Articulating the Value of Your Archives to Resource Allocators

This post was authored by guest contributor Erin Lawrimore, University Archivist, University of North Carolina Greensboro


If someone asks “why is your archives important?,” how would you answer? Is your archives important because it preserves and provides access to important historical materials? Does its importance stem from its ability to foster a sense of community and “place?” Perhaps your response would focus more on its ability to provide accountability or serve as evidence of past actions. All are wonderful responses. But, when you are talking with a resource allocator – particularly one who has no past experience with archives – lofty ideals and notions of identity-building or remembrances of past events often aren’t going to cut it when they want to know why they should give you a sliver of the big (but shrinking) money pot. You need concrete evidence of the impact that your repository has in order to ensure that administrators’ support continues.

Cello_Music_CollectionThere are many ways to assess an archives’ value. From circulation numbers to gate counts to collection growth, each number gathered can provide useful clues as to how your archives is changing (or should be changing) over time. But, numbers alone do not make an effective argument for the archives. In order to advocate for your repository to administrators and others who hold the purse strings, you must frame these numbers in a way that fits their overarching missions and goals.

You must place the archives within the greater picture of your parent organization. To do this, of course, your parent organization must have clearly identified goals and objectives (hopefully it does, but, if not, that’s a whole different post!), and your archives must define its mission and purpose within those broader goals. How does your work contribute to the mission of your parent organization? For instance, a university archives is often housed within an academic library at a university. You should be able to clearly articulate how your archives directly impacts the library’s main objectives. If your library’s stated objective is to support undergraduate education, how does your archives contribute to this goal? How does your work help support undergraduate education at your institution?

Often you will need to advocate for your repository with administrators at an even higher organizational level. Returning to the example of the university archives, you may need to also consider how your archives contributes to the goals of the university (of course, ideally, your library’s goals will be in line with those of the university). Remember that you will often be advocating for your repository with non-archivists who, in all likelihood, are heavily focused on the present bottom line. Can you articulate the value of the archives in terms that non-archivists use and understand?

0205151447Once you understand and can articulate your value within the larger framework of your parent organization, you can then turn to the various metrics you have collected. How does each measurement demonstrate that you are contributing to the mission of your organization? For instance, return to the example of the library that is particularly focused on supporting undergraduate learning. A gate count of the number of undergraduates attending teaching sessions in the archives is one way of demonstrating your value to the library’s mission. But, that number might get lost in the world of general information literacy courses which most (if not all) undergraduates are required to attend at some point in their academic career. Perhaps adding information on the number of research hours accrued by undergraduate students coming into the archives for class assignments (as opposed to more basic instructional sessions) would enhance your advocacy and your ability to tie the unique contributions of the archives to the mission of the library.

Archives, libraries, and other cultural heritage institutions will always have the challenge of having numerous indirect and collective benefits that may not always be easy to directly measure and quantify. Yes, your archives holds unique information that can’t be found anywhere else and ensures that it is accessible now and in the future. But proving why that is important and why funding must be maintained (or increased) to support that role is critical to ensuring you get the money and support you need to do all of the work that goes into meeting that broad mandate.

Ball State University Drawings + Document Archive: The Movie


Today we bring you an interview with Carol Street, Archivist for Architectural Records at Ball State University, and the outreach innovator behind
Drawings + Documents Archive: The [LEGO] Movie

Question: What was your inspiration for this video?

Carol Street: As always, inspiration came from a number of places. My 9 year old granddaughter, Anna, is probably my greatest inspiration when it comes to many things, but especially LEGO. Thanks to her, I’ve amassed a not insignificant collection of LEGO bricks and figures, and even created a LEGO model of the Drawings + Documents Archive. But the actual lightbulb moment came when I saw the wonderful stop-motion LEGO movie by the Library of Social Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. The video was the brainchild of the library director Christian Lauersen, who wanted a brief video to introduce students to the resources available at his library. He wrote a fantastic blog post on the making of the video and his reasons behind it, all of which I agreed with. There was that moment after the video ended where I thought—hey! we can do that, too!


Screenshot of the Ball State University Drawings + Documents Archive video on YouTube.


Q: For the archivists out there who may be intimidated by the time, resources, and level of creativity required to produce an outreach video like this, could you give some insights into the production process for this video?

