Welcome to another entry in the new ArchivesAWARE series, “Archival Authors” where we feature archivists who have used their professional experience to inform books they have written for the general public. What inspired them? How did archivistics affect the tone or direction of their book? What did they want readers to take away?
In this post, Kaye Lanning Minchew talks about her new book, “Jimmy Carter: Citizen of the South.” Minchew recently retired as Executive Director of the Troup County Archives and Legacy Museum on Main in LaGrange, Georgia, an institution that received the SAA Council Exemplary Service Award under her leadership. A Fellow of the Society of American Archivists, Minchew has served on the Board of Regents for the Academy of Certified Archivists, served as NAGARA’s representative to the NHPRC, has chaired the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council, and was named Georgia’s Writer of the Year for History in 2017 for her book “Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A President in our Midst.”
Transitioning from being an archivist to an author now seems to have been a natural progression in my career. Throughout the 32 years that I worked as director of the Troup County Archives in LaGrange, Georgia, I often said that if I got to research even one-fourth of the time that people thought I did, I could be a very happy person! Now that I no longer direct the operations of a museum and an archives, I get to focus my energy on researching and writing.
My first pictorial history focused on Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Georgia. During my first book signing at Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, I remembered another visitor who had walked the same ground. Jimmy Carter has spoken there several times, including giving a talk there on Labor Day, 1976, as his Presidential campaign entered the all-important fall season. With my new book, Jimmy Carter: Citizen of the South, I spent time at archives, especially the Jimmy Carter Library as I made extensive use of photographs, oral histories, and other archival records. Spending time researching and writing has had many rewards.
Researching a fairly-recent President meant that there were many resources available and some, but certainly not all, resources were digitized. My book focuses primarily on Carter’s post-presidency but one has to understand that his hometown of Plains, his Georgia governorship and his presidency of the United States from 1977-1981 to fully appreciate the many activities of this man. The photos, oral histories, newspaper and magazine articles used in my book help tell the Carter story.
Being a researcher at an archives instead of being a staff member is always interesting. Archives have varying rules and processes plus each place makes materials accessible in different ways. Try to share rules of an archives on your website so researchers can review them in advance. When I arrive at an archives, I am happy to look over the rules but I tend to be distracted by the research I am about to do so seeing the rules in advance and onsite can be a plus.
Another issue I face as a researcher is getting permission to publish a photo or a long quote. At the Troup County Archives, we always tried to respond as quickly as possible to such requests and I appreciate the many archivists who do the same, even during Covid days where staff may be working remotely. Answering questions from researchers and sharing information about using quotes or photos in a timely manner makes things much easier for authors. Researchers realize there may be legal issues but, whenever possible, try not to take six or ten weeks just to give a legalese answer!
One plus in having a former archivist or an archivist who is writing a book in their spare time is that these people appreciate the hard work involved in getting your collections ready for researchers! Authors/archivist get excited about a slightly blurry photo that helps prove one of their points. Assuming finding aids are readily available online, former archivists likely read those finding aids before their visits and use them to direct their research. Finally, those same researchers can sometimes help identify unidentified or incorrectly identified photos and documents, as long as they know you want the corrections and researchers can offer proof for their identifications. Generally having archivists as researchers is a win/win for all!
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Layers of adaptations
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
Work and personal boundaries as distinction of space collapses
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.
On February 22, 2021 Katherine Barbera, Archivist & Oral Historian at Carnegie Mellon University and member of the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA), talked with Clint Pumphrey and Chase Anderson about their remarkable work on the Outdoor Recreation Archive. The Archive is a unique collaboration between Utah State University’s Special Collections and its Outdoor Product Design & Development program and boasts over 2,000 items from 200 outdoor companies, from REI to Patagonia.
In the video interview, Pumphrey and Anderson discuss their special collaboration, their challenges in establishing this new collecting initiative, and their popular Instagram channel with over 7,000 followers where they share outdoor catalog covers from 1904 to today. Pumphrey and Anderson offer insight into how they “caught lightning in a bottle” in creating a home for the history of the outdoor industry.
Clint Pumphrey is Manuscript Curator of Special Collections and Archives at Utah State University and Project Curator for the Outdoor Recreation Archive. Previously, he was employed as the National Register Historian for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. Clint holds a master’s degree in history from USU and received his Digital Archives Specialist certificate in 2014. He lives with his family in an 1893 farmhouse, which serves as a base camp for hikes, snowshoe treks, and trail runs with his dog, Duke.
Chase Anderson is Program Coordinator for the Outdoor Product Design & Development at Utah State University where he helps lead the program’s industry outreach and marketing efforts. He’s passionate about helping connect students with great opportunities in the industry. He’s also spent a number of years in industry working for leading fitness / outdoor brands including ICON Fitness and Cotopaxi. Chase enjoys exploring Logan Canyon, biking Cache Valley’s farm roads, and fly fishing local streams.
Barbera [00:00:07] My name is Katherine Barbera. I’m here talking with Clint Pumphrey, am I pronouncing that correctly, Clint?
Pumphrey [00:00:15] Yes
Barbera [00:00:16] And Chase Anderson to talk about the Outdoor Recreation Archive at Utah State University.
Barbera [00:00:27] And we’re going to go through a couple of questions so they can tell you all about this amazing new project.
Barbera [00:00:34] So I’ll start off with something pretty easy. And perhaps this is best answered by Clint. But why archives? Why did you become an archivist?
Pumphrey [00:00:48] Well, I’ve been involved in cultural heritage for all of my career.
Pumphrey [00:00:53] I started out actually in historic preservation and had done archives, had worked in archives job as a graduate student and really wanted to be in the university and working with the materials that I had grown to love as a graduate student. And I think the longer I’ve worked in the career, the more I started to realize or better understand that question. And you know why I became an archivist and I think, you know, like I said, I’ve been in the field for for my whole career. I have a personal appreciation for cultural heritage and believe that it’s very important to preserve our cultural heritage, in order to preserve our identity and understand who we are. But that’s always a difficult argument to make for those who maybe don’t share that same experience. And so for me, what it really comes down to in a general sense why archives, is that I think that archives inspire. When you have a student come in and they see a book or a manuscript or a photo that they can connect to in some way, and they just think it’s just an amazing experience. I think that’s what makes archives impactful. And that’s how you can help other people understand why archives are impeccable. There are many other reasons, but I think that one is the most easily understood.
Barbera [00:02:34] I love that archives inspire, in my experience that’s definitely true.
Barbera [00:02:40] So tell me about the Outdoor Recreation Archive. Tell me the story of that project.
Pumphrey [00:02:48] Well, in 2018, Sean Michael, who was the head of the Outdoor Product Design and Development Program that chases involved in, approached us about building some collections that would support their program, which is basically Chase can give you some more information about it, but basically designing and developing outdoor clothing and gear. And so there were there historical materials we could get, we could collect that would help provide inspiration for some of those designs and that would support they also do a history of outdoor recreation class in that program. So is there anything that could be used in the classroom to show the history of outdoor products? And so he connected me with Chase and who does some of the marketing for the program. And we he immediately probed his connections and found a group of collectors who had amassed a collection of about twelve hundred outdoor product catalogs, and they were happened to be looking for a place for it. And so we were able to bring that in and digitize the covers then and to give us something visual that we could send out to promote the archive. And we’ve just kind of proceeded from there. So that’s basically how I got started.
Barbera [00:04:37] Is there anything you want to add from the marketing perspective, Chase?
Anderson [00:04:41] Yeah, so in my role working for outdoor product design and development, I’m kind of on the industry outreach and marketing side of things. So I’m constantly having conversations with outdoor brands.
Anderson [00:04:57] Primarily, I’m trying to help students find full time employment with these companies, as well as integrate more of these companies into the classroom and get getting their involvement in the teaching when it comes to teaching our program, teaching our students. And so this whole project, when I got pulled into it, was was really exciting. The prospect of bringing involving brands in the program in this way was was really exciting. And so I couldn’t wait to get involved. And as Clinton knows, I’m very enthusiastic about the project as well, even though I’m not a trained historian or archivist by any means. I it’s been fun to be a part of the process and be a part of this work. So it’s been fun to see it all come together. And in a lot of ways, it’s it’s really helped enhance the work that I do of building industry relationships to be able to share that we have this collection that’s growing collection and we’re giving back to the industry in that way. It’s opened up a lot of doors and helped me in the work that I’m doing. So it’s it’s been great to be a part of.
Barbera [00:06:08] So what is the current size of the collection? Clint, I think you mentioned twelve hundred outdoor products catalogs. Is that still the case? How large is it?
Pumphrey [00:06:19] Well, we started with the twelve hundred catalogs, but and those came in 2019, and we’ve been continuously receiving new donations and making purchases to build that catalog collection. So we’re actually up to about twenty seven hundred catalogs at this point, representing over four hundred outdoor gear companies. We also have we also are starting to build a collection of outdoor recreation and outdoor gear related magazines, some of them fairly rare, some of them a little more common and widely consumed. But that collection is I’m not exactly sure of the number, but it’s probably around five or six thousand at this point. We wanted to bring in the magazines because we really felt like even some of the more popular ones are maybe first on the chopping block and a lot of public libraries when they’re starting to address their space issues. And so we wanted to make sure that those materials did have a home. And given that we’re collecting on the theme, it made sense that we take that on. We’re also we’ve also been moving beyond the catalogs and magazines. We’ve got about five or six manuscript collections at this point. They it’s not a huge amount of stuff at this point. Probably totals about 30 or so linear feet altogether. But and also a couple of photograph collections as well. And so we’re starting to move from that catalog, the initial catalog and magazine kind of focus into more of the primary source materials and manuscripts and photographs.
Barbera [00:08:15] So interesting, it sounds like it’s it’s growing quite a bit. What were some of the challenges and opportunities you both have faced in establishing this program?
Pumphrey [00:08:30] I can kick this one off Chase, too, and feel free to jump in and add anything you want.
Pumphrey [00:08:37] I think probably the challenges getting started with the archive. I think a big one was just tracking down the materials know, talking about catalogs. Catalogs are ephemeral. And so, you know, a lot of I mean, everyone knows what it’s like when they get a catalog in the mail, they might flip through it. But ultimately, it’s going to go into recycling pretty quickly. And so the amount of these materials that have survived over the last several decades is very few. And so we were lucky to be connected with that initial donor who had collected those over the years. So I think that’s one challenge. The other challenge with tracking down materials is that a lot of the the potential donors to this collection, the people who started a lot of these early outdoor product companies, they sold those companies.
Pumphrey [00:09:34] And so over the years, those the records that they may have created have gotten dispersed among the various founders or they’ve gotten transferred to the companies. And understandably, the companies want to maintain a lot of those materials in-house. And so, you know, we’ve tracked down a lot of really influential and significant people in the industry. And some of them just don’t have anything. I mean, they’ve gotten rid of it or passed it along. And so so that’s been a challenge, I think challenge that an archivist is going to face starting any new collection is convincing people that, you know, their university is where their treasured material should be, especially early on. We didn’t have a whole lot to show. We just kind of had this idea of creating an archive around outdoor gear and recreation. And so we’re and we’re talking to people from all over the country. And so that question of why should those materials come to Utah State University? And we had to do some convincing a couple of times. I had to call. Chase, said, can you call this person and make sure because they’re not quite sure who we are and what we’re up to, and then you just kind of reassure them that, you know, the materials are going to have a good home. So there’s been some of that. In terms of opportunities, I think I would just say that, you know, one of the things that made it easier for us to start has been Chase’s program, outdoor product design and development. I mean, when you can tell a donor that their materials are going to be used by the next generation of outdoor gear designers, I mean, that’s a pretty powerful thing to tell them.
Pumphrey [00:11:29] And then the last thing I’d mention about opportunities is just that. I think the timing is really good for this collection. This archive, a lot of the people who started a lot of these kind of the modern outdoor recreation companies that started in the 60s and 70s, they’re starting to think about what they’re going to do with their materials and, you know, a lot of them are in their 70s at this point. And so it’s also just really good timing to to talk to people and kind of see what kinds of materials they might be willing to donate to the archive. So that’s sort of how I see the the challenges and the opportunities at this point.
