention about the archive before we wrap up? Perhaps how people can learn more if they want to engage with the program or learn more about the collections?
Anderson [00:55:49] Yeah, I would say the best way to connect with the archive on Instagram is the outdoor rec archive on Instagram. And then if you want to learn about our program, it’s opdd dot usu dot edu to learn about the four year degree. And Clint has information more about on the collection, on the digital exhibits.
Pumphrey [00:56:16] Yeah, so in addition to the Instagram and Chase has helpfully linked to all of the other resources we have in the archive, but we’ve built a digital exhibit in our Omeka platform that has the catalog covers and starting to have more of the magazine covers that we’re collecting. We also have all of our finding aids in a consortium called Archives West. And we’ve also built a LibGuide which has up to the minute inventory of the catalog collection. So that and sort of helps give some explainers about how to use that. We’re working right now on a another LibGuide that’s going to sort of bring all these pieces together in one place. But like Chase said, the Instagram has all those links that can help send you to the resources that I just talked about. So that’s really a great place to start.
Barbera [00:57:26] OK, great. Thank you so much, I, for one, will keep an eye on the Instagram account for sure. Absolutely fascinating. And I recommend everybody check it out and good luck on this very, very cool program.
Pumphrey [00:57:42] Thank you. Good to talk to you.
Anderson [00:57:46] Thank you for the opportunity.
Welcome to the first entry in the new ArchivesAWARE series, “Archival Authors.” Here we will feature archivists who have used their professional experience to inform books they have written for the general public. What inspired them? How does one write a proposal for a publisher? How did archivistics affect the tone or direction of their book? What did they want readers to take away?
In this first series post, Deirdre A. Scaggs, Associate Dean, Special Collections Research Center, and Director of the Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center, shares how processing the papers of a poet and folksinger led her to explore values of family, shared experiences, and collective history.
While working at the University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) in 2012, I became intrigued with a set of recipes that were revealed during a processing project. Logan English was a poet and a folksinger who died fairly young in a car crash and his parents had donated his papers to SCRC. I couldn’t stop thinking about his recipes – many were stained, they contained plans for dinner parties with wine pairings, and Logan even wrote instructions for guests to write poems about their meals. I could tell that Logan had made these recipes, he had enjoyed this food, and shared meals with his friends and family.
I was struck by his story and it reminded me of how important family and shared meals were to me. It seemed like such a broadly relatable experience, and that while Logan was gone, this very tangible piece of him had survived. More than that, I wanted to experience it too. I became intrigued with the idea of bringing his archives to life through smell and taste, and shared experience. Before I knew it, I was actively searching for more recipes in other collections. I collected a small amount to test and write up and then I approached the University Press of Kentucky regarding a contract.
The Historic Kentucky Kitchen: Traditional Recipe’s for Today’s Cook (The University Press of Kentucky, 2013) is a book for the modern home cook. It is also a living history, steeped in Southern and Kentucky food culture. I want to acknowledge that attributing each recipe to a creator/maker was mostly impossible. This book was created from handwritten recipes saved by both wealthy and average families. Many of those early families would have had servants and cooks who were African Americans. I want to acknowledge their contribution even they could not be identified by name.
The Historic Kentucky Kitchen contains more than one hundred, mostly handwritten recipes, dating from 1850-1950. All of the recipes come from family papers or historic cookbooks in the University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). Each recipe was tested, modernized, and curated for inclusion.
In conducting archival research for The Historic Kentucky Kitchen, I was looking specifically for handwritten recipes in the public policy archives, university archives, and manuscripts. Often these collection inventories were made before food culture and history became a popular topic of study. But being an archivist made a great deal of this research easier since I had broad knowledge of the collections, access to internal databases, and there was a team of students doing a reprocessing project on some of the earliest collections.