CS: There is a significant amount of time involved in making even a short video like this. As the only staff member in the archive, I would never have time to do this myself. Luckily, this year I have a very creative graduate assistant, Raluca Filimon, who embraced the project even though she had never made an animated movie before. Although it may seem daunting at first, the movie is really just a culmination of a lot of small projects. We began the process by breaking it down into those smaller projects—such as write a script, create scenes, borrow equipment, learn how to film LEGO figures, select music, record the narration—that ultimately resulted in the finished film. Because it was a fairly long process, we made sure to celebrate the major milestones along the way. Those moments of celebration built momentum for the next phase of the project.

I’ve been very fortunate to have some great graduate assistants from the College of Architecture and Planning.  They’re not only incredibly creative, but also good at project management and research. Raluca did a fantastic job bringing my ideas for the film to life. I had specific goals that needed to be reached, but allowed plenty of space for Raluca and other students to inject their own creativity. All of the graduate assistants who work in the archive added to the film in different ways. There were a lot of “what if….” moments where we would ask things like “what if the astronaut showed up at the end with the disco ball?” Sometimes those ideas were shot down, but others—like the fantastic disco finale—made the final cut. In the end, the process was very much a team effort that brought the students together.


Q: What other forms of outreach do you utilize for the Drawings + Documents Archive, now or in the past? How does the video diverge from and/or compliment those efforts?

CS: We utilize all of the typical forms of outreach, such as exhibits, instructional sessions, a newsletter, and a blog. Our audience is well-versed in design and very creative, so we try to also approach outreach in creative and interesting ways. Last fall my graduate assistants came up with a fantastic promotional campaign that is still filling up the cases outside the archives. The campaign is called “Be inspired” and shows photographs of students and faculty holding up something in the archive that inspires them. The person in the photo writes on the poster what inspires them. Right now our new architectural history professor is holding up a drawing by Piranesi and she wrote that she’s inspired by “historical context”. It’s a fresh, patron-driven way to showcase the amazing collections we have in the archive.


The Drawings + Documents Archive video features the Indiana Architecture X 3D collection.

We’ve also branched out into 3-D printed modeling of buildings and building details that are represented in the collection. The project is called Indiana Architecture X 3D and it has probably been our most effective form of outreach in terms of student reach. The models appeal to younger students who have yet to learn how to model and equally attract older students who are suitably impressed by the level of detail we can create. They all enjoy checking the 3-D printed model with the actual drawing to see if we were accurate in our modeling skills. Even faculty, who can be just as challenging as students to reach, specifically ask us to show them to visitors, potential students, and their classes. The project also allows us to now give something back to our donors who generously support the work of the archive. At the holidays we sent donors small, 3-D printed ornaments based on the collection, which were a big hit and garnered a lot of interest, good will, and even further financial support.


Q: What impact/results are you hoping to see from this video?

CS: I’m hoping that our students enjoy the film and remember the archive when it’s time to conduct research. We often throw far too much information at students during our instructional sessions because we feel it’s our one chance to tell them all about the archive and we want to tell them everything. Students couldn’t absorb all that information at once even if they wanted to. The more instructional sessions I give, the more I realize the time is best served by essentially building bridges for students to cross when they actually need us. I strive to make the archives a friendly, non-intimidating place where they can feel comfortable asking for help when their assignments or interests lead them here. And what’s friendlier and less intimidating than LEGO?

I’d also like everyone to equate archives with fun, not dust.



Beyond the Elevator (no. 1)

Beyondthe Elevator012016-MastrovitaSevern

Welcome to the inaugural Beyond the Elevator Cartoon!

Mandy Mastrovita and Jill Severn created the strip to express, through illustration, their heartfelt belief that the magic of archives can and should be worked into ANY conversation or situation. The prospect of this axiom has exhorted the two into paroxysms of giggles, chortles, and howls despite the sober and noble subject matter. Indeed, they have spent hours cooking up likely scenarios to bring to life in future cartoons, illustrating the varying places and situations in which archivists may find opportunities to explain their work to non-archivists. These little gems will appear monthly for the foreseeable future, but never ones to let greed guide them, Mandy and Jill would be delighted to have ideas for this comic from archivists and archivist enthusiasts everywhere. They welcome scenarios both real and imagined–based on actual interactions that archivists have had, or on dreams (nightmares?) haunted by the all-too-familiar “What is an archivist?”  question. To share your idea, please send a description of your concept, relevant details, and contact information (your name and your email address) to