Beyond the Elevator, No. 4

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authorsportraitsBeyond 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 amonthly 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

Matching Undergrads with Archives: “Speed Dating” in the UNC-Asheville Special Collections

Gene Hyde headshot

This post was authored by guest contributor Gene Hyde, Head of Special Collections at University of North Carolina Asheville

Undergraduate research is a hallmark of the University of North Carolina Asheville, the state’s designated Public Liberal Arts University.  As part of this institutional mission, we in Special Collections work closely with the History Department and other departments to incorporate primary materials into the research process. This is the tale of how Special Collections worked with one particular class, History 373.

History 373, taught by Dr. Ellen Pearson, was the first digital humanities course at UNCA. The class was small, with three teams of students, each working with a collection or collections. Their assignment was to conduct research using primary materials from Special Collections as well as other primary and secondary materials, then write and create digital humanities projects rather than traditional papers. We planned one class session for the student teams to select the collections they would be using for their projects, and we selected a “speed dating” process to introduce them to the collections.


Digital History class at UNCA with Professor Ellen Pearson

The role of Special Collections in this process was somewhat traditional in that we were serving as a resource for materials rather than supporting the technological issues and platforms that digital humanities projects entail. For the technology side, the class was also paired with a Computer Science class and had extensive support from the library’s Media Design Lab.

Knowing that this was a one-semester project, we kept certain parameters in mind as we curated collections for this “speed dating” class, selecting collections that met the following criteria:

  1. We came up a with an initial list of a dozen or so collections, then consulted with Dr. Pearson. She took the topical pulse of the class, and we narrowed it down to six collections covering three basic themes in local history. The students had access to the finding aids for these six collections prior to the class.
  2. To facilitate the visual component of digital humanities, we selected collections that had maps, photographs, brochures, newspaper articles, and other images in addition to manuscripts.
  3. The collections each had a “full tale” to tell – that is, there was enough documentation in one or more of these collections to craft a complete narrative within the span of one semester.
  4. We kept copyright in mind, opting for collections where we owned the copyright, the collections contained public documents, or we knew that copyright could easily be secured. We knew that some students would probably want to use entire articles from the local newspaper in their digital projects, so I made a quick call to the managing editor and secured permission for this. Special Collections regularly provides them with photos for local history columns and they were glad to reciprocate for student projects.
  5. We located other collections that complimented the collections we were suggesting. For instance, we owned the city record documenting a downtown mall development proposal, and special collections at the local public library had the records of the citizens groups that fought the downtown mall development project. We work closely with the archivists at the public library, so I called and gave them a heads up about what we had in mind for this student project. They were delighted to help the students, and access to both the city and the citizens’ group records were critical in the success of that project.

Why this emphasis on pre-selecting collections? UNCA requires a final capstone research project for all majors, and we have seen some students struggle to settle on a research topic. We also knew that, in addition to choosing a topic, some might experience learning curves with the technology involved in Digital History projects. For these reasons,  Dr. Pearson and I agreed that pre-selecting particular collections for the students to choose from would allow the students to concentrate on their research and mastering the technology.

When the class came in, we had arranged representative materials from the six collections on tables around the reading room – setting the stage for “speed dating.”


We walked around and introduced each collection to the students, describing the content, research possibilities, and the kinds of images and graphics in each collection. We also noted when there were related collections (at UNCA and the public library) that would help with their research.

We laid down basic ground rules for handling collections – only remove one folder at a time, respect the original order within the folders, and only use pencils, laptops, or cell phone cameras. Each team could spend five minutes to “date” a collection, then it was time to move on. We then cut them loose on the collections!

The three teams quickly fanned out and began examining the collections, moving to different ones, talking with each other, asking us questions, and conferring with Dr. Pearson. We circulated and provided more context  about the collections, pointing out useful related materials that were not on display in the reading room that they might find helpful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe reading room was abuzz with activity and collaboration, and it was clear that a number of students were excited about what they were finding. As they settled in and began looking deeper into the collections, talking waned and serious examination began to take place.

Dr. Pearson then told everyone that “the first team to claim a collection gets it,” resulting in some friendly competition between the teams as they jostled to claim their favorite collections. Selections made, the teams were then ready to start their research.

Over the course of the semester the three student teams were regulars in the Reading Room. We assisted them with documents, helped them with scanning, consulted on finding secondary materials, helped them navigate copyright issues, and generally helped them with the primary resource component of their digital history projects.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFeedback from the students and Dr. Pearson was very positive – they found the “Speed Dating” to be an effective way to gain a short, intensive immersion into each collection’s possibilities.

A news article about the project with a photo of the Downtown Mall Project group (taken in Special Collections) was posted to the UNCA webpage, which highlighted the role of Special Collections in the process.

I Advocate, You Advocate, We Advocate…with the Advocacy Toolkit


This post was authored by guest contributor Christine George, Archivist and Faculty Services Librarian, Charles B. Sears Law Library, SUNY Buffalo Law School


Advocacy is a tricky thing. Sure there are definitions for it, but it seems like it means something slightly different to everyone. If you want proof, check out the Steering Shares on the Issue & Advocacy (I&A) Roundtable’s blog. One of the questions each I&A Steering Committee Member answers is “How would you define advocacy?” Each and every one of us has a different answer. Not drastically different, but each comes from a different perspective. Though the Steering Shares are only from the current I&A leadership, I feel fairly confident that past leadership also had varied perspectives.