Handwritten recipes are often hard to read, they can be faded, or stained. Significant historic cooking research was required to interpret not only the process of cooking, but how to know what old measurements meant. We use standard measurements now, but historic recipes often include references to butter the size of an egg, a teacup of this, or a gill of that. In agreement with the publisher, I was seeking to create a well-rounded cookbook that focused on regional, Southern cuisine. So, I needed to find very specific recipes such as: mayonnaise, burgoo, bourbon, pound cake, biscuits.
Focusing on handwritten recipes was critical to me. I felt like these were the recipes that had familial significance, might have been passed down to family or friends, ones that were more likely to have been cooked, experienced, and been part of that family’s collective memory. For me, these unpublished manuscripts were the key to the success of my project. As mentioned above, I needed specific recipes to produce a complete project and so I opened my research to include early Kentucky cookbooks to fill in gaps that I was unable to fill with handwritten recipes.
My recipe research continued through the life of the project, although the bulk was focused during the first six months. I had seen cookbooks that were essentially reprints of historic recipes and for that reason they weren’t fully functional for a contemporary cook. I wanted to change perceptions that I had heard – that old recipes are bland to today’s palette. So, I had to test each of these recipes. I needed to select the ones that tasted the best. And, I needed to standardize the measurements, provide adequate instruction for cooking techniques and time.
It took two years to test recipes for the cookbook and there were plenty of failures, much trial and error, and wonderful success. It took another full year to write and edit the cookbook.
Upon publication there were a number of positive outcomes. I got to share my passion and research with colleagues, friends, school children, and people all across Kentucky and beyond. As a result of my talks, I generated interest in the preservation of food history and culture which prompted numerous collection donations to UK Libraries SCRC.
To me, these recipes represent our collective history. The traditions we share today were informed by that history and I believe this cookbook maintains that connection. The Historic Kentucky Kitchen is a truly functional cookbook with delicious meals that bridge the past and present. These recipes have been taken out of the archives to be made, shared, and to create new memories for future generations.
What made you fall in love with archives? What do you love about your work? During February, we asked SAA members to tell us why they love what they do! Here are some of the responses we received:
“It gives me the opportunity to interact with the people who have created such vast and interesting materials in the course of their work. Being given the responsibility to select what is remembered and forgotten gives me an opportunity to intimately learn so much about a person or entity to make learned decisions! Meeting users of the archives emanating from all walks of life is refreshing and broadens one’s knowledge!”
Lesedi Leah Morapedi
“Being able to hold and manage the only authentic and original documents that are rare is just the best thing to experience. Its like you’re preserving a rock from Mars.”
Ng’ozo-Chapata Tichaona Kudzai
“Helping to preserve historical documents and to guide researchers who love history as much as I do… that is why #ILoveBeingAnArchivist.”
We want to hear from you! Share your stories, videos, voice recordings, and photos that tell the story of why you love being an archivist with us by emailing email@example.com! And don’t forget to check out some of the responses we received last February!
Archives + Audiences: Michelle S. Koo on the Museum of Vertebrate and Zoology Collections at University of California Berkeley.
This is the latest entry in our Archives + Audiences series, which features the perspectives of archival audiences – scholars, journalists, filmmakers, artists, activists, and more – for whom archives have been an important part of their life and work. In this post, COPA Early Career Member and Archivist, Kristianna Chanda interviews Michelle Koo, manager of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archives at University of California Berkeley. Koo’s fields include Biodiversity Informatics and Evolutionary Biogeography. Her research integrates biocollections and fieldwork and she is also involved in the Grinnell Resurvey Project, an effort to track 80-year-old sites in California to examine species distribution and study the impact of climate change. Although she is technically not an archivist, she has worked with archivists and offers her insight into the world of archives and natural history.
KC: Please tell us about your organization.
