Reaching Out to Undergrads at UNCG

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


Past SAA President Kathleen Roe kicked off her “Year of Living Dangerously with Archives” presidential initiative at the 2014 SAA annual meeting in Washington, D.C. by strongly encouraging all archivists to take bold actions in promoting the significance of archives and archivists to society. She stated that “if we are going to get beyond the point where archives and archival records are used in modest amounts, for a modest number of purposes by a modest range of users, then we also have to raise awareness of their value and importance.” [1]

A pop up exhibit on our cello music collection

A pop up exhibit on our cello music collection

At the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Special Collections and University Archives, we’ve taken Kathleen’s challenge to heart. While we do have projects that are aimed at increasing awareness of our resources to University faculty, staff, and administrators, we’re purposefully trying to increase awareness among our student body population (particularly undergraduates). While we certainly aren’t the first archives to do any of these outreach activities, we are in all likelihood the first (and probably only) who will reach our student population here at UNCG. Some examples of our activities aimed at raising awareness among the undergraduate population include:

  • Pop Up Archives. Like popular “pop up” restaurants, our “pop up” archives exhibits are well focused in terms of content and strategically planned in terms of location. We want to be where the foot traffic is. The university center, the student recreation center, and even the sidewalk outside of the library building are great locations for engaging students. Each exhibit is tailored for the location (history of athletics at the student recreation center), is up for only 90 minutes or so (timed to coincide with lunch or a change in classes to increase foot traffic), and is small enough to fit on a card table (making planning and transportation simpler).
  • Campus Tours for First-Year Classes. While many first-year students might not make use of the archives as a research resource, many are quite interested in learning about the history of the place that will be their home for the next four years. To engage these students, we work with instructors teaching the University’s Foundations for Learning (FFL) courses, which are required of all incoming students, to schedule a historic walking tour of campus during one of their class sessions. During the tour, we provide the standard facts about the University’s history – but the piece that most students love most is that we also incorporate our three campus ghost stories into the general tour. In Fall 2014, we conducted tours for 18 FFL courses (approximately 250 students).
The Undergraduate Admissions directors are some of our biggest social media fans

The Undergraduate Admissions directors have become some of our biggest social media fans – and sources of new followers

In addition to these types of targeted activities, we’re taking an approach of “archives everywhere.” We want our records and knowledge of our department’s work to be spread across campus. We are using exhibit cases and bulletin boards in the library as well as in the university center to display reproductions of selections from our holdings. Our social media accounts are followed and retweeted/reblogged by the main University accounts as well as other accounts that reach large numbers of students (Admissions, Student Government Association, student newspaper, etc.). Our digital signage in the library building includes frequent references to University Archives and our current exhibits. And our promotional postcards, which include a historic photograph as well as links to our social media and digital collections, are available at all of the library’s service points.

These approaches don’t require a significant change to the work we’ve done in the past, but they do extend our reach far beyond the small percentage of students who physically come into the archives for a class. While we may have some students who graduate and remember only the “awesome ghost story the lady from the library told me,” we’ve made an impression and, for many more, hopefully sown a seed of awareness for archives and the work of archivists.

[1] Kathleen Roe, “The Year of Living Dangerously with Archives” (speech, Washington, D.C., August 16, 2014), Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting, For more information on the “Year of Living Dangerously with Archives” initiative, see

Beyond the Elevator, No. 2



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

Innovation and Outreach: Making Sense of Creativity and Opportunity


This post was authored by guest contributor Jill Severn,
Head of Access and Outreach at the University of Georgia’s Richard B. Russell Library


Innovation is a critical ingredient for providing outreach. An archives that follows the same approaches, rules, and standards even as its constituents raise new concerns and develop new needs and interests risks losing support by patrons and stakeholders, prevents connections to new users, and may demoralize or disconnect staff from the mission of the archives. Despite these consequences, this scenario certainly happens. The question is why?

Typically, there are two reasons that archives eschew innovation in the context of outreach. The first reason stems from a perceived lack of resources or expertise. Many archivists working in small repositories with few staff and small budgets find it challenging to think about engaging in active or new outreach programs. They cite insufficient time, staff, and financial resources to do more than provide basic services. They also see outreach as outside their essential activities. The second reason stems from a perceived level of success. Archives with this perspective often have popular collections that do not require significant outreach to attract patrons, or they have a captive audience that must use the archives collections for purposes related to work, legal issues, or other matters. Also, some archives do not receive a strong imperative from their respective stakeholders or parent bodies to refine and expand.

Some archives assume that what was good enough before will always be good enough. The problem is that the status quo almost never persists forever. New stakeholders replace old and have new expectations; patron interests shift; and resources wax and wane. When this happens, organizations that cling to the same old formula for success experience tremendous upheaval and face a daunting game of catch-up.

Archives with limited resources face stagnation or decline if they ignore the value and potential for growth that outreach provides. Operating within a profession swept up in a romance with technology, small archives with limited technical expertise may find it challenging to imagine, value, and pursue innovative outreach that is not driven by cutting edge technology. This perspective is shortsighted. Small archives can communicate their value and potential to new and existing audiences/supporters in innovative ways by employing simple, low technology strategies. Innovation is not necessarily synonymous with technology! At the same time, not all technology is expensive and often a modest investment can yield big results. Open source technology that is free to all who use it and open to further development is a boon for all archives small and large. Yet obtaining greater access to technological tools through open source or other means is not necessarily going to move every archives to the cutting edge. Innovation requires more than the technological ingredient.