Anderson [00:12:15] Yeah, I would echo everything that you said Clint and in terms of challenges, I know that we’re still kind of facing this a little bit is really defining the scope of the collection. And that’s that’s a something that I think you probably wrestle with more than I do. I’m kind of out there talking to everybody and excited whenever and whenever anyone wants to send us something. And I think Clint, I mean, you’ve always been good about trying to make sure that we define what is it that we’re collecting around because we could open up this kind of a collection, outdoor being such a broad term, and we could quickly be overwhelmed and Clint’s team could be overwhelmed and probably are already a little overwhelmed with the amount of materials that have been coming in.
Anderson [00:12:58] But I think that that scope has been a little bit of a challenge. But I think we’ve we’ve kind of really figured out what our lane is and what we want to collect around what areas, what activities.
Anderson [00:13:08] And then the opportunities. I mean, like Clint said, I just think the opportunity is to not only continue to to gather more of these materials, but now put them into use and make them available is kind of the exciting part. And where I feel like I’ve been able to contribute and play a small role in this is now how do we integrate this material into the classroom more or engage some of our industry partners to when in a non covid situation, come to campus and use those materials to inspire future designs. I mean, we’ve had a number of companies who have approached us even during this the last year asking for details about, you know, the early days of their own company that they don’t have a record of. And so I think there’s a lot of opportunity here in the future to just not only preserve the material, but make it more widely available for companies, individuals, researchers, students to access.
Barbera [00:14:16] I’d like to talk a little bit about your cross departmental, cross disciplinary collaboration, and that’s one of the most fascinating parts about the two of you working on this archive together. Can you talk a little bit about how that came about and what it’s like?
Pumphrey [00:14:35] So when Chase and I first got introduced, the first thing I did was I brought him into the archive and our our department generally, and I showed him the stacks. I showed him collection material. I showed him the way that we described things. And I showed him our office space and, you know, work that was in progress. And just really to give him a good sense of how our operation worked so that he could have a better idea of what we’re about and what we can do and what we can’t do. And so I think that was a really good way to start, was just to give him that that tour and give him that exposure to to the department. But since then, I mean, I think one of the strengths of our collaboration is our communication. You know, I think Chase and I are both very passionate about the collection, which is obviously a huge help that we’re much more willing to work together and create great things when you’re when you both share the passion. But just kind of give you an example. We were just texting last night about a collection that I had was going was bringing in and sending in photos of some of the items and kind of telling him how I got into this that that collection. And so, you know, it’s a fruitful collaboration and it’s a close collaboration. And I think that, you know, that shows from the way that we’ve been able to get the word out about the archive and the great collections that we’ve been able to build.
Anderson [00:16:29] You stole my story, I was going to share that as an example of how how well this has worked. I mean, the fact that we’re having these conversations and we’re both excited about, you know, identifying a new collection or bringing something in or finding a new lead. I love getting those texts. Those are exciting for me to see. And I think what has made this interesting is and I think I would hope, you know, maybe opens the door for other departments to do the same or other programs is we’ve found a way to make the archive, I guess, valuable to our program or we’ve just found ways for it to enhance what we’re doing as a program. And so it makes sense for me as I’m doing industry outreach anyways, to have this one more thing in my back pocket that I can present to a brand and say, you know, here’s the list of opportunities for you to be involved in our program from speaking in the classroom to hiring our students to doing sponsor projects. But on top of that, we have this Outdoor Recreation Archive that we would love to involve you in. And for most companies that I talk to, they really perk up when they hear about this project. And in a lot of cases, they’re more than willing to help support us, either sending materials or they want their designers to access the collection in some way. So I think our collaboration works really well because it’s not on all on Clint to do everything. I mean, Clint is doing so much of the finding, but I can also be there to tap the resources that I have, the connections that I have, and we can bounce those ideas off of each other and work together in tandem. But I think overall, the fact that our program really values what archives is doing makes makes a big difference and that I can be a part of it. And and kudos to my department head who sees this as a part of my role. And this this wasn’t in my initial job description there that the archive wasn’t a thought when I when I when I was initially hired by the university in this capacity. And so I think it’s a credit to the university for being open to recognizing that, oh, this could fit within industry outreach and this is worthwhile. And an example of how this has been worthwhile. You know, the collecting for collecting sake is extremely valuable and worthwhile on its own. But, you know, because we’ve been able to do this and we’ll get into the art or the Instagram conversation, but by creating an Instagram account and promoting the collection, it’s made my role doing industry outreach so much easier. We’ve we’ve met with so many more brands in the last year or so through the archive than ever before. So there’s a lot of value in it for our program to to buy in and contribute and be a part of this.
Pumphrey [00:19:35] Yeah, and I’ll just echo what Chase said about sort of sharing the work. I mean, I think we we complement each other and our strengths, too, because, you know, I’m obviously I think a lot of the archivists who will hear this probably have that experience where you’re sort of involved in every aspect of the collection from the donor relations through the processing work and all the way into the outreach. And, you know, Chase’s strength in his position is marketing and outreach.
Pumphrey [00:20:12] And so, you know, while I can kind of help organize the information and make sure that we’re we’re staying on scope and kind of work that in, Chase is really good about finding new potential donors and then by marketing the materials that we’ve already brought in and that I’m organizing and digitizing and those things. And so I think that works really well. And I think that it can’t be understated how important it is that, you know, what Chase said about how the archives helped his program. I mean, that’s been the key to this whole thing. I mean, if it wasn’t helping his program, this whole collaboration wouldn’t really work.
Pumphrey [00:20:56] And so I think it’s kind of an interesting collaboration in that sense that, you know, maybe what started off as like an interesting collecting area to explore, maybe to have a few things that we can put in and that they can use in some of their classes and things has turned into a much bigger thing and a much more important thing, I think, both for us and special collections and Chase and his program.
Anderson [00:21:30] If we can go back to the challenges that the collection faces, just briefly, I’m sure one of the challenges that Clint has to face is my sometimes my overenthusiasm for the collection. He has to rein me in a little bit when it comes to reaching out to people, because I do get excited about reaching out to people. And part of that is to the credit of the collection. It’s like I’ve caught the bug for for archival work and again, not trained in any way, but I definitely bought into the value of of the work. And I’m sure I don’t know. I’m sure archivists feel this way. But like, I’ve got the high, like I get that high when you open up that box and you see some material in there that was hidden away and has a lot of interesting stories behind it. So I’ve definitely caught that and it’s been fun for me.
Pumphrey [00:22:22] So Chase would say that you’re inspired?
Anderson [00:22:24] I feel inspired. Archives do inspire.
Anderson [00:22:31] No, I feel fortunate to be a part of this work because, I mean, as an undergraduate, I you know, like many people, I changed my major three or four times, but my first was history. And so I’ve always had an interest in this. But to be able to blend to the work that I’m doing in a albeit small way, you know, that interest in history with my work and marketing has been been really interesting. So I feel fortunate that I can be a part of it.
Barbera [00:22:58] So you’ve touched a little bit on this already, but what advocacy really looks like for the Ourdoor Recreation Archive. Chase, you just mentioned that you caught the bug. How are you using that spirit to spread the news to other folks? What does advocacy look like for this project?
Anderson [00:23:24] You know, it takes a lot of different forms, and I don’t want to jump ahead of the question. You know, I’ve just kind of integrated advocacy for the collection into my day to day role. Part of it is the Instagram account, and we’ll touch on that more. But I mean, I’m daily interacting with the materials now. And part of that is I’ve just built it into my day to day role is that I am sharing the materials through university channels now through our marketing channels.
Anderson [00:23:55] And so part of that is I’ve just I’ve just found ways to integrate the collection into my day to day. And so it just is more natural for me to have those conversations and advocate for the collection. When I’m talking to a brand, it’s just top of mind for me. So those are a couple of ways that I found I find myself advocating for it. Is like, in the early days of the collection, it was like, OK, this is a cool thing that we’re working on and now it feels like this is part of my job description. And so I feel the responsibility to to keep up on it. It’s not a side project anymore. This is like a core part of what I’m working on.
Anderson [00:24:39] I don’t know if that answered your question, if I didn’t keep me on track.
Pumphrey [00:24:46] I think one of the things that has been new for me, advocating for this collection, I think a lot of times with the work that we do in archives, we spend a lot of time doing advocacy among our peers or maybe to people who are closely related to our work like historians. And I know that I presented about a lot of my work at archives conferences that I’ve published things about what I’ve been working on in history journals. So this has really forced me to move beyond some of the traditional ways that we advocate for our work into a more popular, I guess, venues and Chase I have been, I don’t know, seven or eight interviews with nationally or internationally circulating magazines or websites related to the outdoor industry or design or fashion and a lot of those different areas. And so. And again, a lot of those opportunities have come through the work that Chase has done with with Instagram and some other things, and, you know, it’s weird because it’s like it’s like once you get the ball rolling on that, then it just it just builds on itself because, you know, just to kind of give you a kind of an odd example of how know advocacy has become more advocacy. I had a visual artist from Brooklyn reach out to me and say, hey, I saw what you guys are doing. Like, it’s so cool. Is there any design work I could do for you pro bono that would help get the word out for the archive?
Pumphrey [00:26:44] And so I emailed Chase. I was like, do we need any outdoor recreation arcade swag? And so we talked about all of it. And I finally thought a great thing would be a sticker. Like whenever you order something from REI or I guess Back Country, you know, they send you the little goat sticker. A lot of these outdoor brands. I ordered some Lems shoes and they sent me a little Lems sticker. I was like, that’s a big thing in outdoor industry is to send stickers. So I was like we need a sticker. So this artist is going to design a sticker for us and we’re going to have that printed up to try to promote the collection. But, you know, I think there’s some other ways that we’re reaching out too that are coming up. I don’t know if you want to talk about the history summit that we’re maybe hopefully working on.
Anderson [00:27:41] Yeah, if I talk about it, then we have to do it. You know, then it’s on the record.
Pumphrey [00:27:46] Just in the planning stages, we don’t know exactly what it’s going to be yet.
Anderson [00:27:52] Yeah, no, I’m happy to talk about that. I think we’ve wanted to find new ways for people to interact with the collection. And so we kind of have this idea around.
Anderson [00:28:05] Well, I’ve I’ve been having I’ve been doing some of my own oral histories or just interviews as a part of our larger effort as a program. I’ll do interviews, podcast interviews with people who are currently in the outdoor industry. We’ll record presentations that our guest speakers who visit our classes virtually, we realized, oh, if we have Under Armor here on campus, why aren’t we recording that presentation and then using that as content and pushing that out to our audience?
Anderson [00:28:36] You know, as a part of that, I thought, well, I should be talking to some of these early people at some of these these companies and recording their stories as a way to not only tell their story, but, you know, talk to them a little bit more about the collection and, you know, gain their trust to have a conversation with them about their life and their contributions to the industry. And so we’ve done some oral history work as well, talking with some of these key early gear pioneers. But I’ve also had some conversations with corporate archivists at some of the big outdoor brands. And those have been really interesting conversations, too, just to talk about why it’s important for some of these these companies to preserve their own history, not all of them are going to send their material to us, but we want to help them do better archival work at their company, too. So out of that initiative, we started to have this idea of what if we brought some of these corporate archivists from some of these key outdoor brands together and put together some kind of virtual summit where we can talk about the benefits of doing this in the outdoor industry and why it’s important that we take care of our history.
Anderson [00:29:50] And so we’re again, we’re in the beginning stages of kind of figuring out what something like that looks like. But we see our collection as being more than the collection as it is now, but an opportunity to bring together a community of people who who are also interested in these ideas and this material and the history of this industry. So that’s more information about that will be coming. But we’re excited about the prospect of of bringing together a community of people in that way.
Pumphrey [00:30:21] We were also scheduled to do a panel at outdoor retailer, which is the big gathering of all the outdoor brands in Denver. They have a summer and a winter one, but because of the pandemic that was canceled. And so we’re hoping to do that in the future, too, in addition to sort of being like a, you know, a lot of like, you know, business sales and negotiations and stuff going on. There’s also panels and panel discussions about various topics in the outdoor industry. And so we hope to do one of those in the future.
Barbera [00:31:00] It sounds like you’re taking advantage of many different opportunities to engage the community in the archive, including incorporating parts of outdoor culture, the stickers into your promotion of the archive itself. It all sounds really wonderful and fascinating. A couple of times you’ve talked about the Instagram channel, which I myself looked through and went down a bit of a rabbit hole exploring the different covers from old periodicals and magazines. But I’m hoping you can share a little more information about about Instagram.