MK: MVZ Archives is one collection in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, which is a Natural History Museum at UC Berkeley. The museum was founded in 1907 by a donation from C & H Sugar heiress Annie Alexander. Alexander was an amazing person who grew up doing whatever she wanted, including going on safaris with her father and learning about natural history, unusual for a woman in the 19th C. She became a well-known paleontologist and decided that California needed a natural history museum to rival the great museums of the east coast. The MVZ was therefore her answer to Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology or the American Museum of Natural History, but it was a research museum. The MVZ does not have public exhibits per se, it is a research-only collection.
KC: What kinds of collections do you preserve?
MK: The MVZ Archives goes back to the founding of the museum. The museum’s first director, ornithologist Joseph Grinnell, insisted on a specific, highly structured approach to field journals. He exhorted his students and employees to note everything: birds observed, scat, habitat, habitat usage, species’ interactions, thereby giving context to specimens researchers collected. They also created extensively annotated maps and photographed the landscape and specimens. That documentation formed the basis for our archival collections.
We like to quote Grinnell often and one of his most famous quotes is (I’m paraphrasing this of course) “These scientific collections won’t gain their main value until a century or more has passed. We are collecting for the students of the future.” With that in mind, he wanted to document the rapidly changing landscape of California. He would be horrified by the rate of change today but at the time, he was also alarmed, so he systematically created what we today call “biodiversity surveys” of some of the most remote parts of California. Resurveys began around 2000 and continue to this day. These resurveys are some of the best evidence we have of how the last century of climate change impacts specific species, so Grinnell was almost prophetic in understanding that today, we continue to collect data for the students who will conduct resurveys 100 years from now.
At this point I wish to emphasize what I believe will ultimately prove to be the greatest value of our museum. This value will not, however, be realized until the lapse of many years, possibly a century, assuming that our material is safely preserved. And this is that the student of the future will have access to the original record of faunal conditions in California and the west, wherever we now work. Joseph Grinnell
KC: Because of the collections’ relevance to the current climate change crisis, have you seen it gain popularity?
MK: If you measure popularity by use, then our usage has never waned, but the type of use has changed dramatically as science and technology have advanced. In the past, researchers might measure specimens or note feather colors. Today, they are likely to take tissue samples for genetic or genomic studies.
However, we are more popular in terms of public awareness. In 2012 we received a Mellon Foundation CLIR Grant, which helped us organize our archives, create finding aids, and share them via the Online Archive of California finding aid portal. In the first year, that increased our archival visitors by more than 150%.
Additionally, we’ve participated in a collaborative grant to digitize field notes and make them searchable online. That has been invaluable for distance reference and distance research. I hope our next step will be grant support for online exhibits that will link field notes, historic images, annotated maps, and specimens into a rich virtual experience demonstrating the web of connections among all our holdings.
KC: Given the pandemic and budget cuts do you find yourself needing to advocate for your collections?
MK: Absolutely. I am not an archivist, but I oversee the archives right now because the archivist position was a casualty of pre-Covid budget cuts, and the pandemic has made everything worse. Budget constraints are one of many things archives and natural history museums have in common. We also share a common view of our collections, collection management issues, and concerns for managing expectations and access for researchers and the public. Both fields can learn much from each other.
One area where we diverge, however, is level of processing. Archivists think of the box-level or folder-level, whereas museum curators want granular detail about each individual specimen. Part of my job is to translate between archivist speak and scientific researcher speak and try to find compromise. It is a challenge being an archivist in a natural history museum, but it is fun.
KC: Do you find the different ways archivists and scientific researchers interpret the information interesting?
MK: Absolutely. For example, researchers will often work with specimens and then turn to the archives for context: “Where did this person collect this? Was it bought from a local collector or did they trap it? On what date? At what time? What part of the field? Are there first-hand accounts of the habitat? How can the archival record help me better understand the ecological context?”
In addition to an ecological context, archives can also provide a social context. “Who is doing the collecting? Who were they working under? Who were their students? What was their institution, university, department? Did they have their own theories or hypotheses, or were they working under someone known for particular theories or hypotheses? How can the archival record help me better understand the social context of this specimen or these field notes?”
