AA: Can you describe the idea behind this archival outreach program?
EV: Archivists of the Houston Area (AHA!) is a local archival professionals organization that aims to “promote archival repositories and activities in the greater Houston, Texas area.” In the fall of 2017, we mounted our first Houston Archives Bazaar. The event boasted over 20 local archival organizations. Over 200 members of the public attended. In addition to the organization tables, we also boasted Preservation and Digitization Stations, archival film screenings, speakers, and an Oral History booth. Thanks to generous sponsors and donations we were able to offer attendees tote bags and wonderful door prizes.
AA: Where did you get the idea and what inspired you?
EV: We were inspired by the incredible work of the Austin Archives Bazaar. Three members of the AAB planning committee, Jennifer Hecker, Madeline Moya, and Daniel Alonzo came to Houston for the AHA! Winter meeting and shared their experience in planning the 2014 and 2016 Austin Archives Bazaars events. They also shared their extensive documentation with us, which was a huge help.
AA: What worked? What didn’t work? Were you surprised by the outcome or any part of your experience?
EV: The biggest surprise was Hurricane Harvey! The storm hit Houston just two weeks before our planned date, and it was completely up in the air if we would be able to move forward with the Bazaar or not. In the days immediately after the storm, we had no way of knowing if our participants would be able, or want to have the event, or if the public would be interested in attending. Ultimately, we decided to proceed as planned. Only three repositories weren’t able to participate. We tried to respond to the disaster by inviting members of the Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance (TX-CERA) to come and demonstrate water-salvage methods for individuals who had been affected by flooding.
AA: What would you do differently?
EV: As part of our planned events, we had several speakers – which was great. However, because we were in a music venue, the speakers didn’t have a dedicated space but instead had to speak over the crowd, which was a bit of a challenge. I think in the future we will brainstorm alternative set-ups to ensure the speakers can be heard. Also, we had a “digitization station” to encourage preservation scanning – I think there is an opportunity to do a lot more promotion in this area to ensure attendees are aware they can bring in materials to scan.
AA: What tips do you have for those interested in putting on a similar event?
EV: Give yourself lots of time! Everything was very time consuming, which at times was challenging to balance on top of work and other responsibilities. Also, it is crucial to keep lines of communication open throughout the process.
AA: Did you get media attention? How did that happen?
EV: Yes – we developed a multi-pronged media approach. We started with a press release that we had translated into Spanish and Vietnamese (both wide-spread languages spoken in Houston). We sent our press release to all news outlets in the region. We also utilized Facebook and Twitter extensively, including paid promotions on Facebook. To contact people who might not be reached through those two methods, we printed postcards and posters that we posted at local coffee shops and mailed to local churches and community centers.
Emily Vinson is Audiovisual Archivist and curator of the KUHT Collection at the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections. Prior to UH, Emily worked as an archivist at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy; a project archivist preserving unique audio holdings at New York Public Radio; and a fellow in Preservation Administration at New York Public Library. She holds an MS in Information Studies with a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Preservation Administration from the University of Texas, Austin. Emily currently serves as the President of the Houston Area (AHA!), and is co-chair of the Preservation Committee for the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA).