Finding the Hook

DWC_sm
This post was authored by guest contributor David Carmicheal, State Archivist, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and former Chair, SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA)

Good advocacy is always targeted to a specific audience—specific people who need to hear a specific message to drive a specific outcome. In governments, for example, that audience is often legislators who need to hear the message of how the archives benefits citizens so that those legislators, in turn, will be more likely to support the archives with adequate authority, budgets, facilities, and such. Every archives needs support from governing authorities, users, the public, and others who may need to hear targeted messages. But before the target audience can hear the message the archives must grab their attention; we have to find a hook.

Normally archivists use the historical documents themselves as the hook. We tend to believe that the thrill we get from our collections is felt by everyone. After all, what could be more exciting than holding an actual George Washington letter in my hands? Our outreach is often built on the premise that target audiences will visit the archives if we give them the opportunity to experience the delight of hands-on history. And while that often works, it’s not a guaranteed strategy. It’s a good idea, then, to think about other experiences you might use to encourage key audiences to visit the archives.

When the Pennsylvania State Archives held its annual display of William Penn’s original 1681 Charter in 2015 we decided that the excitement of seeing the original document might not be attraction enough for many. So, in addition to advertising the event we sent personal invitations to state legislators offering them a private, fifteen minute viewing of the Charter with the state archivist and an opportunity to have their photo taken with the document, which they could publish in their constituent newsletter or display in their office. More than sixty legislators accepted our offer—a record for the archives—with the happy result that we extended our two day viewing schedule to three full days in order to accommodate the requests. Many legislators brought along key staff members for the photo op (an opportunity for us to meet the people who create policy briefs and provide data to the legislators). Some brought family members, including their children, to see the document and be part of the photograph. All of them took the opportunity to ask questions about the Charter and learn how the archives helps to protect the legal and financial interests of the commonwealth and its residents, beginning with Penn’s Charter.

Tweet from the office of Pennsylvania State Senator John Rafferty following his visit to see the 1681 Penn Charter while it was on view this year. Rafferty is pictured with State Archivist David Carmicheal. View the Storify of tweets from this year’s Charter Day event.

A very different attraction drew staff from a key agency to the archives: a trip to the roof of the archives tower. The panoramic view from the top encompasses the city, the surrounding valley, and a distinctive bird’s-eye view of the State Capitol building. The first stop on the tour, though, was the ground floor meeting room where the visitors saw a display of key documents from the archives’ collections and heard a brief explanation of the value of the archives to the commonwealth. The route to the roof passed through storage areas and provided opportunities to discuss the records as well as the aging facility itself. No doubt some of the staff visited the archives solely because of the lure of the rooftop tour, but all of them came away excited about the documents.

djg31951

The State Museum of Pennsylvania and State Archives Complex in Harrisburg, PA Source:_http://statemuseumpa.org/50th-anniversary/_

Even if you don’t have a tower archives you can probably devise unique experiences that will attract key people to your archives. Just remember, it pays to think beyond the documents when you’re looking for the hook.

If you have examples of innovative archives outreach that you would like to share on ArchivesAWARE, read more about the editorial process on our About page and contact the editors at archivesaware@archivists.org!

October 5th is Ask An Archivist Day!

askanarchivist_gif_2016

What Is #AskAnArchivist Day?

It’s an opportunity to:

  • Break down the barriers that make archivists seem inaccessible.
  • Talk directly to the public—via Twitter—about what you do, why it’s important and, of course, the interesting records with which you work.
  • Join with archivists around the country and the world to make an impact on the public’s understanding of archives while celebrating American Archives Month!
  • Interact with users, supporters, and prospective supporters about the value of archives.
  • Hear directly from the public about what they’re most interested in learning about from archives and archivists.

How Does It Work?

On October 5, archivists around the country will take to Twitter to respond to questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist. Take this opportunity to engage via your personal and/or institutional Twitter accounts and to respond to questions posed directly to you or more generally to all participants.

Questions will vary widely, from the silly (What do archivists talk about around the water cooler?) to the practical (What should I do to be sure that my emails won’t get lost?), but each question will be an opportunity to share more about our work and our profession with the public. Visit SAA’s Storify that summarizes the 2014 #AskAnArchivist Day to get more examples of questions and answers. Last year generated thousands of questions and answers, some of which have been Storified:

Between now and October 5:

PROMOTE #AskAnArchivist Day among your users and constituents via your institution’s website, Twitter account, blog, newsletter, and any other mediums available to you.

For additional inspiration on what your promotion of #AskAnArchivist Day might look like, see our Storify of marketing from the 2014 #AskAnArchivist Day, as well as these great examples of museums’ promotions of past #AskACurator Days:

Examples of possible Twitter promotion:

  • Happy #AskAnArchivist Day! Our archivists are waiting for YOUR questions. Tag us at @TWITTERHANDLE and use #AskAnArchivist.
  • Archivists at @TWITTERHANDLE are gearing up for #AskAnArchivist Day on October 5! Literally—documents and photo boxes stacked and waiting!

ENCOURAGE the public to use #AskAnArchivist and your institution’s Twitter handle (e.g., @smithsonian) when asking questions so you won’t miss any that are intended for you and so we will be able to track questions and answers to measure overall participation.

TALK to your staff and colleagues to develop a plan for responding to tweets throughout the day.  Will one person respond to all tweets?  Will you share the task? Will individuals sign up for time slots and let the public know who will be available when?

Here’s one example:

  • During #AskACurator Day, one person at the Indianapolis Museum of Art was selected to monitor both the general hashtag and tweets sent directly to @imamuseum. When direct questions came in or interesting general questions were posed via the hashtag, the designated monitor sent the questions to participating curators via email. The curators (and their archivist!) replied with their answers, and the monitor posted all answers from the @imamuseum Twitter account. (See the Storify of the IMA’s participation in #AskACurator Day for results.)

CREATE an institutional Twitter account if you don’t already have one. #AskAnArchivist Day and American Archives Month are both great opportunities to start one! Click here to get started.

And if an institutional Twitter account is not an option for you, answer questions from your personal Twitter account! If your institutional affiliation and job title are not already listed on your profile, be sure to add that for the duration of #AskAnArchivist Day.

If you plan to participate, please email SAA Editorial and Production Coordinator Abigail Christian with your Twitter handle so we can create a list of participants.

TWEET and GREET! Take advantage of this opportunity to join with archivists from around the country to talk to and hear directly from the public on October 5.