The fun part is when you assemble the full picture of the natural history: the ecological context, the sociological context, and the human story of the scientists. There are a lot of interesting things there.
KC: What is an aspect of your job that sticks out to you?
MK: I enjoy learning about the history of the archives and, and I mentioned, how it can offer a more comprehensive view of both the social and natural history.
Let me give you an example. I recently asked a student to organize photographs. She and I are both herpetologists and she knew I have a special affinity for amphibians, so while looking through the photos she suddenly said “oh wow, have you seen this photo before? “No, I haven’t.” It was an underwater photograph of a giant salamander, Dicamptodon tenebrosus, eating a garter snake. It was amazing because California garter snakes are known to prey on salamander larvae, so usually it is the other way around. While there are historic anecdotes of giant salamanders eating aquatic snakes, there was no evidence of it … until now, and the evidence was in our own archives.
On top of that, it turned out that our archives also preserved the photographer’s field notes. In them, he recorded this specific incident in the photograph, giving an almost moment-by-moment description of everything he observed.
But wait! There’s more! He also collected both the salamander and the snake and they are in our collections! So, we have the photograph, his field notes with his moment-by-moment account, and the specimens that he photographed and described!
None of this would have been possible without the archives. This is what I loved about this. Maybe it’s not always groundbreaking but it is a great way to show how an archives can bring together different aspects of an event.
Alan Velasquez Unit Coordinator, Digital Scholarship & Initiatives Tulane University Libraries
In this article, Alan Velasquez reveals his creation of short videos promoting the digital holdings of Tulane University Special Collections.
Since May of 2020 Tulane University Libraries has been producing a video series, Collection Connection, released on the library’s YouTube channel. This series has been a collaboration between two library departments: Tulane University Special Collections (TUSC), headed by Jillian Cuellar, and Digital Scholarship and Initiatives (DSI), headed by Sean Knowlton. This collaboration was initiated by David Banush, Dean of Libraries, as a social media project using brief videos to promote Special Collections’ online collections. DSI had begun creating video content for the library earlier in the year so this was a great project to gain more experience from. Each episode of this series focuses on a different TUSC collection available within the Tulane University Digital Library, including collections such as the Hogan Jazz Archive Photography Collection, the Tulane University Archives Historical Collection, and the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Collection. This video series has added an additional outreach tool for the unique collections held by Tulane.
Early in the development of the series it was decided that the series should primarily focus on digitized collections. At that time during the Covid-19 pandemic, physical collections were unavailable to patrons due to the lockdown. This series could therefore promote collections that were still available for patrons to access online. It also allowed us to create episodes while working remotely. Another benefit of this project is that it could be done with minimal resources.
When creating the format for the series we agreed that we wanted the episodes to be under three minutes. By making them brief, they serve as a useful visual introduction to their respective collections. The videos also include audio narration that provides an informative tour of the content. The viewer can quickly get a sense of what’s in the collection by watching the video and then follow our links to the full digital collection. Additionally, since these videos are shared on social media, shorter videos help with short attention spans on these platforms.
While these videos can be useful for researchers to discover available collections, they can also be a way to reach out to donors. For example, one of the episodes focuses on the Louisiana Menu and Restaurant Collection. In the video, Leon Miller, Curator for Special Collections, encourages the viewer to donate Louisiana menus and cookbooks if they possess them. These videos can also have the benefit of being reused on specific occasions. The Carnival Collection episode can be promoted every Carnival season and the Louisiana Political Ephemera Collection was released during election season. One of the episodes that focuses on the conservation process of the Gutenberg Bible Leaf was also timed to release and promote one of TUSC’s online exhibits, Books Through Their Pages. The series can also be a gateway to additional video content that is published on the Tulane Libraries YouTube channel.
The first episode of the series, written by Melissa Weber, Curator for Special Collections, was instrumental in creating a template for future episodes. The following episodes have been driven by TUSC curators and staff. The process for creating an episode begins when a curator or staff member selects a collection they’d like to develop a video for. They then write a script for the video and record their own audio narration. They also will select a group of images they’d like incorporated into the video from the digital collections. These collections can contain hundreds to thousands of images so image selection can take some time.
As the video editor for the series, I then take all this content and edit a cut of the video using Adobe Premiere Pro. I am also given the freedom to select additional images from the collection to incorporate into the video as needed. When designing the first episode featuring the Ralston Crawford Collection of Jazz Photography, I created an opening and closing title sequence that could be used for all the episodes. This helps unify the series even though the collections vary widely in content. Animations, titles, transitions, graphics, and royalty-free background music are also incorporated into the edited video. All of these elements are intended to bring a little more life into the display of these images instead of just making a traditional image slideshow. Once a first cut is complete, I have a dialog with the writer to discuss any changes or additions the video might need to complete their vision for the project. The video may go through a few drafts until it’s approved by TUSC and DSI, then it goes through the YouTube publishing process. Overall, the process from conception to publication generally takes 3 to 4 weeks.
Once an episode is published to YouTube, TUSC will work with Amanda Morlas, Marketing Specialist for Tulane Libraries, to promote the video on the various library social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The video can also be embedded on the library website or in LibGuides if desired. Since this project began, eight episodes of the Collection Connection series have been published. The series has generated over 2,000 views and over 35 hours of watch time on YouTube. Overall reception has been positive and encourages new avenues for creativity with the video format. This series has been a very successful collaboration between TUSC and DSI and more episodes are planned for the future.
On January 19, 2021 the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachael Woody sat down (virtually) with Elizabeth Stauber of the Hogg Foundation Archives, a recent recipient of the Advocacy Award from the Texas Historical Records Advisory Board.
Elizabeth Stauber stewards the Hogg Foundation’s educational mission to document, archive and share the foundation’s history, which has become an important part of the histories of mental and public health in Texas, and the evolution of mental health discourse nationally and globally. Elizabeth provides access to the Hogg Foundation’s research, programs, and operations through the publicly accessible archive. Learn more about how to access the records here.
The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health was awarded the inaugural Advocacy for Archives award by the Texas Historical Records Advisory Board (THRAB). THRAB established the Advocacy for Archives Award to recognize significant contributions made by individuals or organizations toward ensuring the preservation and availability of Texas’s historical records. The Hogg Foundation accepted the award at THRAB’s meeting on October 23, 2020.
RCW: Describe the Hogg Foundation Archives when you started. What was the size? What were the challenges and opportunities?
ES: The Hogg Foundation began work on creating an archive in 2012. Our Executive Director, Dr. Octavio Martinez, enlisted the help from graduate students at the University of Texas’ School of Information to begin devising a program. In 2016, during the foundation’s 75th anniversary celebration, Dr. Martinez hired me as the first full-time archivist.
The graduate students had begun to develop a records management program through staff education and the creation of a robust records inventory, and they had identified many important historical documents and artifacts and begun preserving and digitizing them.
However, the archives did not have a physical space with stacks and shelves, or defined policies and mechanisms for providing access to staff and the public.
RCW: You’ve built an incredible program in your first few years. What strategies can you share with us so that others may replicate your growth?
ES: In the beginning I identified 5 key areas that needed tackling:
1. Strengthening our records management process to ensure important records find their way into the archive;
2. Processing the records that had been stored in cabinets and the basement for decades;
3. Devising a digital preservation strategy;
4. Developing information management policies that promote transparency; and
5. Encouraging the use our archive.
Achieving all of these things felt very daunting to me as a lone arranger, so I adopted an iterative process that allowed me to work on each area a little at a time. I could have easily spent the first 2 years solely processing paper records, but then I would still have to contend with the records being created today, and it would have stilted the promotion and use of this information. I needed to build a structure to house all the information, but I also needed some information to enforce the structure.