Anderson [00:31:38] Sure. So the Instagram, we started that in I believe it was 2019. I’m not sure when I’d have to go back and look at the date, but started that and I think late 2019. And part of that was motivated by kind of an amateur. I don’t know, I feel bad calling him an amateur archivist. He’s done so much work but he’s not formally trained. He’s a photographer based out of New York, Brian Kelly, and he had personally taken it upon himself to gather the some of the early materials of the New York Transit Authority. He started collecting ticket stubs and he would take pictures of these ticket stubs and he created an Instagram account where he would share some of this material that he found relating to the New York Transit Authority. And then eventually he started having people sending him materials, old uniforms from employees and patches and all sorts of material. And so he’s got thousands of items now. And he would just he documented them all in this format. Nice, clean, white background, top down, you know, shooting these items. And I think he ended up I don’t know if he ended up making a book for that, but that that ended up turning into another initiative where he started collecting national parks brochures. And so along the same lines, he would collect national parks brochures and photograph them and kind of the same format and then would share them on Instagram. And I discovered both of those accounts and just fell in love with the format. And just really his initiative and his collections have gained a lot of traction and a lot of interest. And he has since published a book for the parks brochures that people have been very interested in, had some good success there. But I, I just recognize that, you know, Clint and his team, the student workers are scanning these these catalog covers for the digital exhibits that we have on the website already. It’s if the material is already there, it’s easy enough to create an Instagram account to share this material more widely. And a lot of that was motivated by this idea of there’s so many people who use Instagram to explore, to get design inspiration. A lot of designers use it as their personal mood boards. And and so I just I really saw this combination of factors and thought people would love this, like people would love to see this material. And Instagram is the perfect way of bringing this material out from behind this barrier that can be the university and put the material out in front of people where they are already consuming content. And so that’s where that’s where the Instagram really started. And and when Clint you know, when we had these twenty seven hundred catalogs plus the thousands of magazines, like, I just thought I could post every day for years and still have enough content. And so I just, I just started posting every morning a catalog every day and it has just slowly well not so slowly recently, but it slowly grew from there and through the help of people who have larger accounts, who have shared our work. It’s grown especially in the last few months. To give you an example, we have an example of the types of people who are who are accessing the collection or find it interesting. But we had an article written about the collection from HypeBeast. So it’s a well-known publication kind of in the the street wear fashion space, they interviewed Clint and myself and that story was published. And then they they posted on their Instagram account and linked to our account. And since that. Since that story was posted, we went from about two thousand followers to close to seven thousand, and that’s over the course of maybe maybe five months, maybe four months, we’ve just seen some pretty exponential growth. And it’s people from the fashion space, from architecture, from graphic design, from the outdoor industry. That’s probably the smallest segment at this point, people who are following the collection. But but I think that we’re also just seeing that Outdoor is really having a moment right now. And by putting it on Instagram, we’re reaching people who are really interested in this material who otherwise wouldn’t know where to find it if it wasn’t just presented before them in their feeds that they’re on every day.
Pumphrey [00:36:45] Yeah, the Instagram has to say that the outdoor catalog and magazine Instagram has like I don’t know, six times as many followers as the the library’s Instagram. So I think a lot of times, you know, I think archivists are pretty good about pushing out some of the things that they’re working on through their own archives or the library, social media channels. But, you know, if you’ve got a cool collection, you can give it its own social media presence. And it could take off way more than if you just tried to work on it through through your own existing channels. So that’s been really cool to see that that grow.
Anderson [00:37:31] And we couldn’t get to where we are in terms of the the the size that the following has as gotten to without the help of some of these other accounts. We have our own advocates and ambassadors it feels like people who just love the archive. There seems to be kind of a movement on Instagram towards like sharing an esthetic or sharing certain graphic design. There’s there’s a lot of focus on, I don’t know, the correct term for it. But there’s there’s some accounts out there that are just curation accounts. And one is is called organic lab dot zip. And they’re one of the biggest when it comes to outdoor culture and outdoor design. And daily, they’ll post vintage outdoor materials. And they really latched on to our account and have been really supportive of us and and share our material. And they’ve got hundreds of thousands of followers versus our six thousand. But it’s people like that who recognize the value of what we’re doing. And that really helped take us to another level. So we’ve we’ve been fortunate to have advocates and been fortunate to find these communities that we’ve tapped into, which is, I think, an opportunity for other collections that want to get in and try new media as a way to connect with a community is there’s communities that you can tap into that will likely respond really well to this material. We’ve just found ourselves tapping into existing communities and those communities have been really good to support us. So I think there’s a there’s an opportunity for four other collections to do that as well. I think we’re just fortunate that our material is so visual. It just makes sense for Instagram. Not every archive is so visual, but I think we’re just fortunate that those catalog covers, many of them are iconic, they’re beautiful, they’re striking. And people on Instagram want to see that right now. And the tool is, is it’s perfect for the content that we’re sharing.
Barbera [00:39:44] It sounds like you’ve developed this cycle of advocacy, building more advocacy and building more advocacy. What other lessons have you learned from working on the Outdoor Recreation Archive? And do you have any strategies or approaches that you would recommend for other archivists or other teams of collaborators who are working on collections?
Anderson [00:40:09] I I’ve got one and it kind of relates back to the Instagram account. But I think the more that we’ve given away, the more good things come back.
Anderson [00:40:20] I think the the Instagram account is kind of the embodiment of that. It’s like we are giving something of value to the industry and the industry recognizes that. And through that, like you said, that cycle of advocacy is in full effect. And I think it’s because we obviously we want to grow the collection. And that’s part of the motivation of building the Instagram account and trying to build a following. But I don’t think we explicitly come out there and say that. And I think the original intention is we just want people to experience and access this and appreciate it like we do. And that has led to more opportunities for donations. It’s helped us connect with other people who want to be who want to contribute to the collection. And so I think the more that you can give away something to a community that really values it, that advocacy will come. And I’ve seen that through the Instagram, for sure.
Pumphrey [00:41:22] I also want to add, and I know we’ve talked about this already, but the partnership that we’ve developed is just so important. I think archivists I think we know that any good collection relies on building relationships with donors. And if you’re collecting across, you know, a theme of some kind, building many relationships with donors, and those relationships can take years and years to build. What I found in Chase is someone who’s already built a lot of those relationships. And so it gives you a head start on the collecting that you want to do. And so I think if you recognize an opportunity to collect for your department, look for people who already have the relationships that you would need to build a successful collection. That’s just been so important for what we’ve done here.
Barbera [00:42:29] This relationship sounds key to the success of this program. As you’re establishing additional collections and continuing to build the reputation of Outdoor Recreation Archive. What are the remaining challenges that you’re facing?
Anderson [00:42:54] Clint, I don’t want to speak for you, but I feel like just bandwidth, right? Like that’s you probably just need more people. You have so much that you’re doing in terms of scanning and cataloging and doing all of that work that I never touch. And sometimes I can get caught up in the collecting and advertising the service that I forget, oh, someone’s actually got to record all of this and store it and go through that process. So I know you’ve kind of got a backlog right now of materials, and that’s a great problem to have. And so I think one of the challenges is just keeping up. I would I would think. But I don’t want to speak for you.
Pumphrey [00:43:38] Yeah, I think that we’ve been able to keep up pretty well with the processing, creating the finding aids, we’re a little bit behind on the digitization. I just hired one of the students in Chase’s program to do some of the scanning for us. So hopefully we’re going to catch up there pretty soon. But I mean, I feel like and obviously this is only part of my job. I have you know, part of my job, too, is the document, the history and culture of northern Utah and southern Idaho. And so so it’s not the only project. But, you know, in order for us to show the work that we’re doing and be able to show that work to potential donors, we’ve got to have those finding aids created. We’ve got to have that digitization done. And so have we worked really hard to prioritize that and make sure that it is out in front of a lot of the work that I’m doing. Certainly, it’s a challenge. I mean, all archivists have backlogs and we know that prioritization can sometimes be a challenge. But I was talking about this the other day with my wife, actually. I said, you know, I think in some ways we’ve caught lightning in a bottle and we just need to ride this thing as far as we can, as you know, and just put everything that we have toward it. She also works in the library. So she’s always she’s involved in some of the things that we that we do to. And so that has been a challenge, I think, in terms of moving forward with the collection especially we started, I think that people mainly I mean, since our catalogs were so out front, so out in the front with the Instagram and with the digital exhibit that we have, I think a lot of people saw it as a catalog collection. And what we’ve been trying to do since that, since then, since we started, is to kind of move use the catalogs to move past and move into other materials. That’s one challenge I see is like moving out into the the other materials, the photographs and sketchbooks and different records from these designers and businesses. And we’ve had some success in that. And so I’ve been able to get those finding aids online and we’ve been able to send those findings to other donors to show them what we’re hoping to do.
[00:46:24] And so that’s that has helped a lot. And I think with any project I’ve been involved in collecting projects before where, you know, you start out really, you know, really going gangbusters. And then it just you hit you hit a stumbling block or a hurdle and things just kind of fizzle out. And so I think just keeping that momentum going is so is also going to be really important. And so, Chase and I have got a lot of leads right now, so I don’t see that happening any time soon. But just continuing to reach out, build those relationships and follow any leads when they come.
Anderson [00:47:07] Yeah, I’d agree with that, especially the last part there just juggling the amount of leads, I think that we have and I think I think that’s good. That’s a great problem to have. But just managing those relationships is not a challenge, persay. But we have a lot of potential collections that we have our our eyes on. And so just keeping up with those and and continuing to reach out and make ourselves available and build those relationships and build trust is always, that’s a constant that we’re working on.
Pumphrey [00:47:44] And I say, you know, better to have too many leads and too few, so, you know, we don’t want to say let’s just pull back a little bit because, you know, we’ve got enough work for now. Like, I think we just have to keep chasing it and trying to bring in those collections. And if we do truly get overwhelmed, which I don’t feel like we are now, then we may have to revisit. But, you know, one thing that actually I was thinking about when Chase was talking about like. Actually, it kind of goes way back to that question of like, how did my own Chase’s relationship start? And I talked about bringing him in the archives. We’ve also had him scan stuff. So he knows about how particular cultural heritage institutions are about the standards at which we scan things, the way that we name our files, the way that we create JPEGs and TIFFs and PDFs and like all these different kinds of copies. And so when he gets questions about, well, why aren’t all of your catalogs digitized and online? He’s like, oh, let me tell you. You know, we’ve got so many and it’s such an involved process that we’re just not there yet. So it just kind of reminded me we were talking about, like scanning and do we have the bandwidth to keep up with everything? And he knows what it’s like.
Anderson [00:49:08] So I definitely do. Yeah. I spent a little bit of time doing that and can definitely appreciate the work that you and the student workers do every day.
Anderson [00:49:19] I think to that point, that’s one of the challenges that I think we’re still figuring out, like the collection. But I don’t think we by any means, like figured it out. I think we have good things going for us. And but that is the most common question that we get as well. Why can’t I just look at every catalog, the entire collection, and then we have to walk them through that, the process and how time intensive it is to to make even the covers available. So I think continuing to find ways to provide access to the collection is something that Clint and I are always talking about. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to scan everything, but I think we’re always trying to find new ways to just make the collection more available for people, because the more it’s available, the more people get value out of it. And I guess, again, that advocacy work comes comes from that, people accessing it and getting value out of it and then telling their friends about it. So I think that’s that’s definitely something that we’re looking at more and more in the future.
Barbera [00:50:28] So wrapping up here, in addition to building momentum, seeing your backlog as a good problem to have, which for an archivist isn’t necessarily how we would always characterize it so I loved that phrase. But in addition to all of these strategies that you have in place that we’ve already talked about, do you have any advice for other archivists or teams who are starting out with a new collecting initiative at their organization?
Pumphrey [00:51:08] You know, I think looking at your university and thinking about what do you what does your school have or your institution have that is unique, where you could start collecting in a way that no one else has collected. Chase’s Outdoor Product Design and development program is the first of its kind in the nation and I believe one of two that currently exists in the country. And so, that program has allowed me to justify the collecting that we’re doing in outdoor gear and outdoor recreation, and obviously we talked at length about the partnership and how that’s made that collecting successful. And so, you know, there may be it may be that at whatever institution that you’re a part of or the other archivists are working, that there’s some similar kind of program that you could approach and try to build some sort of connection with to build some sort of collection that reaches a little bit beyond what you have normally considered your collecting areas.
Anderson [00:52:41] I guess for I don’t know if I get I’m not on the archive side, but I would say for anyone who might be listening, who is on the program side, look outside of your program. I think it’s easy to be heads down and just be focused on what you’re doing and just working within the four walls of your department or college that you don’t look outside. And so I think and that’s a credit to Sean Michael, who kind of kicked off this relationship between our program and special collections with Clint, is that willingness to engage across, you know, across departments, across colleges. And so I think a lot of that is on the programs and departments to extend that hand or at least reach out, get to know what resources exist on campus and be willing to work across colleges and departments. So I think some of that rests on us as well to be open to those relationships.
Pumphrey [00:53:46] And I think I would add one other thing to for any head of special collections or supervisors that are out there. You know, I know that there are certain restrictions that you have maybe budgetary maybe they’re collecting scope but I think one of the reasons that I’ve been able to be successful in this project is because my supervisor has strongly encouraged it. She I guess she has allowed me to pursue a passion that I have. And obviously, if you’re passionate about something, you’re going to do a great job at it. And the reason I bring this up is I actually just recently had my annual review, which is not something you normally talk about in these public settings. But, you know, I was talking with my supervisor about this project and she said, you know, the reason I think this project is great and it is going to give us the opportunity to get our name out in a way that we haven’t in the past. But she’s like, I also really like it because it makes you happy. I can tell it makes you happy. And I think that sometimes the supervisors that are out there just, you know, sometimes letting your curators or your archivist pursue their passions, I think can result in some really great work. And I really appreciate that here.
Barbera [00:55:21] Incredible. Well, thank you for sharing your time with me today. It’s been really interesting learning more about this initiative and how archives can be tools to inspire. So is there anything else you want to mention about the archive before we wrap up? Perhaps how people can learn more if they want to engage with the program or learn more about the collections?
Anderson [00:55:49] Yeah, I would say the best way to connect with the archive on Instagram is the outdoor rec archive on Instagram. And then if you want to learn about our program, it’s opdd dot usu dot edu to learn about the four year degree. And Clint has information more about on the collection, on the digital exhibits.
Pumphrey [00:56:16] Yeah, so in addition to the Instagram and Chase has helpfully linked to all of the other resources we have in the archive, but we’ve built a digital exhibit in our Omeka platform that has the catalog covers and starting to have more of the magazine covers that we’re collecting. We also have all of our finding aids in a consortium called Archives West. And we’ve also built a LibGuide which has up to the minute inventory of the catalog collection. So that and sort of helps give some explainers about how to use that. We’re working right now on a another LibGuide that’s going to sort of bring all these pieces together in one place. But like Chase said, the Instagram has all those links that can help send you to the resources that I just talked about. So that’s really a great place to start.
Barbera [00:57:26] OK, great. Thank you so much, I, for one, will keep an eye on the Instagram account for sure. Absolutely fascinating. And I recommend everybody check it out and good luck on this very, very cool program.
Pumphrey [00:57:42] Thank you. Good to talk to you.
Anderson [00:57:46] Thank you for the opportunity.
On January 19, 2021 the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachael Woody sat down (virtually) with Elizabeth Stauber of the Hogg Foundation Archives, a recent recipient of the Advocacy Award from the Texas Historical Records Advisory Board.
Elizabeth Stauber stewards the Hogg Foundation’s educational mission to document, archive and share the foundation’s history, which has become an important part of the histories of mental and public health in Texas, and the evolution of mental health discourse nationally and globally. Elizabeth provides access to the Hogg Foundation’s research, programs, and operations through the publicly accessible archive. Learn more about how to access the records here.
The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health was awarded the inaugural Advocacy for Archives award by the Texas Historical Records Advisory Board (THRAB). THRAB established the Advocacy for Archives Award to recognize significant contributions made by individuals or organizations toward ensuring the preservation and availability of Texas’s historical records. The Hogg Foundation accepted the award at THRAB’s meeting on October 23, 2020.
RCW: Describe the Hogg Foundation Archives when you started. What was the size? What were the challenges and opportunities?
ES: The Hogg Foundation began work on creating an archive in 2012. Our Executive Director, Dr. Octavio Martinez, enlisted the help from graduate students at the University of Texas’ School of Information to begin devising a program. In 2016, during the foundation’s 75th anniversary celebration, Dr. Martinez hired me as the first full-time archivist.
The graduate students had begun to develop a records management program through staff education and the creation of a robust records inventory, and they had identified many important historical documents and artifacts and begun preserving and digitizing them.
However, the archives did not have a physical space with stacks and shelves, or defined policies and mechanisms for providing access to staff and the public.
RCW: You’ve built an incredible program in your first few years. What strategies can you share with us so that others may replicate your growth?
ES: In the beginning I identified 5 key areas that needed tackling:
1. Strengthening our records management process to ensure important records find their way into the archive;
2. Processing the records that had been stored in cabinets and the basement for decades;
3. Devising a digital preservation strategy;
4. Developing information management policies that promote transparency; and
5. Encouraging the use our archive.
Achieving all of these things felt very daunting to me as a lone arranger, so I adopted an iterative process that allowed me to work on each area a little at a time. I could have easily spent the first 2 years solely processing paper records, but then I would still have to contend with the records being created today, and it would have stilted the promotion and use of this information. I needed to build a structure to house all the information, but I also needed some information to enforce the structure.
I started with small goals that impacted each identified priority area and expanded them over time. This work is long-term, so you must be patient and kind with yourself, even if you are a perfectionist. There are always so many gaps in my work that glare at me furiously, but I know that with time I can continue to close them.
RCW: Your training and use of graduate interns has been cited as a major contributor to the Archives’ success and recognition. Please share with us why and how you use graduate interns.
ES: The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health is actually a part of the University of Texas at Austin, which has an excellent School of Information. The Hogg Foundation is a small organization with around 20 full-time staff and only 1 assigned to manage the archives. Being able to enlist the help of emerging professionals in the archives field gives us the flexibility to experiment and try things for which we would not normally have the capacity.
For example, our graduate interns have helped us develop and refine our digital preservation strategy, researched and implemented an online collections database, and provide user interface recommendations for improving our online collections database. And honestly, as a lone arranger it is incredibly helpful to be able to bounce ideas off another person. The archives program at the Hogg Foundation started with work from graduate students and I feel that it’s important to continue our connection with the school.
RCW: The Archives is representative of the Hogg Foundation and its work as a mental health organization. Please share with us what it’s like to work as an archivist in this type of institution. What challenges and opportunities are present?
ES: The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health exists to improve the mental health of Texans. We do this, primarily, by giving grants to help communities strengthen conditions that support mental health and eliminate conditions that harm mental health, especially for people who have been historically underserved or marginalized. The foundation’s archive provides historical context for understanding our past and current mental healthcare landscape. Identifying the health disparities and societal inequities of the past helps us to recognize and confront how our institutions handle care and recovery today.
Unfortunately, most of mental health history is documented by institutions that are not primarily concerned with preserving its history. The Hogg Foundation’s archival program continually seeks to change that through advocacy of the preservation of both philanthropic and mental health records across Texas and the United States.
We seek to be an example of a mental health and philanthropic organization that shares its history with the public as these are two sectors that do not have a strong history of transparency. Our archives consist primarily of grant records. We are not a direct service organization, so we do not have medical records or other highly sensitive data. Rather, we preserve the efforts of non-profits and individuals working to improve the mental health infrastructure, access, and awareness in their communities.
RCW: Specific to your advocacy work, what strategies has the Archives used? What have you found is the most successful and least successful, and why?
ES: Over the last few years, I have been connecting with information professionals in the philanthropic field as well as archivists interested in mental health history. Often, these are two different spaces, but the strategy of connecting with others across institutions to advocate for transparency and access to records is the same.
With my philanthropic colleagues, we planned a conference on the topic of foundation archives in 2019. This conference brought even more of us together to advocate for stronger records management structures in grants management systems – a common pain point we identified at the conference. In addition to the records management woes, the philanthropic sector generally does not have a strong external push to share its records with the wider public, so it has been important for us to learn together how to advocate for transparency in our organizations.
Recently, I have been able to connect with archivists locally who are interested in the preservation of mental health history. Some of us put together panel discussions on the topic of mental health and neurodiversity in the archives, which were unfortunately delayed due to the pandemic. But we have been able to successfully advocate for major preservation projects for state hospitals in Texas, including the hiring of a professional to oversee the implementation.
Sometimes this work can feel frustratingly slow because we are advocating for projects and ideas that are traditionally seen as a “luxury” – even when they are essential to the very infrastructure of the organization. While on paper my philanthropic colleagues and I have not been able to change much in our institutions yet, together we can be persistent and push forward.
Finally, my most effective internal strategy to cultivate interest from the Hogg Foundation’s staff is to present a history lesson derived from our archive 2-3 times a year. This involves research, reflection, and thoughts on how we can use these lessons to advance our current work, but it has been well worth the effort. Prior to the establishment of the Hogg Foundation’s archives, our knowledge of the foundation’s history was solely passed-down through long-tenured employees. But now many of our staff have a unique understanding of the history of our foundation and mental health in Texas, and can apply that context with care to the programs and communities in which we work today.
RCW: You were awarded the first of THRAB’s advocacy awards. Please tell us more about that process and what it means to you and the Hogg Foundation.
ES: Being a relatively new and niche archive, it is so rewarding to be recognized by THRAB. Everyone at the Hogg Foundation was so thrilled to find out about the award. The recognition has bolstered our advocacy efforts tremendously by giving legitimacy to mental health and philanthropic archives.
RCW: What are the remaining challenges you face?
ES: Because I have taken the approach of iterative improvement, my challenges have been fairly consistent over the years. However, I hope to publish our online collections database for the public by the end of this year. Currently, anyone may contact me for a reference interview to gain access to our records, but I am working toward a system that removes me as the gatekeeper to allow everyone to easily browse our holdings.
RCW: What advocacy advice would you like to share with us; especially those newer to the work?
ES: The most important thing I have learned is how to talk about archives to people who have never been to an archive before. You cannot rely on people being fascinated by archives for archives-sake. They want to know the functional purpose and benefit of information access. A challenge I often give myself is to not use the word archive or record when I am discussing my work with those outside the field.
RCW: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
ES: For those who wish to make use of the Hogg Foundation archives, research questions and appointments can be made by contacting the archivist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Archival Innovators: Rebecca Hankins on the Rich LGTBQ+ Collections Housed in Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A & M University.
This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society.
In this installment, Kristianna Chanda interviewed Rebecca Hankins. Rebecca L. Hankins, FSAA, is the Africana Resources Librarian/Curator at the Cushing Library, Texas A&M University, where her portfolio also includes women’s and gender studies. In this interview, Rebecca reveals the Cushing Library’s extensive LGBTQ+ holdings and her role in working with the LGBTQ+ community to help them preserve their heritage.
KC: Please describe your collection. What are some highlights/interesting features to your collection?
RH: I think the collection is much more diverse than many collections that deal with LGBTQ communities. They are often white collections documenting people most visible in the media and the press. I try to include individuals who are often in the background. Even in the background, they make such an impact on communities.
Our larger collections include the Don Kelly collection and the Judge Phyllis Frye papers. Phyllis Frye, a former Texas A&M student, is the first appointed judge in the city of Houston. She was appointed by the first openly gay mayor of Houston, Annise Parker. Her collection is so rich because one of the unique things I like about Phyllis is that she was always open, honest, and presented herself as “this is who I am.” She married right after graduating A & M, then served in the military as a man. She always felt something was not right. So when she came out as transgender her wife stayed with her and was her biggest cheerleader and supporter. Phyllis was unapologetic, she was in your face, and her collection is the most used of our holdings.
We also preserve the collection of Don Kelly, who still lives in Houston. I have been an archivist for over thirty years and have dealt with a wide range of people, both researchers and celebrities. Don is one of the top, number one kindest, most generous donors that you can ever meet. He was a civil servant for years in Galveston and always lived as a gay man. He collected his entire life and went into overdrive after he retired. He sent out a message to the archives listserv discussing how he would like to donate and sell part of his collection to a repository because it was just getting too large for him. I talked to my colleagues and director at the time and they thought acquiring his collection was a great idea.
I brought in a number of subject faculty in film studies, sociology, history, and other disciplines and told them we need to get this collection! At that time, it may have been 6,000 items. Now it is almost 30,000 items and he continues to add to it. It is one of our largest collections by a single donor.
The thing about the collection that is really great is that it started out with a majority white male focus. However, through discussing with Don the interests of researchers, he will seek and donate materials in those areas. So he’s built a huge collection that, through his efforts, continues to grow and evolve and become more and more inclusive.
Other collections include the papers of Arden Eversmeyer, who started the Old Lesbian Oral History Project that documents lesbians over the ages of 50 or 60; the papers of Professor Harriette Andreadis, who was head of the Women and Gender Studies program at A & M; and documents pertaining to a lawsuit demanding that Texas A&M provide services to LGBTQ students. Students involved in the case received death threats and were treated terribly but would not back down. I tell students that you must understand that sometimes, if you ask nicely they will say yes, but the majority of times they won’t. What are you willing to put on the line for what you believe in? If it is a just cause, you will see some changes.
KC: What inspired you to work with this collection?
RH I’ve been doing this ever since I started my career at the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans. The Amistad case itself was put before the Supreme Court by the American Missionary Association, which evolved into the United Church for Homeland Ministries. It always supported and advocated for minority communities, including LGBTQ+ communities. So when the Amistad Research Center was founded, documenting the LGBTQ+ community was one collecting focus. Part of my job at Amistad was to connect with the LGBTQ+ community and encourage them to save their materials. When I moved to the University Arizona, I continued that work, and did so again when I moved to the Cushing Library. I am definitely an advocate for community archives and for people archiving their own history to ensure it is preserved. That’s why I do it: it is important that we all have our history documented.
KC: When working with this collection, what worked? What didn’t work? Were you surprised by the outcome or any part of your experience?
RH: Because I am not a part of the community, it’s understandable that people might be suspicious. Have we been the best of allies? Have we been concerned? Is this a part of our history? I understand that it may take time for people to see me as an ally. I am willing to be patient and prove myself. That’s fine, I don’t have a problem with that. I understand being an archivist doing this work gives me a certain privilege. I have to acknowledge that and say “okay, I’m going to let you lead on this. I am going to let this be from your point of view. You tell me. We’ll see how that works.” I think that is important. It’s not my point of view that is important, mine is the least important.
You must be an ally, and you must understand that as an archivist, you are approaching this from a position of power, and you must be ready to remove your own power and pass it to the people you are trying to document.
KC: What would you do differently?
RH: I don’t think I would do things differently. I wish I had more money. Don Kelly has the most expertise when it comes to acquiring gay materials, so I give him part of my acquisitions budget to work with. I wish I could do that with all of my people.
KC: What tips do you have for archivists who want to promote inclusivity through their collections?
RH: Do it. If you want to do it, do it. Sometimes it is just about being brave. It shouldn’t be a matter about being brave. It should be about this is the right thing to do but sometimes in situations you just have to be brave enough to say this is where I am planting my flag.
I think more than anything, archivists need to be more forceful and brave in the work that we do. You won’t get accolades and you may get pushback but do the things that are important to you. I am going to do the work that I enjoy doing because I have to live with myself. So do it. Do what you think is the right thing. Most of the time it will work out and sometimes it won’t, but you will feel better about yourself.
KC: Did you get media attention? How did that happen?
RH: I understand the importance of publicity. I give presentations, I talk about my collections, I publish, and I try to get the message out any way I can. Last year something extraordinary happened when the Journal of African American History profiled my collections. I was like “Where did that come from?” The College of Liberal Arts did a profile on the Don Kelly collection, which was wonderful, and we also have a Don Kelly Fellowship. It’s about letting people know how amazing these collections are for research, learning, and education.
KC: Do you have collaborators? If so, how did you find them?
RH: Michael Jackson, an A&M cataloger, was my biggest collaborator. My good friend Dr. Miguel Juarez has written about our holdings. Dr. Francesca Marini is our outreach person and she and I have talked about the collection across the country. Francesca and I are partnering with the University of Houston on an LGBTQ exhibit.
KC: Did you have institutional, administrative, or financial support for your project? How did you go about securing that support?
RH: Yes we do. The College of Liberal Arts partners with us on the Don Kelly Fellowship. We have also started an endowment for the LGBTQ materials because we need to hire someone paid through this endowment to work with the collections.
KC: What’s next? Either for this project or a new development?
RH: We still have the Fellowship, but because of Covid we had to push it back. The 2020 Fellow will hopefully become the 2021 Fellow. Also, raising the funding for the endowment will be a priority.
KC: What barriers or challenges did you face?
RH: Most important is making people understand that I am an ally. I am here to let you take the lead.
This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this article, Mott Linn talks about his role leading one of the world’s larger scientific research archives.
Mott, thanks for talking with us. Please tell us a little about yourself.
ML: My BA is from the University of Delaware, I have master’s degrees in history (University of Wisconsin – Madison), librarianship (Drexel University), and nonprofit management (Clark University), and my doctorate in library management is from Simmons College. I am also a Certified Archivist.
My first archives job was with the Philadelphia Flyers and after that I created the NHL’s video library. I spent 10 years at Clark University in charge of their archives before 10 years leading the collection services half of their library. I am now the Chief Librarian of the National Security Research Center (NSRC) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
How did you get into archives?
ML: By replying to a blind ad in a newspaper (how times have changed!).
Today, the archival profession’s biggest problem is having too many archival education programs training far too many people to be archivists, who then have great difficulty finding jobs; this is our profession’s great tragedy. When I started my career, the opposite was true: there were very few education programs. The good news is that over those decades the quality of archivists has improved; back in the 1970s a major goal of SAA was to do just that. Because of that, SAA started offering workshops, began publishing manuals and books, established the standards process, and created the Academy of Certified Archivists.
So, it was not unusual back when I was first hired that I had no training to work in an archives. However, I did have considerable experience doing research in archives. Furthermore, I had played, refereed, and coached ice hockey, which meant I had the desired subject expertise for my first job.
How did you get your current job?
ML: A headhunter contacted me. They hired me because not many archivists also have the managerial experience that I have; for example, at the time I was overseeing a $2 million dollar budget. It also helped that I had overseen the collection of a famous scientist, Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry.
Tell us about your organization.
ML: LANL is a United States Department of Energy laboratory. It was created during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project to design the first nuclear weapons. Los Alamos is now one of the largest science and technology institutions in the world and conducts research in a wide array of scientific fields. It is located in the beautiful mountains of northern New Mexico, which is a wonderful location for outdoor activities.
Could you describe your collections?
ML: The NSRC collects scientific research materials related to the nation’s defense. I dare say that we have one of the largest archives in the US. For comparison, we have a larger collection than most, if not every one, of the presidential libraries.
We house both a large number and a wide array of materials. For example, we have over 3 million radiographs, almost a million aperture cards, and a half million engineering drawings.
Despite our size, the NSRC is only a couple of years old. Previously, the materials that make up our collection were either in records management or being held by the various LANL lab buildings. Since we are a new archives, we are still expanding our collections and have been growing our staff.
Although our collections are used for historical research, they are more heavily used by the lab’s scientists to further their research. For example, a scientist recently found the results of a series of experiments from years ago that their lab was planning to conduct. Because we found the previous results, we saved the lab millions of dollars since they did not have to conduct the experiments again. It is great to both save the US taxpayers money and find the data that our scientists want.
What are some of the challenges unique to your collections?
ML: Depending on where our acquisitions are coming from, they might have to be tested for hazardous materials. Another facility that had created an environmental disaster recently sent us hundreds of boxes. Those boxes were tested.
In addition, there is the red tape dealing with security and safety regulations. For example, because of national security reasons, every person on my staff and each of our customers need to have security clearance.
What is the favorite part of your job?
ML: I was hired to turn the NSRC into a properly functioning archives. Additionally, I really like recruiting new archivists to add to my team and helping my staff improve themselves with professional development activities.
What advice do you have for aspiring archivists?
ML: First, since too many people are being trained to be archivists, I would ask if they are up to doing the needed training with the possibility of not being able to find a job afterwards. As I said, there are too many archival education programs training too many archivists; that so many of them cannot find jobs is tragic.
Second, if they still want to be archivists, when earning your master’s degree, create a backup plan via your choice of classes. For example, somebody getting a library degree could also take a few cataloging and metadata classes, thereby creating the possibility of getting cataloging jobs.
Third, expect to continue to grow professionally after graduation because professionals are expected to keep up with improvements in their field. This is all the more true because of the stiff competition for archives jobs. You could earn a second master’s degree, go to conferences, and/or take some workshops in an area that you want or need to know more about.
The most important part of that is becoming a Certified Archivist. Most professions, such as doctors, lawyers, appraisers, records managers, and accountants, have a way of both certifying who is competent to practice that profession and a method of recertifying who continues to have that competence as that profession evolves. The Certified Archivist designation serves that purpose in the archives profession. So, prove your competence to yourself and others, including employers, by becoming a Certified Archivist.
On December 16, 2020 Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachael Woody sat down (virtually) with Deborah S. Davis to interview Davis on her remarkable success in building an Archives & Special Collections program at Valdosta State University. Davis is a Full Professor and the Director of the Archives & Special Collections at Valdosta, a program she’s been building since 1998. During Davis’ tenure, she has turned a closet (literally) archives collection into a thriving teaching lab, and has earned multiple awards for her and her team’s work.Davis shares with us her advocacy strategies and her secrets for how she’s built her program through outreach, innovation, fundraising, good customer service, and pure grit.In order to deliver the maximum amount of information to our audience, Davis agreed to record our Q&A session, and Woody donated the money towards producing a full transcription so that we can all have access to Davis’ words of wisdom.
All right. Thank you everybody. I am Rachael Woody. I am a member of the Committee on Public Awareness, and our mission at COPA is to help promote and protect the value of Archives and archivists. I’m here today with Deborah Davis and Deborah is at the Valdosta State University Archives and Special Collections, and Deborah’s agreed to chat with us today about her extensive Advocacy work building the program that she has at Valdosta. I’m so excited to speak with you today, Deborah on this. So thank you for joining us.
Well, when I was going through library school, I was kind of a generalist, but I was interested in preservation. So I took a class in preservation and I did a preservation field study. Then I stayed home with my baby for three years and taught [adjunct 00:01:25], taught English. Then when it came time to start my library career, I started rather obviously as an instruction, a library instruction coordinator. So I did that for five years and I kind of felt like I was on a treadmill. If it’s Monday, it’s history, if it’s Tuesday, it’s English, if it’s Thursday, it’s nursing and you’re constantly jumping from thing to thing. When the person who was serving as the archivist wanted to get out of Archives and be more involved in reference, I was like, “I want that.” My director was like, “Why do you want that? You have the most highly visible library and position on campus. Why would you want to go down there to that closet?” I said, “Because I think I could make something out of it.” So he grudgingly let me take it, but I was right.
Oh my goodness. I love that story in terms of those are common … Like what your boss told you, those are common things that many of us have heard in terms of Archives isn’t typically the glamorous out front job, and especially when it starts out as a very small, in the closet literally program, but I’m so glad that you had the gumption to take that on and that you’ve had such success with it.
Wonderful. Well, thank you for sharing that answer. Question number two for you. If you could please describe the Valdosta State University Archives and Special Collections when you started and you alluded to this, but what is the size and what were the challenges and opportunities?
Was about 900 square feet. It was under the stairs on the first floor behind the men’s and women’s bathrooms. It had collections, some collections, but it was a total mess. Every archivist that had come before me had decided to rearrange the way Archives was done. It had a card catalog, but the card catalog was completely divorced from the location. So you couldn’t find anything with it, and the last archivist had gotten so frustrated she pulled all the boxes off the shelf, put them back on alphabetically. So the Archives was organized alphabetically, which means that office of minority affairs was under O, office of affirmative action was under A and diversity was under D and they’re all the same office. It also meant that each time you wanted to add to a collection, anytime you got additions, you had to shift the entire holdings of the Archives to fit them in.
So I knew it was a disaster. I also knew that we didn’t have collections to … That was going to bring people to us much. So the first thing I did was make a web page and put up some digital content to get people interested in us. I looked around the Archives and I decided, what’s the purpose of this place anyway? What could it be? I decided that it could be a teaching lab Archives, that it could bring students in there to explore collections that maybe outside researchers wouldn’t be interested in, but that we can make the students be interested in, and we could also teach them about various aspects of archival work. So I had that, but what I didn’t know was original order, [provont 00:05:35], series, records groups. I didn’t know that stuff.
