Federal Funding Impact Story #9

Project: Collections and Facility Assessment and Planning


“The Price We Paid: An Anthology of the Desegregation of Mississippi State College for Women” was created in 2016 as part of the Those Who Dared event series commemorating the 50th anniversary of desegregation. This project is the product of a significant collaboration between the MUW Archives and the History, Political Science, and Geography Department at MUW.

Granting Agency: Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
Grant Program: Collections Assessment for Preservation Program
Institution: Mississippi University for Women
State: Mississippi
Congressional District: 1st Mississippi Congressional District
Grant Period: April 2013-March 2014
Award Amount: $7,190

Project Description
The Conservation Assessment Program funds a collections conservator and a facility conservator to visit a repository or 2-3 days, identify problem areas, and develop an action plan for the institution.

What was the need for the grant?
The archives had been dormant for several decades before hiring an archivist in 2012. It was in very poor shape, with extensive water and mold damage to the records, poor facility conditions (it was left in a vacant building with no climate or pest control), and little access for potential researchers. We were hoping to bring in some professionals to give us a sense of where to start and what to prioritize in bringing the archives back online.

What has been the primary impact of this project?
This project ultimately allowed us to preserve and provide access to our collections on the first publicly-funded women’s college in the United States. Subsequent research by students in our collections has revealed insights into subjects like racial integration at southern institutions, and early women’s education in the United States, which has led to public programming and discussion in the community.

The grant allowed us to bring two conservators to campus for several days. The priorities they developed with us served as a road map to saving the materials in the archives, which is now in a better facility, with better conditions, and is used by students every semester for class research projects.

Submission by: Derek Webb, Special Collections Librarian/University Archivist, Mississippi University for Women
Image credit to Mississippi University for Women.

Escape the Room… With Archives!

Solve the puzzles and celebrate your victory! Stay locked in and seethe (you were this close)!

If you’ve ever tried your luck at an escape room, you know the thrill of working to make sense of clues that will let you unlock the door and make your escape. But the one thing that might have made your escape experience even better? Archives! What if you could bring this special thrill to your archives’ patrons,  while introducing them to your collections and resources?  How would you go about it?

Laura Weakly

Laura Weakly, Metadata and Encoding Specialist at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, combined archives and escape rooms by organizing an event for students in Fall 2017 using clues rooted in Nebraska history. In the following interview with COPA member Caryn Radick, Digital Archivist at Rutgers University Libraries, Weakly discusses how the event was organized and offers tips for would-be room designers.

CR: Why did you decide to do an escape room?

LW: The escape room was part of a campus wide welcome event for new and returning students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for Fall semester 2017. The room was located in C. Y. Thompson Library on UNL’s East Campus. The idea was to draw students into the library and familiarize them with library resources in a fun way. The escape room was the brainchild of librarians Jennifer Thoegersen and Erica DeFrain. In 2015, Jenny and her husband Rasmus Thoegersen, who was then director of libraries in Nebraska City, had created an escape room as a children’s event at the Morton-James Public Library.

CR: Who was involved and how did it work?

LW: Besides Erica and Jenny, the project team consisted of 10 employees of the UNL Libraries who created games and set up the room. The team split into groups to create a storyline, come up with the puzzles, develop graphics, and devise the rules for gameplay. Thirteen others tested the room once it was set up to ensure that the puzzles were set up properly, explained well, and solvable. After testing, some of the games were modified to make them easier and to give more detailed instructions before the students began playing. The game consisted of three puzzles which had to be solved in the allotted 20 minute time period. The answers to the puzzles led to a code that then needed to be entered into a “Time Machine” — a skinned Raspberry Pi computer.


CR: How did you choose which stories you wanted to feature?

Newspaper column featuring cattle brands

LW: The storyline we created was a time machine that would take the players back in the history of the campus to events that did or could have occurred on the campus. Players would then need to use library resources strategically placed in the room to help them solve the puzzles and return to the present time. UNL’s East Campus is home to the International Quilt Study Center and so one puzzle focused on using print resources to solve a quilt-based riddle. Another puzzle centered on the Larsen Tractor Test Museum and photographs of historic tractors found in our Image and Multimedia Collections. The puzzle that my group created was focused on historic Nebraska newspapers digitized as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program and found on Chronicling America and Nebraska Newspapers. I remembered from when we were performing collation that one of the papers, the Valentine Democrat, featured pages and pages of cattle brands. Our puzzle then centered on a supposed  escape of cattle on East Campus, which is home to the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. We planted some “Fake News” about the escape in an edition of our campus newspaper The Daily Nebraskan. Players then had to read the story,  find the relevant brands in the Valentine Democrat, and then find the brands on tiny plastic toy cows. The toy cows had the brand on one side and a number on the other. The numbers were the answer to the puzzle.

Toy cows help solve the puzzle

CR: What was the response (how many students and what were their reactions)? Also, what was the fastest time the mystery was solved in?

LW: Ten teams of 3-6 students played the room. Six teams successfully escaped. The fastest time, recorded by the only team with just 3 players, escaped in the time of 11:33. Even the teams that didn’t escape said that is was really fun and that they enjoyed playing it.

CR:  What advice would you give to others thinking about setting up an escape room? Will you do another one?

LW: Having a good storyline and creating puzzles that go along with the story make a really great escape room. Testing and leaving enough time between groups to reset the room are also important. But mostly the room was about giving students an opportunity to go to the library just to have fun. We have already been talking about another escape room or rooms for the upcoming academic year, including possibly one in our new Learning Commons.

Asserting the Archivist, No. 2

This post was authored by guest contributor Samantha Norling, Digital Collections Manager at Newfields and member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA).  This the second post in our “Asserting the Archivist” series on the importance of highlighting archivists and archival work in outreach efforts, rather than just focusing on the collections themselves.

Too often, archivists and archival repositories can get stuck in the loop of sharing only THE STUFF, especially as those posts get a positive response and many interactions. But those collection-centric posts that help to extend our reach to every conceivable interest group on the web provide us with a valuable opportunity to highlight the work, knowledge, and skills of archivists to a nearly unlimited variety of audiences–“Asserting the Archivist” in outreach for our institutions.

In 2014, The Huntington Library created a series of 5 videos–published on Vimeo and shared on their social platforms—that took viewers behind-the-scenes to learn about the work of five staff members who filled different roles in the library. Included in these videos was the archivist, Li Wei.

In less than 3 minutes, Wei communicates multiple key points about what makes archivists unique from librarians and curators, emphasizing the complexity of archival collections and the skills needed to not just organize and catalog large archival collections, but to do so with the aim of facilitating access and discovery.

Do you have a favorite example of archival repositories or organizations/businesses that “assert the archivist” in their outreach efforts? Or would you like to share your experience incorporating archival work into your outreach? Please share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be a guest contributor to ArchivesAWARE!

There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Teresa Hedgpeth, United States Olympic Committee Archivist & Historical Steward

This is the third post in our new There’s an Archivist for That! series, which will feature examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.  To continue this new series, COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Teresa Hedgpeth, archivist and historical steward for the Crawford Family U.S. Olympic Archives.

Teri Hedgpeth

Teresa Hedgpeth (photograph courtesy of U.S. Olympic committee).

Teresa Hedgpeth was named as Archivist and Historical Steward for the Crawford Family U.S. Olympic Archives in July 2012. She is a professionally trained Certified Archivist with experience from the National Archives, the U.S. Naval Historical Center, U.S. Navy History & Heritage Command and the Western History Center.

For years the Olympic archives sat idle, stored in boxes in the basement of the shooting building at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center (CSOTC). Shortly after Teri came to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), a meeting was arranged with donor, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation Board Chair and Olympic artifact collector, Gordon “Gordy” Crawford. Crawford began collecting Olympic memorabilia back in 1984 and is now the proud curator of one of the largest known collections.

As a result of that visit, Crawford pledged the funds to build a state-of-the-art archives to properly preserve and display the Olympic artifacts and archives. $1.5 million and 2 years later – along with thousands of hours of labor and Teri’s passion for preserving the Olympic movement in a way that all could benefit – the archives moved from the CSOTC to its new facility at the USOC headquarters and are available for private tours upon request .

The most common, and most feared, question Teri faces in her position is: What is your favorite artifact? Her emphatic response? “There is no answer to that question!”

Teri earned a Master of Arts degree in U.S. History from American University, Washington, DC; a Bachelor’s degree in History from Auburn University at Montgomery; attended the Civil War Institute; and, is a graduate of The National Archives’ Modern Archives Institute. She is a member of the American Association for State and Local History, the Society of American Archivists, and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

RS: How did you get your gig?

TH: I’ve always been a huge fan of the Olympic Games – I mean, who isn’t right?  And, my daughters lived in Colorado Springs, where I was before taking the post as the archivist for the Western History Center in Casper, Wyoming; therefore, in 2012 when I saw the job posting for an archivist for the U.S. Olympic Committee, I jumped at the chance to prove to them I was the best candidate.  It was a multi-step process of application, telephone interview, all-day on site interview and then I had to create a 5-year plan once the field was narrowed down.  I am happy to say that the powers that be chose me to be the first archivist for the USOC.

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RS: Tell us about your organization.

TH: The United States Olympic Committee is one of the most recognized non-profits in the world with a mission to support U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes in achieving sustained competitive excellence while demonstrating the values of the Olympic Movement, thereby inspiring all Americans.  Founded in 1894 and headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., the USOC serves as both the National Olympic Committee and National Paralympic Committee for the United States. As such, the USOC is responsible for the training, entering and funding of U.S. teams for the Olympic, Paralympic, Youth Olympic, Pan American and Parapan American Games, while serving as a steward of the Olympic Movement throughout the country.  In addition to its international Games responsibilities and its work to advance the Olympic Movement, the USOC aids America’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes through their National Governing Bodies, providing financial support and jointly working to develop customized, creative and impactful athlete-support and coaching education programs.

The United States Olympic Committee is governed by a 16-member board of directors and a professional staff headed by a CEO. The USOC also has three constituent councils to serve as sources of opinion and advice to the board and USOC staff, including the Athletes’ Advisory Council, National Governing Bodies Council and Multi-Sport Organizations Council.  The mission of the USOC archives is to capture and preserve the history of the Olympic and Paralympic movements in the United States.

RS: Describe your collections.

TH: The USOC archives has numerous collections consisting of manuscript, photographic, three-dimensional and a sport library.  Our manuscript records include the official history of the USOC as well as personal collections and records of the Olympic and Paralympic movements.  The photograph collection consists of headshots and action shots of our athletes, coaches, staff and venues of Olympic, Paralympic, Pan American and ParaPan Games.  We have not counted the images but we know the collection houses tens of thousands of images.  Our photograph collection is probably the most visible aspect as it is used by our organization and accessed by news media and researchers.

Finally, the coolest part of our collection is the artifact collection.  In this collection, we have Olympic and Paralympic uniforms, medals, and torches as well as additional ephemera associated with the Games such as pins, patches, stamps, tickets, merchandise, coins, cereal boxes, cabbage patch kids … you get the picture.  Think of any company that is an Olympic sponsor and we most likely have a sample of what was created.

Special Collections-2

Special Collections (photograph courtesy of U.S. Olympic Committee).

Special Collections-3

Close-up view of Special Collections (photograph courtesy of U.S. Olympic Committee).

RS: What are some challenges unique to your collections?

TH: The biggest challenge for me involves completing our collections of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic uniforms, medals, torches, etc.  The USOC did not start collecting artifacts until the 1980s and then it was only to support a  traveling exhibit sponsored by Coca-Cola.  There was no comprehensive collection policy in place.  From that first call-out for memorablia, the collection grew to over 3,700 items when I started in 2012.  Today, we have over 9,000 items and are continuing to fill in the gaps in our collection.

Another challenge is associated with our Olympic marks, the use of them and educating the public on how important it is to safeguard those.  Unlike most National Olympic Committees around the world, the USOC doesn’t receive government funding to support athlete programs. The USOC is responsible for overseeing amateur athletics in the United States and for training, funding and sending Team USA to the Olympic and Paralympic Games every two years. To allow the USOC to fulfill these responsibilities, Congress granted the USOC broad rights to control commercial uses of USOC IP in the United States. Official corporate partners provide critical funding for elite athletes and athlete programs. The USOC allows our official partners to use USOC trademarks in recognition of their support for these athletes.  When others use USOC IP without authorization, it creates a disincentive for our partners to continue funding Team USA in exchange for the right to promote that association with the U.S. Olympic Team.

And finally, I think the biggest challenge I face with our collection is convincing Olympians and Paralympians about the importance of safeguarding their history.  Some athletes get this; but others think that since they did not medal, their history is not important.  I am flabbergasted each time I run into this line of thought.  They are the best of the best, chosen to represent our country in the most iconic world competitions and they think they are not important because they did not win a medal?  When you take into consideration how few athletes win medals at the Games, this reasoning boggles my mind.  In my opinion, yes, winning an Olympic or Paralympic medal is the ultimate achievement for these athletes; but, one cannot ignore the huge sacrifices each athlete, who made the Olympic or Paralympic team, endured just to be on that team.  That’s what I love; all of what transpired before to get them to that point and that’s what I try to relate to them when I have the opportunity to talk to our athletes.

RS: What is the favorite part of your job?

TH:  My favorite part?  Oh man!  I love researching our athletes and the items we receive.  For example, a competition uniform is created for us by designers for use by our athletes.  It is important that we know the designer and I love researching that history.  Then, the uniform issued is worn by a specific athlete and I love finding out all about that athlete; what motivated them, what challenges they faced and how well they did, or did not do in competition.  Sometimes the stories amaze you; they will inspire you and uplift you.  Such as, Wilma Rudolph, who was born premature, contracted polio, wore leg braces until the age of 11; and then, just 5 years later competed in her first Olympic Games, at Melbourne in 1956 winning a bronze medal.  But, four years later, at the age of 20, became the first U.S. female athlete to win 3 gold medals in a single Games.

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Another aspect I love about my job is sharing these stories with others.  We create historic displays and exhibits of our collection for use by our organization at events; we also conduct tours of our archives for different departments in our organization.  Development, Marketing, International Relations all love to give their visitors a tour of the archives.  Since we are not open to the public, this is a very special treat.

I am always asked, what is your favorite item in the archives or what is your favorite Olympic moment?  One of my favorite Olympic moments revolves around the men’s 10,000-meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.  No one thought Billy Mills of the United States had a chance, except him; he knew he could do it.  I love watching the video of that race.  Listen to the announcers, one even stated, “Billy Mills from the United States is in there, a man no one expects to win this particular event.” In the final lap, Ron Clarke of Australia elbows Mills out of the lead.  No sooner is that done when Mohamad Gammoudi of Tunisia pushes through them both and takes over.  Mills is third and it seems out of the race after being jostled by both front runners.  However, in the final 100 yards, Mills comes on the outside of both runners in a blazing burst of speed to win, becoming the first American to win the 10,000-meter race.  Wow!  Chills every time I see that!  That is one athlete I would love to have in our collection.

Stay tuned for future posts in the “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, featuring stories on archivists working in places you might not expect. If you know of an archivist who fits this description or are yourself an archivist who fits this description, the editors would love to hear from you—share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed on ArchivesAWARE!

Archives + Audiences: Gerry Canavan on the Octavia E. Butler Collection

Gerry Canavan

This post is the first in our new Archives + Audiences series, which will share perspectives from archival audiences – including scholars, journalists, filmmakers, artists, the general public, and more – for whom archives have been an important part of their life and work.  For this inaugural post, ArchivesAWARE! brings you an interview with Gerry Canavan, Assistant Professor of English at Marquette University, on his work with the Octavia E. Butler Collection at the Huntington Library.  Dr. Canavan’s book on Butler for the University of Illinois Press’s Modern Masters of Science Fiction series was published in 2016. (This is an abridged version of our interview with Dr. Canavan; the full version will appear in the next issue of SAA’s Archival Outlook magazine.)

ArchivesAWARE: What was it like to work with Butler’s papers at the Huntington?

Cover of “Octavia E. Butler” by Gerry Canavan (University of Illinois Press, 2016)

Canavan: The Octavia E. Butler Collection, which was bequeathed to the Huntington when Butler passed away, is a stunningly complete, immense archive, containing multiple drafts of her published works, many unpublished stories and projects (some complete, some totally unfinished), a lifetime of journals and personal correspondence, even handwritten composition books dating back to her childhood. There are over 500 boxes of material, hundreds of thousands of pages; of course I only scratched the surface.

