Archives Are Always Essential

On October 22, 2020, Ryan Anthony Donaldson & Rachael Cristine Woody presented the webinar “Archives Are Always Essential” to 280 attendees. Below is a summary of the webinar complete with key takeaways, a summary of questions and answers, and a list of resources.

Many of us in the field know that archives are essential, but sometimes it feels like a best-kept secret. It’s challenging to convey the true value of our collections despite our best efforts with digital content, social media, and other outreach and awareness activities. It’s time to unleash the full potential of heritage collections and archives and we’ll show you how. This webinar will review historic outreach challenges, and how they’ve been compounded and complicated by larger global events in 2020. And in honor of Archives Month, we will explore proactive and actionable responses to these challenges–including relevant examples and additional voices.

Rachael Cristine Woody, Owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting. Photo courtesy of Rachael Cristine Consulting.

Co-Presenter: Rachael Woody is the owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC. After a successful tenure at the Smithsonian Institution and the Oregon Wine History Archive, Woody established her consultancy to teach archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations how to take care of their collections and advocate for their value. Woody has experienced precariously funded positions first-hand and has proven tactical strategies to demonstrate the value of collection work. As a result of her experience, Woody has dedicated herself to advocating for the value of collection work. She serves on SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness, established the Archivist-in-Residence (paid internship) program at Northwest Archivists, and serves on several salary advocacy committees.

Co-Presenter: Ryan Anthony Donaldson is a content strategist, information professional, and project consultant passionate about the creative and targeted uses of heritage content and archives. Donaldson previously worked as Senior Manager of Heritage and Information Services for The Durst Organization in New York City, conceptualizing and implementing a corporate archive program. He serves on the Archives Month Committee of Washington State and previously with the Business Archives Steering Committee with the Society of American Archivists.

To download a copy of the slide deck visit: https://bit.ly/3kfH9iw.

Key Takeaways

Our Perspective as Business Owners

  • Effectively communicating the value of archives in a variety of ways is vital for archives consultants.
  • Owning a business, whether sole proprietorship, LLC, or otherwise, requires a mindset to focus on what you see with inherent untapped value and presenting opportunities as relatable. 

Background

  • SAA Council on Public Awareness survey results show an interest in the archivist community in (1) How to create effective programs & activities & (2) How to promote from within.
  • October is Archives Month and 2020 themes are: Creativity, Rights, and Resilience.
  • The Archives industry has had historical issues with conveying value, as traditional outreach methods, such as events and exhibits, face significant challenges that are compounded by impacts from COVID-19. While it can be clear to archivists the potential value of heritage collections, it can be difficult to share this vision with stakeholders.

Challenges & Needs

  • Challenges include a sense of distance and isolation as archives are closed, trauma from job layoffs and cost reductions, with many challenges remaining unresolved for the near future.
  • To meet these challenges, responses and solutions need to be convenient, address existing needs, and packaged in appropriate ways and formats.

3 Related Responses

  • 1. Pivoting
    • Consider the basketball pivot – stay on one leg in the same spot and turn the radius of your direction with the other foot which can feel uncomfortable.
    • The pivot change the direction of your delivery to achieve the same goal
    • Pivoting is a proactive way to reassess how to meet the needs of your community and audiences
    • Layers of pivots
      • Societal – Time to reflect on values and how archives can respond to current events through the lens of creativity, resilience, and rights. Also attention of audiences is online as screen time for U.S. audiences has increased by 1 hour in 2020.
      • Organizational – Opportunities for a brand audit that can leverage institutional and corporate archives; or in some cases, an opportunity to formalize or further build an archives
      • Career – Can be a way to involve individuals in other sectors to engage with archives; in particular for materials already digitized
    • Outcomes for successful pivots
      • Deliver on outreach initiatives amidst challenges 
      • Increase audiences and 
      • Retain, reinforce, & enhance online visibility 
  • 2. Adapting
  • Response to changing environmental conditions
    • Look to organizational and industry accountability as an opportunity to express and verify cultural legacy.
    • Look for inbound and outbound strategies to address the inability to be on-site at the office and with the collections.
      • Virtual reference
      • Virtual tours
  • Layers of adaptations
    • Societal
    • Organizational
    • Industries – Seek out best practices in other industries, especially art, travel, hospitality, events, service industries, healthcare
  • Adaptation model for traditional outreach programs are online
    • Increased extraordinary opportunities for engaging with colleagues globally, examining past practices critically, and to highlight a range of organizations actively communicating the value of archives. 
    • Many programs are recorded and made available after. 
    • Periods of adaptation reveal new opportunities for storytelling through history.
  • With the perceived value of archival labor diminished and resources denied, it is important to adapt through some self-care 
    • Time management
    • Work and personal boundaries as distinction of space collapses
  • 3. Flexing
    • There are a variety of definitions for flexing, including those that may carry negative connotations.
    • Aspect of the definition to focus on: 
      • Put your talents, abilities, and skills to use to support the collections. 
      • Communicate the inherent untapped potential of archives to flex the value.
      • It can be challenging to keep attention with battles for screentime, so consider how to quickly & compellingly promote your collections online and communicate the brand story 
      • As a subject expert, you may have the flexibility to access local cultural historical knowledge that can be shared globally.