I started with small goals that impacted each identified priority area and expanded them over time. This work is long-term, so you must be patient and kind with yourself, even if you are a perfectionist. There are always so many gaps in my work that glare at me furiously, but I know that with time I can continue to close them.
RCW: Your training and use of graduate interns has been cited as a major contributor to the Archives’ success and recognition. Please share with us why and how you use graduate interns.
ES: The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health is actually a part of the University of Texas at Austin, which has an excellent School of Information. The Hogg Foundation is a small organization with around 20 full-time staff and only 1 assigned to manage the archives. Being able to enlist the help of emerging professionals in the archives field gives us the flexibility to experiment and try things for which we would not normally have the capacity.
For example, our graduate interns have helped us develop and refine our digital preservation strategy, researched and implemented an online collections database, and provide user interface recommendations for improving our online collections database. And honestly, as a lone arranger it is incredibly helpful to be able to bounce ideas off another person. The archives program at the Hogg Foundation started with work from graduate students and I feel that it’s important to continue our connection with the school.
RCW: The Archives is representative of the Hogg Foundation and its work as a mental health organization. Please share with us what it’s like to work as an archivist in this type of institution. What challenges and opportunities are present?
ES: The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health exists to improve the mental health of Texans. We do this, primarily, by giving grants to help communities strengthen conditions that support mental health and eliminate conditions that harm mental health, especially for people who have been historically underserved or marginalized. The foundation’s archive provides historical context for understanding our past and current mental healthcare landscape. Identifying the health disparities and societal inequities of the past helps us to recognize and confront how our institutions handle care and recovery today.
Unfortunately, most of mental health history is documented by institutions that are not primarily concerned with preserving its history. The Hogg Foundation’s archival program continually seeks to change that through advocacy of the preservation of both philanthropic and mental health records across Texas and the United States.
We seek to be an example of a mental health and philanthropic organization that shares its history with the public as these are two sectors that do not have a strong history of transparency. Our archives consist primarily of grant records. We are not a direct service organization, so we do not have medical records or other highly sensitive data. Rather, we preserve the efforts of non-profits and individuals working to improve the mental health infrastructure, access, and awareness in their communities.
RCW: Specific to your advocacy work, what strategies has the Archives used? What have you found is the most successful and least successful, and why?
ES: Over the last few years, I have been connecting with information professionals in the philanthropic field as well as archivists interested in mental health history. Often, these are two different spaces, but the strategy of connecting with others across institutions to advocate for transparency and access to records is the same.
With my philanthropic colleagues, we planned a conference on the topic of foundation archives in 2019. This conference brought even more of us together to advocate for stronger records management structures in grants management systems – a common pain point we identified at the conference. In addition to the records management woes, the philanthropic sector generally does not have a strong external push to share its records with the wider public, so it has been important for us to learn together how to advocate for transparency in our organizations.
Recently, I have been able to connect with archivists locally who are interested in the preservation of mental health history. Some of us put together panel discussions on the topic of mental health and neurodiversity in the archives, which were unfortunately delayed due to the pandemic. But we have been able to successfully advocate for major preservation projects for state hospitals in Texas, including the hiring of a professional to oversee the implementation.
Sometimes this work can feel frustratingly slow because we are advocating for projects and ideas that are traditionally seen as a “luxury” – even when they are essential to the very infrastructure of the organization. While on paper my philanthropic colleagues and I have not been able to change much in our institutions yet, together we can be persistent and push forward.
Finally, my most effective internal strategy to cultivate interest from the Hogg Foundation’s staff is to present a history lesson derived from our archive 2-3 times a year. This involves research, reflection, and thoughts on how we can use these lessons to advance our current work, but it has been well worth the effort. Prior to the establishment of the Hogg Foundation’s archives, our knowledge of the foundation’s history was solely passed-down through long-tenured employees. But now many of our staff have a unique understanding of the history of our foundation and mental health in Texas, and can apply that context with care to the programs and communities in which we work today.
RCW: You were awarded the first of THRAB’s advocacy awards. Please tell us more about that process and what it means to you and the Hogg Foundation.
ES: Being a relatively new and niche archive, it is so rewarding to be recognized by THRAB. Everyone at the Hogg Foundation was so thrilled to find out about the award. The recognition has bolstered our advocacy efforts tremendously by giving legitimacy to mental health and philanthropic archives.
RCW: What are the remaining challenges you face?
ES: Because I have taken the approach of iterative improvement, my challenges have been fairly consistent over the years. However, I hope to publish our online collections database for the public by the end of this year. Currently, anyone may contact me for a reference interview to gain access to our records, but I am working toward a system that removes me as the gatekeeper to allow everyone to easily browse our holdings.
RCW: What advocacy advice would you like to share with us; especially those newer to the work?
ES: The most important thing I have learned is how to talk about archives to people who have never been to an archive before. You cannot rely on people being fascinated by archives for archives-sake. They want to know the functional purpose and benefit of information access. A challenge I often give myself is to not use the word archive or record when I am discussing my work with those outside the field.
RCW: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
ES: For those who wish to make use of the Hogg Foundation archives, research questions and appointments can be made by contacting the archivist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Archival Innovators: Rebecca Hankins on the Rich LGTBQ+ Collections Housed in Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A & M University.
This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society.
In this installment, Kristianna Chanda interviewed Rebecca Hankins. Rebecca L. Hankins, FSAA, is the Africana Resources Librarian/Curator at the Cushing Library, Texas A&M University, where her portfolio also includes women’s and gender studies. In this interview, Rebecca reveals the Cushing Library’s extensive LGBTQ+ holdings and her role in working with the LGBTQ+ community to help them preserve their heritage.
KC: Please describe your collection. What are some highlights/interesting features to your collection?
RH: I think the collection is much more diverse than many collections that deal with LGBTQ communities. They are often white collections documenting people most visible in the media and the press. I try to include individuals who are often in the background. Even in the background, they make such an impact on communities.
Our larger collections include the Don Kelly collection and the Judge Phyllis Frye papers. Phyllis Frye, a former Texas A&M student, is the first appointed judge in the city of Houston. She was appointed by the first openly gay mayor of Houston, Annise Parker. Her collection is so rich because one of the unique things I like about Phyllis is that she was always open, honest, and presented herself as “this is who I am.” She married right after graduating A & M, then served in the military as a man. She always felt something was not right. So when she came out as transgender her wife stayed with her and was her biggest cheerleader and supporter. Phyllis was unapologetic, she was in your face, and her collection is the most used of our holdings.
We also preserve the collection of Don Kelly, who still lives in Houston. I have been an archivist for over thirty years and have dealt with a wide range of people, both researchers and celebrities. Don is one of the top, number one kindest, most generous donors that you can ever meet. He was a civil servant for years in Galveston and always lived as a gay man. He collected his entire life and went into overdrive after he retired. He sent out a message to the archives listserv discussing how he would like to donate and sell part of his collection to a repository because it was just getting too large for him. I talked to my colleagues and director at the time and they thought acquiring his collection was a great idea.
I brought in a number of subject faculty in film studies, sociology, history, and other disciplines and told them we need to get this collection! At that time, it may have been 6,000 items. Now it is almost 30,000 items and he continues to add to it. It is one of our largest collections by a single donor.
The thing about the collection that is really great is that it started out with a majority white male focus. However, through discussing with Don the interests of researchers, he will seek and donate materials in those areas. So he’s built a huge collection that, through his efforts, continues to grow and evolve and become more and more inclusive.
Other collections include the papers of Arden Eversmeyer, who started the Old Lesbian Oral History Project that documents lesbians over the ages of 50 or 60; the papers of Professor Harriette Andreadis, who was head of the Women and Gender Studies program at A & M; and documents pertaining to a lawsuit demanding that Texas A&M provide services to LGBTQ students. Students involved in the case received death threats and were treated terribly but would not back down. I tell students that you must understand that sometimes, if you ask nicely they will say yes, but the majority of times they won’t. What are you willing to put on the line for what you believe in? If it is a just cause, you will see some changes.