One of the things to come out of those varied perspectives is the Advocacy Toolkit. Created by I&A’s 2013–2014 leadership, the Advocacy Toolkit was meant to pull together resources on advocacy for archives and archivists. In its own words:

A large part of advocacy involves convincing financial and political stakeholders of the value that archives add to a given community, and all related efforts need be supported by evidence. The resources listed, which also serve as access points to more resources, contain the types of quantitative information and qualitative narratives that help make the case for archives. This list is not exhaustive; rather it is a starting point for those looking for facts, arguments, and compelling reasoning to lend weight to their advocacy efforts. The resources linked here do not indicate endorsement, but offer some templates which can be used to formulate advocacy efforts.

The Toolkit has been updated by subsequent I&A Steering Committees. Over the years, the Advocacy Toolkit hasn’t caught on. We wanted to change that in a big way when we decided to tackle the latest update. To start, the Advocacy Toolkit got a new home. Beginning in 2016, we moved the Advocacy Toolkit and the I&A blog to our new website. Then we reached out to the Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC) to help us expand the Advocacy Toolkit.

Step 1 of this collaboration is to evaluate what we have and plan out how to move forward. To do that, we need your help. Yes you. Chances are that if you haven’t already had to advocate for yourself or your collections you will have to at some point. We’d like your feedback on what we have and what you think might be missing. Please take a few moments and review the Advocacy Toolkit and then go and take our survey available at The survey will be open until THIS MONDAY, 5/16/16. If you have questions about the survey, or thoughts beyond the survey, feel free to contact us at

Public Relations and Marketing for Archives: An Interview with Peter Wosh

Wosh2011Among the resources in SAA’s advocacy toolkit is Public Relations and Marketing for Archives: A How-To-Do-It Manual (2011), edited by Peter Wosh and R. James and co-published by SAA and Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc. Today we bring you an interview with Peter Wosh, Professor of History and Director of the Archives/Public History Program at New York University. In this interview with David Carmicheal, Peter revisits the book and discusses the ways it relates to current advocacy efforts.

David: What prompted the book in 2011? Was there an event that brought advocacy to SAA’s attention?

Peter: Back when I was publications editor for SAA [2007-2013] the Publications Committee regularly scanned the literature to identify gaps, and we discovered that SAA’s last real advocacy book had been published in 1994 (Advocating archives: An introduction to public relations for archivists, by Elsie Freeman Finch).  Our scan of journals also showed very little literature about advocacy. There was much more archival writing on technical topics. Then, too, by 2011 archivists had become much more conscious about how central to our work advocacy is and how we need to spend more time on it. So the time was right for that book.

How do public relations and marketing relate to advocacy? Are they the same thing?

They relate, but I think of advocacy as a much broader concept that incorporates marketing and public relations. The public relations and marketing book focuses on how archives relate to user communities—primarily external communities—and how to make your archives more visible by using new technologies. This kind of marketing doesn’t include, for example, political advocacy. Advocacy includes internal audiences, which marketing and PR don’t generally consider.

When we decided to revise the Archival Fundamentals series (Archival Fundamentals III is due to be published in 2017) we thought it important to include a specific volume about Advocacy (being authored by Kathleen Roe) because the publications board thought it was so vital to what we do and had to be more encompassing than marketing and PR.

Advocacy versus marketing—do archivists favor one over the other?

I think they are more comfortable serving more traditional research communities and are still in the process of developing tools to promote themselves and their place in their particular institutions. To some extent archivists are also still hesitant to enter the public sphere of debate when archival issues come to the fore, though that is getting much better. I think it’s hard to mobilize the archival community around issues. Professional associations like SAA and CoSA take a stand on key issues, but I wonder how many people really take a personal responsibility to advocate. Advocacy needs to be sustained and ongoing and not just crisis management. We are better at responding to threats, but successful advocacy is being there all the time and promoting yourself in a constructive way 365 days a year.

How do we turn archivists into advocates?

Advocacy isn’t built enough into archival training and education. Archivists are good at standards and best practices and applying rules and regulations, and that has been the emphasis of our education and professional literature to a great extent. We don’t necessarily need individual courses in advocacy but every course should incorporate advocacy—how does what you’re learning in this course helps you express the importance of what archivists do. It needs to become part of our everyday lives.

Do you have an advocacy success or failure in your career that is instructive?

When I was at the American Bible Society I would ask myself what are the big issues facing the organization I work for and can I put together historical background papers to send to the Vice President or others that might show them the value of the archives. They responded well to my taking existing information and packaging it in a way that was meaningful to them.

When I was an Archdiocesan archivist it was a time when making church records open was a new idea, and many officials were nervous about who might be using the records. I would send them user reports (not just statistical) that included stories about how lives were touched by the archives. By talking about the range of users I was able to demonstrate that making the records available was actually supporting their larger mission to help parishioners and people in general.

I would say, finally, that just doing your job strategically is a form of advocacy. Doing the job well communicates the value of what we do in a quiet way.