Questions & Answers

Q: Do you have suggestions for making a business case for archives in a corporate setting?

A: Look for ways to align with marketing initiatives and core business activities. Consider what language is used with stakeholders – for instance, certain phrases may resonate more effectively than others (such as “legacy curation” for a wine business in place of “archives”). Think outside of the internal company to speak to and connect with larger milestones. 

Q: What language should I use to convincingly convey the value of the collections?

A: Use general language rather than rely on technical language that has limited meaning outside of the archives industry and gives any impression of elitism. Tailor your language to your audience and to think strategically for how your audience can connect to an archives. Also consider the language of numbers and metrics, mixing qualitative statistics with some qualitative narratives for researchers and other audiences who have benefited directly from the archives. 

Q: Do you have suggestions for expressing why a dedicated space for archival work is necessary?

A: Express how there is a continued value and a furthering of the initial investment in the archival materials. Be open to flexibility of multiple use spaces and developing relationships with facilities staff who maintain the properties in which the materials are housed. Develop a priority list focusing on the most fragile items for the best environment available given the resources. Reference best practices and lean into your expertise to guide discussions with other stakeholders. Calculate time and efficiences for collections being off-site without dedicated storage.

Resources

“Archival Instagram Accounts Are Teaching Forgotten Histories,” Nicole Froio – Zora, https://zora.medium.com/archival-instagram-accounts-are-teaching-forgotten-histories-b2b37c9cf52d

“Archiving Black America,” BBC Radio 4, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000l0rc

Carhartt Heritage Camo Collection – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qj3pKqeBzEI

Collection Diversification and Community Engagement Panel – November 17, 2020.

Hosted by The Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC)

https://www.facebook.com/events/355105799045768/

“Common Concerns: Video Production” – July 16, 2020. 

Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center,  Washington State Heritage Outreach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRAW6RsSpXg

“Deriving Value from Collections in the Time of Corona (COVID-19),” sponsored by the Committee on Public Awareness, Society of American Archivists. https://youtu.be/vhK2ww1_ZR8 

“Experimental Mapping in the Central District: A Workshop with Sara Zwede” – October 21, 2020. Hosted by Wa Na Wari. 

https://www.wanawari.org/experimental-mapping.html

“Inclusive Description Working Group,” Princeton University Library Rare Books & Special Collections Technical Services, https://blogs.princeton.edu/techsvs/2020/02/28/inclusive-description-working-group/

Indigenous Interventions: Reshaping Archives and Museums – February 13, 2020.

A symposium hosted by the Field Museum, Northwestern University, and the Newberry

https://www.newberry.org/11132020-indigenous-interventions-reshaping-archives-and-museums

“Inspired By Company’s Heritage, Carhartt Reinvents Original Camo Pattern,” PR Newswire, September 14, 2020 – https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/inspired-by-companys-heritage-carhartt-reinvents-original-camo-pattern-301130180.html

Race_women Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/race_women

“Strategies for How to Capture and Communicate the Value of Collection Work,” Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC. https://youtu.be/UYgXj_XWma0 

“Resources & Toolkits,” maintained by the Committee on Public Awareness, Society of American Archivists. https://www2.archivists.org/advocacy/publicawareness/resourcesandtoolkits 

The Blackivists: https://www.theblackivists.com/

The Blackivists Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/theblackivists/

“The Durst Organization 1915-2015: Celebrating 100 Years” publication – http://bit.ly/durstcentennial

“2020 Trends: COVID Impact on Time Spent With Media,” Digital Remedy, https://www.digitalremedy.com/2020-trends-covid-impact-on-time-spent-with-media/

“Uncovering Stories Through Archival Content: Turning Old Content into New Art,” Creative Capital – https://creative-capital.org/2020/04/13/uncovering-stories-through-archival-content-turning-old-content-into-new-art/

“Virginia Mason Centennial,” https://www.virginiamason.org/centennial

“Virtual Events Are Experiences: Why Aren’t They Designed That Way?” from BlueCadet – https://www.bluecadet.com/news/virtual-events-are-experiences-why-arent-they-designed-that-way/

“Virtual Kayak Tour of Tacoma’s Waterfront,” Pretty Gritty Tours, https://www.facebook.com/prettygrittytours/videos/593195074710444

We Here: https://www.wehere.space/

“Works in Progress Webinar: This wasn’t for you yesterday, but it will be tomorrow—Digitization policy to counteract histories of exclusion” – October 1, 2020. OCLC – https://www.oclc.org/research/events/2020/100120-digitization-policy-counteract-histories-of-exclusion.html

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