Working with Butler’s papers was really one of the greatest pleasures of my career. I’d wondered for years how her Parables series would have continued in Parable of the Trickster—and I wound up being the first scholar to read her notes for the book, and the first to write about them (for The Los Angeles Review of Books). And that was only the beginning of the singular experience of inhabiting this record of the life of one of my favorite authors eight hours a day for two months. From unpublished novels to sketched-out but unwritten sequels, it’s a very special place and time for me. I wish every Butler fan could go.

ArchivesAWARE: Did anything in the collection surprise you, or were there any “a-ha” moments?

Canavan: There was a lot in the archive that was surprising, both in the way her writing process worked (she typically started out writing the exact opposite of the way the book finished up, especially with regard to her endings) and in the unvarnished and frequently quite sad look at her personal life and her struggle with depression. There were a lot of little surprises about the way different books had taken shape, some very much in line with what I would have imagined and other twists and turns I’d have never guessed in a million years. I’ll never forget finding the Patternist story she started to write set during the life of Christ, complete with a Virgin Mary sex scene.

I had a few a-ha moments, too, a lot of them revolving around my favorite book of Butler’s, Dawn. I’d recently taught the book and I was surprised to see things that had come up in our class discussions reflected so directly in the drafts of the novel, as well as in a letter where she discusses my favorite conspiratorial interpretation of the book (that the Oankali aliens caused the nuclear war that destroyed the human race). I was also floored to see that one my students’ outsized interest in a very minor character, Derrick, reflected a planned draft of the novel where he had been a much more important character; that night I wrote the student to let them know they’d intuited a hidden structure in the composition of the book that had been totally invisible to me.

When I broke some of the codes she used to describe her teenage crushes (including a crush on William Shatner), that was great fun too.

ArchivesAWARE: Did you encounter many barriers to accessing or using the collection?

Canavan: I had to be very careful about copyright, which is a huge issue in working with archives as US law gives copyright holders strong protections as to the right to determine the first publication of a work. I worked with the (very generous) literary estate to get permissions to publish a few photographs, as well as the essay that appears as an appendix to the book—and they also helped me lock down  an understanding of how much quotation would be “too much.” One of the last drafts of the book on my computer is the wildly overquoting version; I was so in love with her words and wanted to get as many of them across as I could, because I want everyone else to see what I had seen in the archives—but in the end I had to cut a lot of that direct quotation out and resort to my wholly inadequate paraphrase instead.

ArchivesAWARE: What was the overall impact of the Butler collection on the writing of your book?

Canavan: Without exaggeration, I don’t think the book would have been remotely possible without the archive. I never met Octavia, and wouldn’t have been able to write a biocritical “Modern Masters of Science Fiction” off her published interviews; I really needed this research space to get access to the larger arc of her life, especially what was going on behind the scenes. I think that’s really true not just for me but for everyone; the Huntington archive is transforming Butler studies as it allows for a fuller understanding of her achievement as the first (and for a long time only) black woman to earn her living writing science fiction. The Huntington has made an entirely new mode of Butler scholarship possible, and given us all a much better understanding of just how much she overcame.

Be sure to check out the next issue of SAA’s Archival Outlook magazine for the full version of our interview with Gerry Canavan on the Ocatvia E. Butler papers!

What Are You Reading?

This post was authored by guest contributor Vince Lee, Archivist at the University of Houston, and current member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA).

As archivists and information professionals we read a lot. Whether in school or coming up within the ranks, we read publications to learn and to keep abreast of what our colleagues are doing within the field. Through study groups, discussion groups, or on our own, we’ve run across certain books that have deeply affected us within the profession. These books make us question, reevaluate, and, in some cases, debate in a constructive way the status quo within the archival field.

“Photographs: Archival Care and Management” by Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler and Diane Vogt-O’Conner

I’ve encountered a few such books that have affected me profoundly. As a student pursuing my MLIS, Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler and Diane Vogt-O’Conner’s 2006 book Photographs: Archival Care and Management was an indispensable reference that opened my eyes to the handling and management of photographic materials. As a practicum student inventorying photographic materials at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit and at the University of Michigan’s History of Art Visual Resources Collection, I found myself continually returning to this book for guidance. In fact, since library school, this beautifully illustrated book is one I have kept on my archival bookshelf—its wisdom still resonates.

Randall C. Jimerson’s “Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice”

As a practicing professional, Randall C. Jimerson’s Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice holds another special place on my bookshelf. It has inspired me in the ongoing importance of the work that archivists do in documenting the history of underrepresented groups. For me, that has been in working with Houston’s LGBTQ community. In an increasingly tumultuous world, where “fake news” is an issue and the press is under attack, where the #MeToo movement has demonstrated the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment especially in the workplace, and where governmental deregulations are increasingly pursued at the expense of the rights of others, it’s important that archivists play an active role not only in documenting but providing information, uncomfortable as it may be, to hold government and institutions accountable for their actions. Jimerson’s 2009 book reminds us that archives and archivists play critical roles.

“Teaching with Primary Sources,” edited by Christopher J. Prom and Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

While these two books have impacted me personally, the SAA Publication Board’s One Book, One Profession reading initiative is designed for collective impact. Launched two years ago, the program invites the entire profession to read selected titles written by members and published by SAA, and to engage in conversation through in-person and virtual book discussions.  For 2016–2017, the selection was Teaching With Primary Sources—how we can use our collections to enhance information literacy and, in a way, counter “fake news.” The current selection is Through the Archival Looking Glass: A Reader on Diversity and Inclusion, which talks about not only what we collect, but also representation and the lack thereof within the profession. Sometimes the silences or gaps within our collections, and also in the profession, say just as much—if not more—than what is actually collected and how we as archivists are perceived.

“Through the Archival Looking Glass,” edited by Mary Caldera and Kathryn M. Neal

Book discussions not only serve to stimulate conversation among archivists and information professionals, but can also serve to raise awareness and showcase archival holdings at our institutions. Gulf Coast Reads is an annual regional reading initiative that promotes select titles by authors whose works delve into historical events and themes relating to the Texas Gulf Coast region. Programs are designed around the book and a call is extended for digitized images from regional archival collections that supplement the book or its themes, such as early historical images of flight, World War I, African American history, and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Collective contributions of digitized images by area repositories are maintained by the Harris County Public Library in the greater Houston area for a limited duration (typically through Archives Month in October). In addition to stimulating discussion, the presence of contributed images alert readers who may also be researchers and archives users to potential collections of interest.

Gulf Coast Reads

Books influence us in myriad ways, from our formative years as students to practicing professionals within the field. Our archival collections have the power to influence, just like books. What are some of the books that have affected you professionally? Perhaps made you reevaluate and take stock of where you are as an archivist? Let me know what you are reading!

Sound and Vision: And We’re Live in 5…4…3…2…1


This post was authored by COPA Chair Chris Burns, Manuscripts Curator and University Archivist at the University of Vermont.

This is the second in a series of posts about the use of video as an archival awareness tool. Feel free to contact the editors of this blog at archivesaware@archivists.org if you have a video or topic you would like to see covered, or if you would like to contribute to this series.

In 2016, we kicked off a new series designed to focus on the use of video in archival awareness and outreach efforts. The inaugural post, Sound and Vision: Using Video to Tell the Tales of Archives and Archivists, featured a handful of videos that had been produced by repositories and some general best practice tips. To be perfectly honest, there were not a lot of examples to choose from at that point in time. The use of video by archives was simply not widespread.

However, the use of video has grown significantly since then, driven in large part by livestreaming services, particularly Facebook Live. This type of video production has a lower barrier of entry, ties in easily to existing social media channels, and consequently is becoming an important outreach tool for archives and special collections. Facebook has made a concerted effort to promote and support Facebook Live, so while there are other tools for live streaming content to your audience, Facebook Live has become the major player, in no small part because of the large potential audience that already exists on Facebook.

What is Facebook Live?

Jennifer Koerber, writing in Library Journal, gives a good overview of Facebook Live and its use in libraries. At its most basic, Koerber notes, it is “video streamed over Facebook and archived there afterwards.” Facebook Live events are live videos as opposed to an edited video. They tend to be improvised, and are often filmed on devices as simple as a phone or tablet. The technical barriers for producing and distributing this type of content are quite low, but as with a more traditional edited video, quality can vary significantly. Paying attention to sound quality and lighting, as well as using a tripod and the best available camera and microphone setup can greatly improve the quality of your video and the experience for your audience. Koerber cites two helpful articles with tips for recording video on smartphones.

Facebook Live events are just that, live events, and need to be promoted to ensure you have an audience. Promotion should target your Facebook audience, but not exclusively. Promoting these events through other channels (blog, email, Instagram, etc.) not only draws people to the event, but also lets them know you have a Facebook account that they might want to follow. Because the events take place on a social media platform, they also have the potential to be interactive. People watching can share their enthusiasm by liking, commenting, and sharing the video. The live component allows you to interact with an online audience in interesting ways, such as soliciting questions from online viewers during the stream. Koerber notes how having a staff member monitor the comments during the livestream allows that individual to respond in real-time and add additional information like links to catalog records or digitized versions of the objects being discussed.

How are Special Collections and Archives using Facebook Live?

One way to use this medium is to provide an introduction to your holdings. The video below, from the National Agriculture Library, features an introduction to their seed catalogs (my favorite is the manuscript catalog from the 1830’s featured about 10 minutes in). The 37 minute video features staff members taking turns discussing items in their collection and has been viewed over 4,500 times in the 2 months since it was posted.

Another way institutions have been using Facebook Live to share their collections is by connecting them to another event, either at their institution or externally. In October 2016, the Dibner Library at the Smithsonian used a Facebook Live event featuring their anatomy books to tie into Halloween and Page Frights. The comments section shows how Dibner staff interacted with viewers throughout the video, taking full advantage of the live aspect of the event.


The Houghton Library at Harvard University held a Facebook Live event in March 2017 in celebration of their 75th anniversary. During the 48 minute live stream, two Houghton staff members gave a tour of the library, showed off items from the collection, and took questions from viewers. A key aspect of this livestream is that it took place on the main Harvard University account, which allowed the Houghton to reach a much larger potential audience. As a result, the video has been viewed over 67,000 times, and has had 1,900 reactions, 239 shares, and 415 comments. Not all archives will have access to an audience as large as the Harvard community, but it is a good reminder of how partnering with a larger social media account can really boost the signal of your outreach efforts.

The University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center has taken the approach of inviting researchers to talk about items from their collections. In the video below, Dr. Mindy Schwartz talks about an 1887 surgical kit that she uses to teach medical students about the history of medicine. This approach shows viewers not only the cool stuff in the archives, but also how a researcher or instructor uses them.

In a similar way, the US National Archives held a Facebook Live that featured Janet Macreery talking about how she used a range of archival sources to write her novel, A Little Wicked. Archives and special collections libraries have held events like this for many years, but livestreaming them allows institutions to reach beyond audiences who are willing and able to attend these events in person.


The Getty Research Institute held a Facebook Live event in March 2017 to talk about how they put together an online exhibition, The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra. The live stream shows some of the material used in the exhibit, but is also a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at how they put this exhibit together.

An example of an institution doing exciting things with video, on Facebook Live and elsewhere, is the University of Iowa Special Collections. Led by Outreach and Engagement Librarian Colleen Theisen, their video work is aimed at engaging with as broad a community as possible. An excellent overview of their efforts can be found in this article by Scott Smith on the Big Ten Network website. You can view their videos, including their archived live streams, on their YouTube site.

In addition to the live streams they have conducted, such as their annual livestream on Shakespeare’s birthday, their YouTube channel features a few ongoing video series they have created that are both fun and informative. Their Staxpeditions series usually focuses on exploring Library of Congress call numbers, but my favorite installment is Staxpedititions 6: Exploring Mystery Boxes : Manuscripts Edition!

The work being done in the examples above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what archives and special collections libraries are doing or could be doing with video. If you are doing interesting work in this area and want to be featured in this series, don’t hesitate to contact us at at archivesaware@archivists.org.