Reaching Out to Undergrads at UNCG

Erin
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 becomeĀ 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, http://www2.archivists.org/history/leaders/kathleen-roe/incoming-presidential-remarks-the-year-of-living-dangerously-for-archives. For more information on the “Year of Living Dangerously with Archives” initiative, see http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously.

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