KC: What inspired you to work with this collection?
RH I’ve been doing this ever since I started my career at the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans. The Amistad case itself was put before the Supreme Court by the American Missionary Association, which evolved into the United Church for Homeland Ministries. It always supported and advocated for minority communities, including LGBTQ+ communities. So when the Amistad Research Center was founded, documenting the LGBTQ+ community was one collecting focus. Part of my job at Amistad was to connect with the LGBTQ+ community and encourage them to save their materials. When I moved to the University Arizona, I continued that work, and did so again when I moved to the Cushing Library. I am definitely an advocate for community archives and for people archiving their own history to ensure it is preserved. That’s why I do it: it is important that we all have our history documented.
KC: When working with this collection, what worked? What didn’t work? Were you surprised by the outcome or any part of your experience?
RH: Because I am not a part of the community, it’s understandable that people might be suspicious. Have we been the best of allies? Have we been concerned? Is this a part of our history? I understand that it may take time for people to see me as an ally. I am willing to be patient and prove myself. That’s fine, I don’t have a problem with that. I understand being an archivist doing this work gives me a certain privilege. I have to acknowledge that and say “okay, I’m going to let you lead on this. I am going to let this be from your point of view. You tell me. We’ll see how that works.” I think that is important. It’s not my point of view that is important, mine is the least important.
You must be an ally, and you must understand that as an archivist, you are approaching this from a position of power, and you must be ready to remove your own power and pass it to the people you are trying to document.
KC: What would you do differently?
RH: I don’t think I would do things differently. I wish I had more money. Don Kelly has the most expertise when it comes to acquiring gay materials, so I give him part of my acquisitions budget to work with. I wish I could do that with all of my people.
KC: What tips do you have for archivists who want to promote inclusivity through their collections?
RH: Do it. If you want to do it, do it. Sometimes it is just about being brave. It shouldn’t be a matter about being brave. It should be about this is the right thing to do but sometimes in situations you just have to be brave enough to say this is where I am planting my flag.
I think more than anything, archivists need to be more forceful and brave in the work that we do. You won’t get accolades and you may get pushback but do the things that are important to you. I am going to do the work that I enjoy doing because I have to live with myself. So do it. Do what you think is the right thing. Most of the time it will work out and sometimes it won’t, but you will feel better about yourself.
KC: Did you get media attention? How did that happen?
RH: I understand the importance of publicity. I give presentations, I talk about my collections, I publish, and I try to get the message out any way I can. Last year something extraordinary happened when the Journal of African American History profiled my collections. I was like “Where did that come from?” The College of Liberal Arts did a profile on the Don Kelly collection, which was wonderful, and we also have a Don Kelly Fellowship. It’s about letting people know how amazing these collections are for research, learning, and education.
KC: Do you have collaborators? If so, how did you find them?
RH: Michael Jackson, an A&M cataloger, was my biggest collaborator. My good friend Dr. Miguel Juarez has written about our holdings. Dr. Francesca Marini is our outreach person and she and I have talked about the collection across the country. Francesca and I are partnering with the University of Houston on an LGBTQ exhibit.
KC: Did you have institutional, administrative, or financial support for your project? How did you go about securing that support?
RH: Yes we do. The College of Liberal Arts partners with us on the Don Kelly Fellowship. We have also started an endowment for the LGBTQ materials because we need to hire someone paid through this endowment to work with the collections.
KC: What’s next? Either for this project or a new development?
RH: We still have the Fellowship, but because of Covid we had to push it back. The 2020 Fellow will hopefully become the 2021 Fellow. Also, raising the funding for the endowment will be a priority.
KC: What barriers or challenges did you face?
RH: Most important is making people understand that I am an ally. I am here to let you take the lead.