Quite simply, innovation is the act of introducing something new—no more no less. In recent years, for many societies living in the developed world, this definition has become imbued with a strong connection to technological advances, particularly in the digital/Internet realm. Ask Americans what innovation means to them and most will say “new technology.” Of course, this is an important aspect of innovation in today’s context. New devices that entertain, educate, control, connect, and separate people play a crucial role in defining the lives and interactions of most Americans. Yet the definition of innovation does and should encompass much more than just new types of technology, and in the context of archival outreach it is worth widening our focus to embrace this broader view.

According to Egils Milbergs of Accelerating Innovation:

Technology plays a leading role in innovation, but it isn’t the only factor. What were once disruptive technologies now are commodities. Technology can be the establishing base for innovation, but people are the ones that drive it forward. Technology is really only the mechanics of the process. Real innovation is about great people generating and then implementing new ideas.¹

The most important aspects of innovation are not the tools that one employs to create it, but a posture or philosophy towards the entire process. The essential ingredients for innovation are: confidence, self-awareness, irreverence, creativity, and humility. Looking at innovation in this more expanded way, several key postures are worth adopting:

  • Be open
    • Learn what others have tried; seek new ideas and new ways of approaching challenges.
  • Embrace change
    • Accept that change is inevitable and learn to see change as a positive opportunity.
  • Use technology wisely and appropriately
    • What technical tools and resources are available? What is the cost and what will be the benefit? How have other archives used these tools? Are there tools available that are aimed at different user types that could be re-purposed for your needs?  Does the tool or resource offer a sandbox or demo option so you can experiment before adopting?
  • Know oneself and one’s Institution
    • Assess the organization’s goals, resources, needs, challenges, and opportunities through dialogue with staff, faculty, patrons, and colleagues.
    • Outreach should inform every phase of archival work so remember to brainstorm with the widest swath of your institution; this is where you will get great new ideas and fresh vision.
  • Multiply connections
    • Establish relationships with individuals and organizations that multiply connections–see patrons as donors, donors as patrons, patrons as cultural tourists, advisers as students, students as collaborators.
  • Embrace reciprocity
    • Look for relationships where each party can learn from one another, share with one another, support one another.
  • Be daring, but be humble
    • Seek or create working environments where risk and experimentation are valued. Do this by example and by supporting those who take risks and experiment. Build experimentation into planning and goal setting—“what are we going to test or try this year?” Take time to debrief and process after you try something new. The effort does not have to meet established goals to be successful; to be successful it is important to understand why it was successful or why it failed.
  • Be an opportunist
    • Always be mindful that a person one might meet or the experience that one may have may well lead to something exciting.
  • Husband the most important resource—archives staff and colleagues
    • Archivists cannot be innovative 24/7. It is vital to take time to recharge the batteries; take stock, savor success, examine problems, and rest.

¹Egils Milberg, “The Future of Innovation,” HR Funda:  Enabling Excellence by Fostering Collaboration, April 2006. (accessed September 16, 2008)

Highlight: Advocating Business Archives Toolkit

This post was authored by guest contributor Scott Grimwood, System Manager of Archives, SSM Health Care


Most archivists acknowledge the importance of raising awareness of archives and their value to individuals, organizations, and society as a whole–especially in regards to major stakeholders and decision makers. For business archivists, this reality cannot be denied: effective advocacy is often directly related to a business archives’ (and archivist’s) continued existence within that organization.

Any business archives exists at the discretion of the business it serves and is at risk of being shut down if it is not seen as adding value to the organization, or as they say in the business world, providing adequate return on investment (ROI). This can be very difficult for business archivists since ROI is measured by how much money you either earned or saved the company.

In 2014 the Business Archives Section (BAS) of the Society of American Archivists put together the “Advocating Business Archives Toolkit” as a central resource to its members, as a place where they could find extremely helpful information on and examples of successful advocacy. Because advocacy and awareness is vital to the to the entire archives profession, BAS encourages all archivists to utilize this valuable toolkit.


BAS Advocating Business Archives Toolkits screenshot, Society of American Archivists website

The Advocating Business Archives Toolkit has a wealth of information broken down into seven categories:

  • How to Get Started,
  • Articles on the Value of Archives,
  • BAS Member Recommendations & Success Stories,
  • Elevator Speech Examples,
  • Helpful Sites,
  • SAA Training Opportunities on Advocacy, and
  • Tips & Tricks.

The resources come from a wide variety of sources including external sources such as the American Association of School Librarians, American Alliance of Museums, and the Harvard Business Review.

The goal of the Toolkit is to provide archivists with the basic information to create and implement an advocacy program, and it does an excellent job. While the information from outside sources is very helpful, by far the best information comes directly from the experience of business archivists. Nothing beats a practical idea that has been tried and tested.

Most of the “archivist-tested” advocacy materials can be found in the “BAS Member Recommendations & Success Stories” and “Elevator Speech Examples” sections. The information and examples in both can be thought-provoking and inspiring, especially if you are looking to increase your advocacy efforts. Even if you do not work in a business setting, the motivations behind each example will be familiar to all archivists, and you’ll find many ideas that you can use as starting points to create an effective advocacy plan and individual projects and programs to raise awareness of your archives in your institution/organization/community.

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Portion of the BAS Member Recommendations & Success Stories section of the BAS Advocating Business Archives Toolkit

While there can never be a single source for anything, the Business Archives Section’s “Advocating Business Archives Toolkit” comes pretty close when it comes to archival advocacy. It is worth your time to check out the toolkit and see what it contains that can be of help to you!

Share your favorite source of archival advocacy ideas in the comments below, or contact the ArchivesAWARE editors to contribute a guest post! Read more about the submission process on the About page, then contact the editors at