So one time I went to a training, the first year, and I poured this out to somebody from the Georgia Archives. She said, “GHRAB, the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Board offers grants, and they can offer a grant to send a consultant out to you to help with this.” So I said, “Okay.” So I wrote a grant and I got a consultant and he came and spent a week with me and I basically sat at his feet and absorbed everything he had to say. We got out the phone book which was organized hierarchically and we looked at a few org charts and we started records groups and series for our university Archives.
The manuscripts were easier. It was manuscript one, manuscript two, manuscript three, but we needed records [groups 00:06:42] for our university Archives, which comprised the bulk of what we had. Then he went away and based on our conversations, wrote a policies and procedures manual with every kind of form you could want, basic steps, the definition of the records groups, how to do the locations, how to do all of it. Then he also suggested that I get further training. So I took that, I had already asked for other training and been told there wasn’t the money to do it. So I took the consultants report to my director and says, “Look, he says, I have to have further training.” So they found the money to send me to Georgia Archives Institute for an intensive two week, all-day training on how to do Archives. So at the end of the first year, I had a website, some digital content, information on how a policies and procedures manual for how to proceed forward and training. So that was sort of the condition that I found it in, and the first obstacles that I was able to overcome.
You touched on so many wonderful things here. The first one being the very common, overwhelming problem of when an Archives has somewhat existed, but without necessarily an archivist, trained archivist with it. So discovering multiple different ways it had been organized or identified over the years and the problems that come with that. So I know many people who will watch this interview later will be able to relate to that.
Yes, and as you said, being able to go and get a grant to bring in a consultant to help do some foundational things, like getting policies and forms set up. Then the other point that as a consultant, I found amusing and a somewhat sad, but common way where I often work with other archivists who are credentialed. They know what they’re doing, they know what they need, and they’ve communicated that need to their boss, but it’s not until I say that same need as the consultant or the outside person where they’re like, oh, okay.
Absolutely. Yes. That is an important point. One follow-up question I had for you was, you had mentioned in this first year or so, you knew you needed some sort of online presence and you wanted to get some things online, which is a wonderful instinct for creating awareness for Archives. I’m wondering, was that just something you knew you needed to do or can you explain a little bit more as to why that was important?
Well, I had been one of the early website makers as library instruction coordinator, and I had put our instruction on the web using like, here’s the class, here’s all the things the class needs to use. Here it opens up in frame. So they can’t just go somewhere on the internet and mess around while you’re talking. It was trying to solve a lot of issues that we had. So when I went down there, I was already familiar and comfortable with this and I felt like just to exist, the Archives needs a website and it needs content. The content worked really well because when Arcadia Press was looking for schools to highlight in their college history section, they found it and they contacted me and asked me to write a book. So I did.
You’re welcome. So I know we touched on this, but for my third question, you’ve built such an amazing program and I know you’ve shared some of the challenges and opportunities. Is there anything else that you wanted to share related to that?
Oh yeah. It’s been 22 years of taking the Archives to new places and advocating for it. We have a volunteer program that over the years has brought about 800 students into our library to do indexing and sometimes processing. We had a 200 box collection that had to be processed. We didn’t have the people to do that. We didn’t have the range to do that. We threw those volunteers and they went through and did all the preservation stuff and entered all the file names into a database by box, and we had our finding aid after we added biographies and a scope note. We did that for free. I know in [PLP 00:12:31] says, don’t pull staples. Well, these were free workers. They could pull staples, and the person who donated this was a historian. So he was used to staple lists collections.
So he thought we’d done all kinds of great things, and I had done it for free and now we have them indexing our student newspaper. We have them creating a vital records index for our local newspaper, so that people … And we get requests from all over the country from genealogist who want this obituary, this marriage announcement, this kind of thing and that was just one of the things. We created a very vibrant teaching program, which I guess I’m going to talk about later. We worked with alumni relations. We worked with teachers, we found a way to situate ourselves into whatever program was going on. Whatever the mission statement was of the … And the strategic plan was at the university, we made sure we fit in there and we made sure the news that we fit in there got up to where it was supposed to be. We took advantage of every report to tell our story. We just kept going.
There are so many great things in this, and I just want to underscore the points you made, where it is so critical for Archives to make sure that they are securely housed within whatever the strategic plan is. From the perspective of when resources are scarce, which seems to be a constant issue that Archives need to make sure that it’s clear to everyone that they’re doing mission critical work. Then the second really important point you brought up is nobody else is going to pay attention or shout your praises. You have to let people know and as you said move the good news up the chain.
Yes, yes. So whatever project you’re doing can become something to situate it higher than you are. When you first started out as an Archives and you look around at the mess and the lack of finding aids and all this, and there’s a common despairing feeling that comes over people. They think I’ll never get the resources. I’ll never be able to do it, and I hear this from archivist at conferences, but you’ve got to commit yourself to getting the resources, to getting the people. If you’re lousy at processing, hire somebody who’s detail oriented. You keep with the big picture. If you are … Hire a student to scan and build that student position up so that it only makes sense for them to give you a tech position, and all of those things are just part of telling the story and pushing and pushing and pushing.
Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. My next question for you is I understand that the Archives and Special Collections are housed within the humanities and social sciences versus the library, which for our audience, usually in this model, that’s typically where you find the Archives is in the library. I would love for you to share with us how that happened, if you can discuss the pros and cons that come with the Archives being in that location versus the library.
Okay. We are still physically in the library. I still sit on the department heads council in the library. We still have a lot of things and some of our expenses like telephones and copy machines and stuff are still part of the library, but I do have my own budget. What happened was my husband became … When the last director left, my husband was interim director and after a long search, he became dean of the library. So he is now head of the library. They have to do something with me. They suggested a whole bunch of things. The thing we picked at the time was under the graduate school because we wanted it to be an area that touched the whole campus. We didn’t want to become just part of history or just part of the art department or something like that. So we went under the graduate school, I worked very well with that dean. That dean was moved to the college of humanities and social sciences.
We split our college of arts and sciences. So this was a new appointment. He carried me with him and it has been a wonderful opportunity. It allows me to teach more because he expects … He teaches, he expects his department heads to teach. So now I teach fall and spring. I teach with the history department and I teach … These are semester-long classes. It doesn’t count all the Archives instruction that I do, but I teach with the history department, I teach with the MLIS department. I also have become written into the curriculum of the history department.
These classes will be offered, Archives is this percentage of that class. So not only the class I teach with them, but other classes that they bring in to me. There might be a work project for history 3,000. There might be library and Archives instruction for other classes. So it has solidified and made permanent a program that I’ve worked for years to build and that gives me a lot of security that our teaching program is very stable and very good. I’ve also understood more what the issues are for teaching faculty now that I’ve seen it from the library side and now that I’ve seen it from the teaching faculty side.
Digging more into this teaching program you’ve created. So in addition to growing the Archives and Special Collections, you have this teaching program, which I love the description you used earlier, where it’s a lab. The Archives are a teaching lab. So I would love to hear, how did you go about creating that? Was it easy or hard? What sort of tips would you give fellow archivists?
It was hard. It was hard because when I came on as archivist, nobody in the history department was working with Archives. There was somebody from women’s studies and she wanted to use the classroom because it was an interesting looking space. We had a few displays up on boards that made it look interesting. So she wanted to teach small classes in there, but nothing really going on. So what I started doing was teaching wherever anybody would take me. You need to talk to sixth graders about career day. The English department wants something and I just surrounded the history department, made sure … Wrote letters to let them know what we could do for them. Made sure they knew what we were doing, and I went after the new faculty, the faculty that [as 00:20:30] historians knew the value of Archives.
Didn’t know that some library director, two directors ago had off some historian and he had decided that the Archives was now worthless and he’d take everybody to the historical. So they didn’t know that. So they thought, here’s an Archives I can work with and we started all kinds of programs from work projects to more straight Archives orientations to even library BI, that included primary sources. So I’ll draw up my library teaching experience to teach them books, journals and primary sources. So we just built it. I teach with math. I teach with education. I teach with journalism. I teach with English. I teach with history and slowly, as people found out … And I teach with art. As people have found out what we have and as I have pushed what we can offer, our teacher program has expanded, expanded.
The only personal library that teaches more than I do is the BI coordinator. I teach as much as all the reference librarians and I teach more semester-long classes. So it’s really been a labor. I like to teach. Teaching is something … And it’s also something I think an archive should do. The mission of these comprehensive universities is teaching. Research and service are important, but teaching is central. So position yourself so that you are an important part of instruction. It gives you security, it shows what your Archives has to offer and it’s just really important to situate yourself there.
Yes, 100%. I have also worked in a university setting and everything you said I had encountered and felt as well, but everything from teaching being so important and you get more recognition for the value of your work being a teacher. So therefore the Archives is sort of legitimized, to the challenges of one history professor at one time got disappointed or grumpy. So you had to find the ends where you can as you-
Yeah, and we’re faculty. So we have a university promotion tenure, and the library can say, these people are eligible for promotion tenure but if that university committee, of which there’s only one librarian, doesn’t recognize what you do, doesn’t recognize how this fits and teaching fits. So it sits there and it makes all the other things you do fit too.
Well, you present what you’re working on. What are you working on right now? How can you get that into a conference that maybe has an overarching theme that year and you can make it fit? So this is what I’m working on. So let’s make sure we present it. Take opportunities to publish, especially with other people. We just had an article come out last … Well, this year, 2020 that was written with the department head and the history teacher and me, and it was on this cohorted freshmen class that we had developed. It talked about assessment. It talked about Archives. It talked about the whole thing and it was easy to do because we wrote it together. The book counts as a peer review publication, and that was a labor of love. We used a lot of pictures. We used a lot of captions that were primary sources, and that book has been in print since 2001 and it spent about 12 years as the best selling local book.
So just take the opportunities as they come. If you do something with a professor, ask him, “Hey, why don’t we do an article about this?” Because they need to publish too. So if you go in jointly with them, you get your publications, they get theirs and you should plan to have a presentation at least once a year. I had two in the fall, I’ve got two planned in the spring and they’re all things that I’m currently working on. If you present at one conference, you can present the same thing at another conference to a different audience. Just look at it as something that’s part of your job to do. It’s part of getting your Archives out there beyond your institution and becoming a statewide player or a national player.
Yeah, it is. I have an ear condition. That means when I fly in an airplane, my eardrums rupture. The only way to avoid that is to get tubes in your ears, which is expensive and painful. So I, long ago decided that my contribution to SAA would be whenever SAA came close enough for me to drive, when I did get involved in believes and doing library and Archives training and believes that was enough of a labor of love, that it was worth the pain and the money of the ear tubes. I made my impression within the state because I didn’t have the choice to make it nationally.
I think you raised an important point where whether it’s health issues, where I also suffer from chronic pain conditions, autoimmune issues, and excuse me … For many people, if it’s health stuff or family stuff, et cetera, we all have personal lives that we need to pair with our professional lives and making those strategic choices in terms of where can I balance those priorities?
Yes, yes. That is very important because you will burn out. You have a great idea, it takes time away from your work and you’re going to do this and you never get the time to do it. You never published anything and all of a sudden you’re up for tenure and you’re in trouble. Whereas if you take it on as just part of your work, it’s the next step after you finished the project, it gets done.
It gets done. I love that. My next question for you, Deborah, is you’ve received recognition and respect from your university through your constant advocacy and doing amazing things, but also being really good at communicating those things up the chain. What does … For you, what does that constant advocacy look like and do you have any tips for advocacy that you could share with us?
When I first heard about advocacy, it was kind of presented as going up to the legislature and advocating, and I’m like, I don’t do advocacy, but then it dawned on me that I do it every day. So what advocacy looks like for me is always keeping the Archives in mind. Whatever you’re doing, find a place for the Archives within that. Are you sitting on a committee? How can the Archives assist with the work of that committee? Are you meeting with faculty? What can the Archives do to meet the needs of some of those faculty? You’re always thinking about your Archives. You’re always speaking up for the Archives. You’re always making sure people don’t forget the Archives. You’re sort of a one-note pony, but eventually everybody knows you, and if you’ve done enough special projects and you’ve had enough of an impact, they’re like, “Oh yeah, you’re the Archives. You do that such and such.”
Over the years, we’ve won awards and we won a national award for a website we did for our folk life collection. I’ve worn awards from working with [inaudible 00:29:59] I’ve won awards from working on campus with our African-American studies program, and in 2000, I won a statewide award. In 2018, I won the president’s Excellence Award for service. That is a kind of late career award that sort of sums up all you do and I was very proud to get it because it meant that all the stuff I had been doing had been heard and had been recognized.
Yeah. I’ve got a little area in Archives that I just put up little plaques and stuff like that and they’re to me, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re the Archives’ awards. They’re the Archives awards because the Archives allowed me to do all the things that I did. To go back to publishing, when you first start … And presenting, when you first started as an Archives, you have nothing credible to say to the Archives community. You need training, you need work, you need to build your Archives. You have nothing credible to say, but … Unless you’re already trained, but you’re sitting on your Archives and nobody is doing research on your Archives.
So do research on your Archives and tell the story of Valdosta state and get that story out there and write articles about that, that may appear in local history publications. So you keep presenting and you keep publishing, but you just do it within a different thing and once you’ve built yourself up and gotten certified and feel like you have something to say within the profession, then your focus switches away from the local history and towards professional publication.
So we’ve touched on this a little bit, but shifting more towards grants, you’ve been able to cultivate an endowment and a foundation. So in addition to bringing in grant funding, are there some lessons learned or strategies you can share with us, in terms of the financial shoring up of the Archives and Special Collections?
Grant writing is very important. Over the last 22 years, I’ve written 19 grants, or I’ve gotten 19 grants. I’ve written more than that. We tried for awhile to write one grant a year. One year we wrote two and got both of them, and that was crazy, but we try to write one grant a year. They’re relatively small grants. I’ve been on a big federal grant once for three years, and our portion of it was small, but the grant itself was $800,000. I’ve gotten $3,000 grants, $4,000 grants, $25,000 grants. I’ve gotten them from private estates. I’ve gotten them from public people like the Georgia Humanities Council, like the public libraries, granting agency within the state, like the Council for the Arts, like the Georgia Historical Records advisory Board. I’ve gotten several from each one. So grants are important.
The endowment came about from a close relationship that I was able to build between me, the Archives and the longest serving president’s wife and the president. They believed I had worked with them on all these public programs and displays and all this kind of stuff. The president edited my book that I wrote before we send it off to the editor. They just felt like I was turning the Archives into something that they had always wanted it to be, so that when they died, they left a life insurance policy for $100,000 to our Archives.
So satisfied customers can be sources of an endowment. My foundation fund, which has about $8,000 in it right now is a place where I can put the interests funding from the endowment and let it build up so that I can buy equipment and other things. I use it to send students and graduate students to conferences. That’s why we always have a graduate student because we do value added. They don’t just have an interesting job to do, but they get to go to conferences. I’ve presented with students before. I’ve done poster sessions with students before, and we fund their trips through the foundation.
We use the foundation for food, for events, so that our events are always a little more special than just the speaker or the exhibit or the whatever is, there’s going to be nice food and people know that. So they want to come to our events. The foundation is funded sometimes through donations, always through me. I give $125 a month to that foundation, and over time that’s $1,000 a year and that funds a lot of the basic things that we do. The extra donations are just wow, extra and good things that we can do, but it is great to have a foundation to fall back on to, to add to your operating budget, to be able to do things and do extra things. The endowment is good for that, too. We’ve bought art collections. We’ve bought rare maps. We’re saving it right now, trying to get up enough for a new scanner we want.
You raised a point that I’ve heard recently in another conversation I had with Bridgett Pride and the way you talked about that happy customer, I think was the phrase you used and how Archives, whether we think of it this way or not. It really does come down to relationships and providing a good customer experience.
We’ve struck above our weight by customer service by going the extra mile. Like we got some papers from an author and she was being approached by Duke University’s Archives for those papers, but she had been to Valdosta State. So if we could do right by her, we would … She would give us her papers and we did, and she was a very happy customer. Later on, we wrote a grant and we did public programming with her and brought her out into the schools and used the collection and had a giant conference. We just tried to make that customer as happy as we could because we had beat out Duke to get those papers.
Well, thank you for sharing those strategies that I know, especially for our newer professionals, learning what sort of funds to even think about and how to go about that will be so valuable for them to hear from you. So thank you.
Yes, I will be retiring in two years and something. So succession planning is very important to me because I’ve put my life into this and I don’t want to see it fall back. So, I don’t have input into who the next archivist is, but I do have input in who the interim archivist is. So I’m working with one of my staff members to make sure he gets experience in all the needed areas that I do. Like teaching, like just some of the other areas that I do. Like, look, we’re going to write a grant. I want you on this. I want you sitting on committees. He’s already involved at the state level. Just some things that can make this person more … And you should seek this certification and DAS certification and you should do it within this timeline.
So just some things to make this person more attractive candidate. I also have things that I want to finish. A book that I want to write the points out. These are the things that work. These are the things that don’t work. These are the areas where I see weakness in a few years. So that when the person comes in, they don’t try to reinvent the wheel because if something’s working, leave it alone and focus on what’s not working. Just because you happen to be really good at something, that’s something you’re really good at might not be what the Archives needs.
So here’s the needs. Here’s where you can situate yourself and start presenting and publishing about this to get your tenure and that sort of thing. So that’s what I worry about. Are there other collections that we need to make sure we highlight before I leave so they have a strong standing within the Archives and there are. So I want to make sure to do that. I’ve gotten the teaching program written into curriculum. So I feel secure that the teaching program will continue even if I’m not here.
What a wonderful gift that you were leaving in terms of making sure that there’s a good succession plan, both in terms of leadership, but also you’re still supporting that person and the Archives as a result with saving them the overwhelm and the … As you said of reinventing the wheel, by giving them a guideline of like, don’t miss a beat here. You can continue running with this.
I hope so. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I’m enthusiastic about doing. I don’t want to get so over committed that I don’t get time to do that, and I think that it’s going to be important because this Archives has grown and grown and grown. It’s now important within the campus, and I don’t want to see it fall back because somebody comes in who doesn’t appreciate what’s already here and know what to do to take it in a new direction.
Well, Deborah, I have one last question for you. You’ve given such great advice all throughout this interview, but I am wondering, is there any other advice you have in specifically thinking about our archivist colleagues that are just starting out?
If you’re just starting out, take advantage of as many webinars as you can, as many training sessions as you can. Get involved at the state level. The state often offers training that is, it’s not as expensive as SAA training. So get involved in the state level and work your way up to the national level. Do not despair. Find out what you have that’s good and build on that. Define your Archives. Why do you exist? What can you beat people? What do you have to offer and write that as your mission statement and your collection development statement should be broad because if you’re a small Archives, one single collection edition can take you in a new area. That’s what we’ve done, where Valdosta State, where the surrounding South Georgia region, but we’re also in supportive curriculum and that gives us a broad area to expand and to use those new collections to reach new people.
This is the latest post in our new series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of the individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of the archivist in society.
In this installation of Archival Innovators, SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachael Woody was interviewed for her role in founding and sponsoring the Archivist-in-Residence program at Northwest Archivists. Woody is known in professional circles for her advocacy work on behalf of archives and for her role in protecting and promoting the value of archivists. She’s also previously written on the value of archivists for ArchivesAWARE!, here, here, and here.
Rachael Cristine Woody is the owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC, a firm that provides services to archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations. She specializes in establishing collection programs, teaching grant acquisition strategy, and implementing digital collection management platforms. During her 15 year career she’s successfully revived the archives at the Freer|Sackler Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and launched the Oregon Wine History Archive at Linfield College. Woody is active in Northwest Archivists and the Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness, the Ad-Hoc Salary Transparency Working Group, and the Independent Archivists group; and is an alumna of the Archives Leadership Institute.
Q: What is the Archivist-in-Residence program?
RCW: The Archivist-in-Residence program offers $5,000 stipend for one graduate student (or recent graduate within two years) to receive an Archivist-in-Residence opportunity. The purpose of this residency is three-fold: 1. To offer upcoming and new professionals with paid career development opportunities to apply knowledge in archives, libraries, museums, or a related field; 2. To teach new archivists how to accurately calculate the value of their education, experience, and overall value as an archivist; and 3. To provide an opportunity for archival organizations to work toward the long term goal of eliminating unpaid work within the field. This is a unique experience for a new professional to develop a project based on their career goals and work directly with an organization to determine the project’s scope and outcomes.
The Archivist-in-Residence application is now open with a deadline of March 1, 2021. You can read more and find instructions for application here.
Q: What was the impetus for the creation of the program?
RCW: For several years now I’ve researched and written on the value of archivists. Our profession is chronically underpaid and the numbers show (when accounting for inflation) that the salaries for archivists are going down, not going up, not even staying the same. The standard entry job position descriptions we see out there are requiring a masters degree, sometimes two, in addition to 1-3 years of experience. And the degree most commonly sought and “required” (according to most job positions) has a minimum 5-figure dollar amount attached–leading to even more crippling student loan debt. Due to two recessions in 12-years and other market factors, there are more entry-level archivists than there are jobs. All of these issues are contributing to a profession on the brink of collapse. So, how does this relate to why I created the Archivist-in-Residence program? Partly it’s because we have to start somewhere when it comes to untangling this problem. Unpaid internships are unethical. They take advantage of people by forcing new professionals into the untenable position of uncompensated labor that takes time away from their paying jobs. And on top of that, many of these unpaid interns are paying for the “opportunity” of unpaid work because school credit costs money.
Additionally, unpaid internships serve to contradict and undermine any Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives the organization may claim to be committed to. Unpaid internships are a gatekeeping mechanism–only those who can afford to complete unpaid work will pass through to become an archivist. And at this point we should all be aware that the socioeconomics at play here have racial oppression corollaries.
Q: What challenges did you face in starting the program and how did you navigate them?
RCW: The most pervasive challenge I ran into were people on the NWA board who couldn’t conceive of how the program could work. I had to attend several NWA board meetings, write several explanative emails, and address multiple rounds of Q&A before I received the green light to start the pilot program. I’ve found the overall nature of archivists tends to be overcautious, and to be fair this type of program had never been done at a regional organization before. It was uncomfortable for them and they needed a lot of information (sometimes repetitively) to feel confident in saying: Yes. What it came down to for me was persistence and constant communication.
Q: Why do you think there aren’t more programs like this one available?
RCW: I think what I experienced (mentioned in the previous answer) is commonly found in many organizations. Also, this is a complicated problem. I know many archivists want to pay interns but the organization either doesn’t have money period, or chooses not to prioritize funds to appropriately fund internships. For example, a colleague shared with me that their historical society was offering an internship stipend below minimum wage. This caused them great concern and they took this concern to the director. The director was shocked. They simply hadn’t done the math and they increased the stipend the following year. What’s needed at many organizations is education on living wages and professional-level pay, advocacy from staff to force changes at the organization, and fundraising when more funds are needed. And that’s all going to take time.
Q. What is the ideal outcome you hope to achieve with this program?
RCW: My ideal outcomes are two-fold: 1. Teach archivists how to calculate their value and reenforce that value with an increase in appropriately paid opportunities; and 2. Show organizations that we can be part of the solution. And overall, I want new professionals to have a better experience than I’ve had in this profession. Recognizing and paying each other our worth is the ultimate sign of respect and I want more of that in our profession.
Q: What barriers or challenges did/do you face?
RCW: In addition to the above, the most frustrating opposition I receive is the old line of: “But these students need to have an internship in order to graduate and get a job. Do I just not hire them (as an unpaid intern)?” Look, it’s not all or nothing here. This is a complicated problem that requires multiple angles of attack and it’s going to take time to create permanent change. When I say unpaid internships are unethical, I’m not saying stop everything immediately. I know that’s unrealistic. But what I am doing is challenging *you* to make steps towards change. Prioritize finding funds to pay students and stop capitulating to the superficial resistance of the “But we’ve always done it this way.” crew.
The other challenge that we will continue to face is lack of available funding at our organizations. This has always been a problem, and will remain a problem as we watch COVID-19 continue to wreak havoc economically. Some of this is reprioritizing budget lines to prioritize staff and intern compensation (a direct DEI support mechanism), and fundraising funds from donors or grants–both of which LOVE to pay for student labor. Knowing that organizational funding can be such a challenge is part of why I chose to found and sponsor the Archivist-in-Residence opportunity.
Q: What worked? What didn’t work? Were there any surprises in the process of developing your work, or lessons learned that you can share with us?
RCW: Fundraising took work, but was ultimately a smooth process. It helped that my company funded 50% ($2,500) for the first residency, because that meant we had a solid foundation to move the residency forward as a possibility. The other pleasant surprise was the team I’ve had the pleasure of serving with. This residency model is common in the arts, but there was no model for us in the archives field at a regional organization. We had to figure out application, financial, and other logistics from scratch. After working with them closely on this program for going on 2-years, I can say this has been the best committee I have ever served on. They have each worked hard and have been incredibly dedicated to all aspects of the creation of this pilot program. They are:
Erin Stoddart, University of Oregon (Oregon) Kathryn Kramer, C.M. Russell Museum (Montana) Laura Cray, Oregon Historical Society (Oregon) Rachel Thomas, George Fox University (Oregon) Sara Piasecki, National Park Service (Alaska)
Q: Where would you like to see the work continue?
RCW: For the Archivist-in-Residence program at NWA, I would like to see our program moved from pilot to permanent and to increase fundraising so that we can fund more residency positions. More broadly, I would like to see other regional and national organizations adopt this type of program, in addition to doing their part to advocate for and protect the value of our collective labor.
Q: What tips do you have for budding innovators?
RCW: Creating something new is challenging and risky. A lot of people are going to say no, because that’s what they’re comfortable with. Failing is a possibility. However, trying new things, challenging the status quo, and creating new opportunities are the only way we’ll be able to move forward.
Q: What is your favorite part of this program?
RCW: Once our first resident got started and again when they completed their residency, I felt such pride. It took a lot of work to make the residency a possibility, especially during COVID-19, and I am so so proud of myself, my team, and Abbey for the incredible work we’ve done.
You can read more about Abbey (the first Archivist-in-Resident) and her project here and here.
Q:What’s next for you?
RCW: I have been pondering this myself. I would like to see the Archivist-in-Residence transition into a permanent program, and I think I will spend more time this next year on performing larger advocacy work for archives and museums as COVID-19 has had a devastating financial impact. To read more of my thoughts on this issue, please see the post I wrote for the Northwest Archivists’ blog: 5 Actions to Take Right Now to Combat COVID-19 Economic Fallout.
Q: How can people connect with you to learn more about your work?
RCW: They can reach me or learn about me on the following accounts:
This is the latest post in our new series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of the individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of the archivist in society.
In this installation of Archival Innovators, SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachael Woody interviews Ariane Moser on Artive, a U.S. non-profit for the protection of cultural property through the use of technology.
Ariane Moser is COO of Artive Inc. and has gained a wealth of art world experience including risk management, research and due diligence while working for galleries in Switzerland and companies like the Art Recovery Group and ArtBanc International in London. Ariane is also Chief Art Officer at ArtRatio, where she further explores her interest in the relationship between the art world and technological innovations. She studied Art History and Sinology at Zurich University and holds an MA in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
Q: Please describe Artive’s innovation on the traditional database and how it works to identify, return, protect, and preserve cultural heritage items.
From the very beginning, Artive’s vision had been to build a database that would be highly scalable, flexible and adaptable to future technological advancements. The database has also incorporated a number of technological features that help identify claimed works of art and maintain the independence of the data held on behalf of registrants. In addition to your regular field searches and free text/keyword field searches, the Artive database also operates with integrated image recognition technology and blockchain anchored timestamps of data that has been provided for searches against the database.
Q: Where did the idea to create Artive come from? What inspired it?
Initially, the database was created to address the current modern-day risks that could impact the safe transaction and movement of works of art and cultural property. It was important to have a platform that independently collected and reported on claims that go beyond theft, plunder and missing object – legal disputes, unauthorized reproductions, loan agreements, illegal exports, financial liens are some examples of other risks that could go undetected if not checked prior to a transaction.
With time, we felt that our mandate grew beyond advising and providing tools for risk management. This was also about telling the stories that travel with the objects. So, it quickly also became about raising awareness of objects and their history and so much of our work is inspired by connecting and telling those stories.
Q. What barriers or challenges did you face?
As is a challenge for every non-profit, securing funding has always and will always be a challenge that comes with this “trade”. Other barriers that we faced were much subtler. A side effect of our main work – collecting and registering claimed works of art and cultural property – is a potentially more transparent marketplace. And perhaps that is where it may clash with the mentality and the dynamic of current art market procedures. Finding collaborations within the art market, which is also where the very objects that we are recording are circulating, has therefore not been easy at times. This is ultimately a challenge because we need those alliances to make a difference.
Using technology as a tool to do our work may also sometimes bear its own challenges in a market that has been known to be rather on the slower side of keeping up with technological developments. It is in our nature to be hopeful, though, so perhaps this year’s pandemic will have shown that there is great potential in utilizing technology, resulting in sensitizing users to the advantages of working with digital tools.
Q. Please share an example of how Artive has been used to identify, return, protect, and preserve cultural heritage.
This year, Artive received a request for a search of an object against the database prior to a sale. The buyer had requested a due diligence report be run on the object of interest. In the process, a match with an already claimed work of art was identified.
Not one case is the same as another and so how we proceed from a point of location and identification will always depend on who is involved, if the object is still part of an active investigation, in what countries the different parties are etc.
What happened in this case, was that Artive was able to bring the theft victim, the current holder and a trusted, independent recovery expert (Art Recovery International) to a round table, so that – through mediation – the object could be returned to its rightful owner.
Of course, the same scenario can apply to cultural artefacts being sold on the private and public market, where a nation or community has a claim on an object…if we manage to locate, identify and flag objects that shouldn’t be circulating and that shouldn’t be sold, then that ultimately contributes to their protection.
Q. How does Artive use archives and archival records to aid in Artive’s work?
In single instances, Artive uses archives and archival records as part of any in-depth provenance research projects. Artive is, in a way, like an archive in digital format itself. Artive’s goal is to seek partnerships and relationships with as many archives as possible in an effort to either link or digitize the archival material. The broader the audience and the access to relevant information, the higher the chances of locating and identifying objects become.
Q. In your own words, how would you describe the importance of archival records?
To me personally, archival records are like witnesses, giving testimony beyond the lifetime of what they’re recording. There is no research without archival records. Without this documentation, there is no understanding of our past and therefore, there is no conscious knowledge of our present and future. Archival records are gatekeepers to the different realities and truths that have existed before us and the evidence they hold is invaluable and irreplaceable.
Q. What tips do you have for budding innovators?
If you’re fortunate, you will have assembled a team that is diverse but that shares the same DNA. A strong team will make it possible to drive your mission forward and inspire other people to join you. It may feel like you’re sprinting the length of a marathon at times, but so long as you’re open to change course without losing sight of your vision then you will find it easier to keep going. And you don’t have to do it alone, either. Build networks and partnerships with like-minded peers, share resources etc. As much as we like to be independent and shake off our competitors, we are all interconnected and there is great value in collaboration.
Q: What’s next for Artive?
We are still focused on our two initiatives, the Open Access initiative and the Digital Outreach initiative. The vision really is to diversify both, the types of claims and the types of objects that are registered on the database and make it all accessible to the public. We would like to build as many bridges to other custodians of digital data so that the world can become a more connected world.
Do you know an Archival Innovator who should be featured on ArchivesAWARE? Send us your suggestions at email@example.com!
The College of Charleston Special Collections in Charleston, South Carolina has found a new way to connect its archival collections with their audience through a popular internet forum: reddit. Reddit is a forum where communities can form to discuss a person, topic, or event; share cute animal photos, and ask or answer question from the communities that gather there. Committee of Public Awareness member Rachael Woody sits down with Charelston’s research and outreach specialist Catherine Stiers, to learn more about Stier’s outreach work within reddit.
Catherine Stiers is a Research and Outreach Specialist at the College of Charleston Special Collections in Charleston, South Carolina.
RW: How did you land on reddit as a possible outreach and engagement tool?
CS: I decided to propose a Special Collections reddit account (CofCSpecColl) when brainstorming additional ways to engage with our community following the onset of social distancing back in March. Personally, I use reddit as a way of keeping track of what’s going on where I live, from restaurant recommendations to traffic warnings. Unlike most other social media platforms, reddit is broken down into subcategories, or subreddits, which can be based around common interests or geographic locations. I already knew from experience that the local Charleston board includes both an invested group of locals and a rotating array of tourists who would be interested in Charleston history.
From r/archivists to r/askhistorians (which has over a million members), it’s clear that history is being discussed on reddit from both experts and amateurs. R/askhistorians in particular has built a reputation of reliability. They held a virtual conference this year and produce a podcast. While r/askhistorians appeals to those who already consider themselves history enthusiasts, I wanted to reach people who may not be likely to visit subreddits specifically for historical or archival research, but would still be interested in the content.
When I come across a visually engaging item that I think will catch the attention of people scrolling through their feeds, I post it, along with a paragraph or two of background information.
RW: How do you use reddit as an outreach mechanism?
CS: When I come across a visually engaging item that I think will catch the attention of people scrolling through their feeds, I post it, along with a paragraph or two of background information. I tend to stay away from heavily text-based materials because they don’t draw the eye as much as a colorful image does. A postcard of the old Charleston Orphan House and a before-and-after picture of a well-known downtown street have performed the best so far.
Language in the post should include links to other institutional websites or open-access resources for readers to explore if they’re interested in learning more. I also try to tie in information about the College of Charleston Special Collections sources and encourage Redditors to reach out to us for their other local research needs.
Although Reddit is not one of our primary outreach tools, I’ve found the level of engagement to be much, much higher than either Twitter or Instagram.
RW: What results have you achieved by using reddit?
CS: Although Reddit is not one of our primary outreach tools, I’ve found the level of engagement to be much, much higher than either Twitter or Instagram. I’m continually surprised by how willing people are to share stories they otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to.
I think the most successful result we can hope for is spreading the word that Special Collections exists and that we are here for people’s research needs.
One example of a successful post was this postcard of the Charleston Orphan House, which doesn’t exist anymore. It was established in 1790 as the first public orphanage in the United States and operated until the 1950s. The building was demolished and one of the College of Charleston’s dormitories stands there now. Longtime residents have strong memories associated with the building and commenters wrote about their relatives’ experiences living there. Commenters were open and willing to share their private family stories without being prompted. That’s part of what makes reddit a useful outreach tool- commenters aren’t restricted by a limited number of characters. I think the most successful result we can hope for is spreading the word that Special Collections exists and that we are here for people’s research needs.
RW: What are some of the challenges present in using reddit and have you been able to mitigate or circumvent them?
CS: Like on all social media platforms, copyright and permissions are a challenge. Although I always include a disclaimer, it wouldn’t be difficult for someone to take the image and use it without properly citing Special Collections as its repository of origin. Additionally, other Reddit users often feel the need to jump in and add their own information, which may or may not be accurate. It’s encouraging to see commenters get involved in the dialog, but it can be difficult to fact-check everything and correct mistakes. Readers also sometimes treat posts like an AMA (ask me anything) event and will ask questions that are really best suited for a research consultation or in person visit. It can be time-consuming to answer their obscure questions or redirect them to the proper place.
“On the Beach, Sullivan’s Island, SC,” from the Leah Greenberg Postcard Collection, College of Charleston Libraries.
RW: Do you have any lessons learned you can share with us?
CS: You have to have somewhat of a thick skin! Reddit has a reputation for being harsh, and sometimes it’s true. The first time I posted, a user latched onto my request that anyone wanting to use the image had to DM me first to fill out a publication request form. They questioned how I had the authority to ask for something like that, but were understanding once I explained the situation.
RW: What advice would you give organizations who are interested in trying reddit?
CS: Choose your subreddits carefully. If you are part of a university library and want to reach more students, the university’s subreddit might be a good place to post. Unfortunately for us, r/CofC is inactive. If you want to reach an even broader audience, a state subreddit like r/SouthCarolina is what you’re looking for. It’s best to familiarize yourself with how Reddit works before diving in.
Be sure to stick around and answer questions after submitting your post. Some of the best interactions we’ve had have resulted from follow-up questions and direct messages. Unlike Twitter and Instagram, you have to closely monitor Reddit posts to get the most out of them.
RW: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
CS: You can follow the College of Charleston Special Collections on Twitter @CofCSpec_Col and on Instagram at cofcspeccoll!