Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody on Resources for How to Convey the Value of Archives

RachaelWoody

Rachael Woody (photograph courtesy of Rachael Woody).

This is the latest post in our series Responses and Retrospectives, which features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession. Interested in contributing to Responses and Retrospectives?  Please email the editor at archivesaware@archivists.org with your ideas!

American Archives Month is an annual reminder of why we do what we do. Archivists across the country mobilize to promote collections, articulate what archives are, define what archivists do, and advocate for the value of our work. Articulating the value of archives and ourselves as archivists is hard to do. Speaking for myself, the value of archives and archivists is so evident that I have a hard time trying to explain our value proposition. The difficulty is often compounded when I realize I also need to explain why history is important, why liberal arts education is vital, and why critical thinking and the evaluation of historical resources are imperative for a healthy democracy. These are big concepts to convey and we as archivists need to continue our work on breaking them down so that they’re consumable for the public.

To get us started, I’ve compiled a list of resources to help use identify and articulate the value of archives.

Resources to Help you Talk About Archives and Their Value

Books on Advocating for the Value of Archives

Craft an Elevator Speech on Why We Value Archives

Check out COPA’s elevator speech cheat sheet with prompts to guide you toward your perfect pitch and review Talking Points on the Value of Archives for elevator speech examples.

SAA’s Role in Advocating for Archival Value

SAA’s advocacy efforts are directed to three principal audiences:

  • We target policymakers for important messages on archives- and records-related public policy.
  • We work to raise general public awareness of the importance of archives–and the important work of archivists.
  • And we provide resources for members to enhance advocacy within their own organizations with key decision makers, colleagues, and others.

SAA Groups Specific to Advocacy and the Value of Archives

SAA Resources for Advocacy and the Value of Archives

SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness – ArchivesAWARE! Blog

COPA’s ArchivesAWARE! Blog hosts several series to help to promote the value of archives and archivists.

  • There’s an Archivist for That! features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.
  • Keeping ArchivesAware is a recurring roundup of some of the latest archives-related news stories, features, commentaries, announcements, and projects that have caught our eye, with links to the original sources.
  • Asserting the Archivist is focused on the importance of highlighting archivists and archival work in outreach efforts, rather than just focusing on the collections themselves.
  • Archives + Audiences features the perspectives of archival audiences – scholars, journalists, filmmakers, artists, activists, and more – for whom archives have been an important part of their life and work.
  • Archival Innovators aims to raise awareness of the individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of the archivist in society.
  • Responses & Retrospectives features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession.

 Interested in Contributing to ArchivesAWARE!?

If you’re interested in contributing a piece to ArchivesAWARE! lease email the editor at archivesaware@archivists.org with your ideas!

Conclusion

We still have work to do when it comes to distilling for a general audience the complex issues that surround the importance of archives and our role as archivists. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on how to communicate the value of archives and/or archivists. Please share them in the comments of this post or email me at consulting@rachaelcristine.com.

This post was written by Rachael Cristine Woody, a member of The Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). The opinions and assertions stated within this piece are the author’s alone, and do not represent the official stance of the Society of American Archivists. COPA publishes response posts with the sole aim of providing additional perspectives, context, and information on current events and subjects that directly impact archives and archivists.

THERE’S AN ARCHIVIST FOR THAT! INTERVIEW WITH JENN PARENT, REFERENCE ARCHIVIST, THE MUSEUM OF FLIGHT

This is the latest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this entry, Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Anna Trammell brings you an interview with Jenn Parent, Reference Archivist at the Museum of Flight. 

[Reference archivist Jenn Parent in front of mural by Henry at T

Jenn Parent, Reference Archivist at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA

How did you get your job?

I came to archives and The Museum of Flight as my second profession, having spent well over a decade working as a bookstore manager. I loved helping people find books but at the same time I always felt limited in how I could help people. So, I went back to school to get my Masters in Library and Information Science with the goal of becoming a special collections librarian or an archivist. I did two internships at The Museum of Flight during grad school (one in the library, one in the archives), and due to the positive internship experiences I had, I added the organization to my “watch list” for jobs. About a month or so before graduation I saw an opening for a part-time Processing Archivist and applied. I got that job and started in July 2017. Then, in late December 2017, I was promoted to Reference Archivist, and I’ve been doing that since.

[Group portrait of Pan Am flight attendants]

Group portrait of Pan Am flight attendants, circa 1960s-1970s || The Denise (Babcock) Schmidt Pan Am Flight Attendant Collection/The Museum of Flight

Tell us about your organization.

The Museum of Flight is the largest private non-profit air and space museum in the world. Contrary to popular thought, we are not part of Boeing and never have been (although we enjoy a good relationship with Boeing!). With over 150 air and spacecraft, dozens of exhibits and experiences, and all kinds of programming and educational offerings The Museum of Flight (TMOF) is devoted to the preservation and sharing of aviation and aerospace history and technology. 

I work as part of the Collections team, which includes the Harl V. Brackin Library, The Museum of Flight Archives, and our small object collection. As the Reference Archivist, my main job is (you probably guessed it!) to answer reference inquiries, which are mostly related to photo requests and general research/reference. If an inquiry requires in-depth curatorial knowledge, it gets assigned to our Curators. On average, I personally handle 30 to 40 reference inquiries per month. We get requests from all over the world and our researchers vary, from students of all ages to authors to model makers to aircraft restorers and more. 

When I have time, I also still process and catalog archival collections because I love processing. It adds to my knowledge of the collection so I can better assist researchers, but also I just love making collections accessible for folks to use! In addition, I contribute to outreach efforts, such as participating in our monthly “Coffee with the Curator” (a themed presentation with materials on display from the library, archives, and objects), writing articles, leading Library & Archives tours and/or giving presentations about the Archives, and contributing to our team’s Instagram (shameless plug for @tmofcollections)! And of course, I help with “other duties, as assigned.”

[African-American Rosies with Boeing B-29 Superfortress]

African-American “Rosies” with Boeing B-29 Superfortress || Credit: The Museum of Flight Collection

Describe your collections.

The Museum’s collection contains over 25,000 small objects (classified as anything smaller than an aircraft), over 90,000 books and periodicals, over 18,000 aircraft manuals and technical reports, and nearly 5,000 cubic feet of archival materials. 

Our archival collections contain materials that document the entire evolution of manned flight, from the Wright Brothers to modern jet travel to space exploration. We have an estimated four million images, including photographic prints, film and glass plate negatives, slides, and transparencies. Our paper-based materials include maps, charts, drawings, blueprints, log books and diaries, manuscripts, research and technical documentation, correspondence and philately, and airline ephemera such as tickets, timetables, brochures, and luggage tags. 

What’s really awesome is that we’re becoming more publicly accessible, which is fantastic! We’re always open to the public via the Dahlberg Research Center. You do not need to be a Museum member or pay admission to visit us but we do recommend/prefer an appointment! But we can also be accessed via our Digital Collections, which went live December 2017 and currently has over 6,500 digital images and 100+ oral histories with more content being added on a regular basis. And in April of this year (2019), we also launched our public research portal, where folks can browse finding aids from our collection. We add to it weekly, and it currently has just shy of 300 collections, which is about 10% of our collection. We also encourage folks to reach out and ask if they don’t see something online, as these are just fragments of our collection!

[Convair (Theodore P. Hall) 118 Convaircar]

Convair (Theodore P. Hall) 118 Convaircar || Credit: The Peter M. Bowers Collection/The Museum of Flight

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

I don’t have an aviation or aerospace background so describing the technical aspect of many of the aircraft collections can be a bit daunting. Luckily, our Curators are great at helping me understand things so I can correctly explain it in a finding aid or to a researcher.

I’d also say our building is a bit wonky. It was originally meant to be a hazmat storage facility but was never used in that manner that we know of (at least I haven’t grown a tail yet). The building has very thick concrete walls and floor and a very thin aluminum roof, so in the event of an explosion, the roof would be forced up and (in theory) the walls and floor would withstand the blast, leaving only the roof to replace. Additionally the floors are very slick and slightly sloped (in case spills needed to be hosed into the also-present drains that happen to have gaps the exact width of a library cart wheel). This makes adding shelving quite a chore, as you can imagine. 

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Jenn Parent at work at the Museum of Flight

What is your favorite part of your job?

 That’s a tough call. I really like continuously learning and encountering material that sparks an interest or moment of “Wow!” (so many rabbit holes to go down – like did you know Goodyear made a plane out of rubber? Look it up – the Inflatoplane!). I also enjoy that my days can be quite varied based on what I’m up to that day. From answering a photo request about the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy to giving a tour to students or from making “frankenfolders” to house oversize materials to helping relocate a missile in our storage area, it’s never dull. 

But I think my real favorite is simple – being able to successfully guide a researcher and help fulfill their information need, especially when they reach out to me with what they may think is a long shot. I recently had a researcher ask me if it was fun being both useful and magical. A resounding yes!

 

Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody on October is American Archives Month

RachaelWoody

Rachael Woody (photograph courtesy of Rachael Woody).

This is the latest post in our series Responses and Retrospectives, which features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession. Interested in contributing to Responses and Retrospectives?  Please email the editor at archivesaware@archivists.org with your ideas!

It’s that time of year again. No. Not pumpkin spice latte time – though it’s that time of year too. It’s American Archives Month!

 

Quick History Lesson

American Archives Month was launched in 2006 by the Society of American Archivists in support of their mission to advocate for the value of archives and archivists.

Archives Month Activities

Archives across the country can participate in archives month activities by doing any of the following:

  • Host an archives open house
  • Publish an article on your archives or collection
  • Create a display of highlights from your archives collection
  • Offer an archives workshop to the community
  • Give a lecture on a topic related to your archives
  • Write a blog post or post a video about your archives
  • Advocate for the resources you need for the archives to run smoothly

And Don’t Forget About #AskAnArchivist Day!

#AskAnArchivist day is October 2 this year and SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) will be hosting a Twitter takeover of the SAA twitter account (@archivists_org). To learn more about #AskAnArchivist day and how you can participate please check out this SAA webpage.

Hone Your Archives Elevator Pitch

American Archives Month is a great time to work on your elevator speech. Not sure where to begin? Check out COPA’s elevator speech cheat sheet with prompts to guide you. Need examples to inspire you? Check out Talking Points on the Value of Archives for elevator speech examples. And for Twitter friendly speeches check out the Twitter #Archivesin5Words to see just how succinct (and funny) we can be.

American Archives Month Resources

A major partner and contributor to American Archives Month is the Council of State Archivists (COSA). Please check out the COSA Archives Month Resources page for information about Electronic Records Day, a sampling of Archives Month 2018 programming, press releases and governor proclamations, and example of state archives’ websites. COSA also offers a library of past American Archives Month posters to help inspire you.

Additional Resources to Help You Plan American Archives Month

Resources to Help with Media

 And don’t forget, International Archives Day is June 9, 2020!

In 2004, membership from the International Council on Archives petitioned the United Nations to create an International Archives Day. The date was chosen in honor of the ICA’s founding date: June 9, 1948. Just like Christmas in July, we can revisit our American Archives October activities and celebrate Archives Day in June.

Past American Archives Month Activities

To see a summary of activities archives across the country have hosted from 2006-2018, please see these pages:

Conclusion

Some of the resources offered in this blog post and on the American Archives Month webpage are dated. Do you have resources, tips, or toolkits we should know about? Please let the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) know in the comments on this post or send an email to consulting@rachaelcristine.com so that COPA can continue to offer up to date outreach resources.

Now get out there and let us know what you’re doing for American Archives Month by sending an email to saahq@archivists.org.

This post was written by Rachael Cristine Woody, a member of The Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). The opinions and assertions stated within this piece are the author’s alone, and do not represent the official stance of the Society of American Archivists. COPA publishes response posts with the sole aim of providing additional perspectives, context, and information on current events and subjects that directly impact archives and archivists.

Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody’s Annual Conference Coverage on the Value of Archival Labor Sessions

RachaelWoody

Rachael Woody (photograph courtesy of Rachael Woody).

This is the latest post in our series Responses and Retrospectives, which features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession. Interested in contributing to Responses and Retrospectives?  Please email the editor at archivesaware@archivists.org with your ideas!

For me, attending the annual Society of American Archivists conference is time to reconnect with beloved colleagues and reengage with topics I care deeply about. I can’t afford to attend the conference every year, so I always view the conference program before I make the final decision. Are there sessions I want or need to attend? Are there topics that are new or finally being covered? Or, does it look like the conference is repeating topics without contributing anything new? As someone who has to pay my own way, I have to make sure there’s a return on my investment of both time and money. This year, SAA’s annual meeting theme had my attention from the start: TRANSFORMATIVE!. As in transforming archives. The program sessions followed suit with panelists willing to tackle tough topics and start new conversations.

My Work on Fighting the Devaluation of the Archivist

Before I dive into my response to a block of the SAA 2019 Annual Conference sessions, let me preface by saying that the value of archival labor is a topic that I am deeply involved with. In the last two-years I’ve:

  • Written the current NWA job posting policy requiring salary ranges;
  • Performed a literary review of American Archivist articles on everything from A*Census to the multiple articles on how recent graduates are struggling to find healthy employment in the field;
  • Conducted a regional survey on the value of archival labor (with findings forthcoming); and
  • Am currently spearheading the creation of a paid internship program at Northwest Archivists.

In my research I’ve found that the literal value of archival labor has been stagnate for the last ten-years. Additionally, the student loan debt to entering archivist salary ratio has caused instability in the profession; particularly in geographic areas that aren’t flush with archival repositories with government-backed budgets. I believe that we have reached a critical point in time in which we must acknowledge this devaluation of the archivist, and address it before our entire profession atrophies.  It’s through this lens that I respond to three SAA sessions focused on the value of archival labor.

SAA Sessions: My Response

On Sunday, August 4, 2019, there were three sessions dedicated to archival labor: an open forum, session 210, and session 410. Below are links to the sessions and the session summary italicized for easy reference:

Open Forum: SAA Council Forum on Archival Salaries

This special forum, hosted by SAA Council members Melissa Gonzales and Steven D. Booth, will explore the notion of requiring salary information in position descriptions for jobs boards, the benefits and challenges of doing so, and the potential impact this ideal may have on the archival profession. Invited panelists and the audience will explore why professional associations should and should not take a position, and if so, how can archivists at all levels frame it to truly advocate for the profession and not harm it.

The open forum was well attended with several hundred seated in the ballroom. There was no formal content to present and the panelists began the discussion with SAA Council’s recent angst over whether or not to require salary ranges for job posts. What gets sticky here is that SAA makes money from the job board. So, trusting SAA to make the ethical decision to require job post quality indicators can be challenging when the system currently in place benefits SAA. As noted in several tweets, the forum discussion revealed that SAA makes $60,000-$90,000 in annual revenue from the job board. (SAA’s FY20 Budget states it revenued $85,000). Sadly, that amount is much more than the average mid-career archivist’s annual salary.

Screenshot of Tweet by @akaGladys: Learning at salary forum that SAA's job board generates $60-90k of revenue for the org a year #saa19" 10:03 AM Aug 4, 2019 Twitter by IPhone 2 Retweets 23 Likes

When reviewing the “cons” of SAA requiring a salary range on job postings there were no cogent arguments from the panelists. Instead, strawman arguments that showed more privilege than sense were provided. The following points were offered as a justification for SAA to forego responsibility of providing space to predatory job listings:

  1. People keep taking these low-paying jobs so organization will keep offering these low salaries.
  2. If SAA requires salary ranges “Will it really provide change that leads to better salaries?”.
  3. The assertion that people who seek higher paying jobs have “bad intentions”.

Screenshot of Tweet by @rachaelcristine Aug 4: Several #archivist salaries forum persons see "cons" to requiring salary range in job post. One remarks they would question motives for those who apply for jobs with more money. Me: Since when is being paid your worth a bad thing?! #saa2019 #saa19 #devaluationofthearchivist Symbols at bottom show one comment, 6 retweets, and 33 likes

The panelists who denied SAA’s responsibility placed it instead on those who are struggling against these damaging job practices currently allowed in the profession.

Patronizing statements were made by some of the panelists to those struggling, saying essentially:

  1. People should do their own research to determine what an adequate salary is. How?; when the Census data is extremely outdated and government salaries hardly translate to other organizations? SAA is in the best position to provide this information to archivists and organizations – with parameters given for organization type, geographic area, various job levels, and requisite salary.
  2. People should negotiate better. Negotiation is rarely available to those in the profession. Also, then shouldn’t SAA be providing negotiation education and support?
  3. People should be willing to move for a better job. Some of us can move. Others cannot due to family or other life obligations. This is a tone-deaf statement rejecting the real-life realities many archivists face.

Why Salary Range is so Important

Requiring salary ranges on job posts aids in salary transparency. Salary transparency reveals wage inequity and helps put a stop to gender, race, and gender identity or sexuality discrimination. Increased salary transparency across the profession will lead to healthier financial realities for archivists, and addressing wage inequity will support actual diversity within the profession. It’s important to note that both Northwest Archivists and Southwest Archivists have already made this a policy.

210 Low Pay in Archives: Review of Recent Events, and Where Do We Go From Here? [Pop-Up]

This Pop-Up Session will discuss the current state of generally low pay for archivists in the U.S., discuss SAA and regional archival organizations recent attempts at doing something about it, including archival certification, salary job listing requirements, recommended salary minimums, and the current literature in the field; look at salaries across the country and useful statistical data like the salary required to own a home in a specific city; and strategize additional ways the profession can help push salaries upwards, including possibly unionization.

This session was a little less frustrating for me as the panelists appeared to agree that something needs to be done about the financial health of our profession. Rosemary Davis was brave and bared all – including her student loan debt number. This panel delivered real talk on what many in the profession are experiencing: you have a master’s degree with the student loan debt to show for it and you can’t make ends meet because entry-level archivist positions are sub-$45,000. This session introduced the concept of the “spousal subsidy”. As in, you can only afford the luxury of being an archivist on low pay because your spouse has the pay and benefits to cover you both. This has obvious repercussions on who can afford to be an archivist and directly damages diversity within the field.

Screenshot of a Tweet by @vgillispie Aug 4: The "spousal subsidy" concept is too real. I was recently offered a job with a salary offer $20K below my current salary. The hiring manager said he was hoping I had a "family situation" that would allow me to accept the offer. I do not. #s210 #saa19. Symbols show 1 comments, 5 retweets, 27 likes.

410 Short-Term Jobs for Long-Term Careers: Designing Ethical Project/Contract Positions

With SAA defining standards for interns and volunteers, archivists on short-term projects or contracts are the next frontier in the ethics question. These archivists have barriers to completing their work–including time, funding, and skills–making their supervisor’s role crucial in designing and supporting a successful contract employment experience. Aimed at project managers, supervisors, and contract archivists, this session is intended to foster dialog among participants about ways to create more sustainable models of project positions.

This panel is an adjacent topic to archivist salaries as temporary or project positions are becoming more and more common and less of a stop-gap measure for organizations that are struggling. It also highlighted that allowing regular archival work to become temporary or project-based only helps to devalue the work. And further, we must be more precise in identifying archival labor as work, a long-term endeavor that requires skill. Versus calling our work a project, a word that indicates it’s temporary, can be stopped at any time, and potentially requires less-skills. This thinking extends to how project positions are professional positions, not pre-professional positions, and should be treated (i.e. paid) accordingly.

Screenshot of Tweet by @alexiadpuravida Aug 4: Advocate that project positions ARE professional positions, not a pre-professional position [emojis show 4 hand claps] #saa 19 #s410 (symbols show 2 retweets, 24 likes)

SAA’s Mission and How We Are Actively Working Against It.

SAA’s mission is to promote the value and diversity of archives and archivists. The anti-salary range panelists (and the majority of SAA Council) appear to contradict SAA’s stated mission. How can we say we champion diversity and value archivists when we allow rapacious practices such as low-wage jobs, no salary transparency, temporary or term jobs, and unpaid internships? (Yes, SAA Council did vote to disallow unpaid internship job postings, but more can be done to discourage the practice pervasive in organizations nation-wide). It is known that by allowing these practices we perpetuate a system built on discrimination against race, gender, and gender identity and sexuality. If you’re in a management position, in academia, or work for the government – congratulations! You’ve avoided the worst of it with your elite position. But you’re leaving the rest of the profession behind and such short-sightedness will devalue the entire profession (including you).

Conclusion

We’re just beginning these tough conversations and there’s obviously a lot to be done before we can begin to see progress. Here’s what I’d like to see next:

Recommendations for SAA Council and Organization:

  1. Officially support the grass-roots archivist salary spreadsheet. Now at nearly 500 entries, this is the most recent and robust national archivist salary data we have available.
  2. Financially commit to conducting the census more regularly. Yes, I realize it costs money. However, letting the census lapse 15-years is absolutely preventable. Decisions about how to best support the profession can’t be made if we don’t have current and accurate numbers.
  3. Call for a membership vote on whether or not to require salary ranges for job postings.
  4. Take a more active role in protecting and advocating for archivists and not just archival organizations. Explore ways in which SAA can do this; such as: conducting an exploration of how SAA can support unionization, offer collective benefits, provide guidance on appropriate job salary scales, etc.

Recommendations for Archivists Against Devaluation:

  1. This was an excellent conference, but the conversation needs to continue. For those who did panels, tweeted, and discussed the topic in-person; we need you to do more of that. For those who want to join in, please join in!
  2. When SAA calls for guideline reviews, feedback, and votes; you have to show up and give your feedback. Better yet, run for Council. Council needs your voice.
  3. Contribute blog posts and professional writings to the field that help educate and advocate around this topic.
  4. Speak up and repeatedly at your work, at your regional group, and at SAA and related national conferences.

This post was written by Rachael Cristine Woody, a member of The Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). The opinions and assertions stated within this piece are the author’s alone, and do not represent the official stance of the Society of American Archivists. COPA publishes response posts with the sole aim of providing additional perspectives, context, and information on current events and subjects that directly impact archives and archivists.

There’s An Archivist For That! Interview with Brad San Martin, Digital Archivist, Apollo Theater

This is the latest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this entry, Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachel Seale brings you an interview with Brad San Martin, Digital Archivist for Harlem’s Apollo Theater.

Brad San Martin

Brad San Martin. Photo credit Amber Duntley (www.flickr.com/adunt).

Prior to entering the archives field in 2015, Brad San Martin worked in the music and travel industries as a copywriter, content developer, and product manager, among other roles. He has also produced and/or annotated a number of acclaimed historical CD reissue projects, including Kevin Dunn’s No Great Lost: Songs 1979-1985 and Harlan County USA: Songs of the Coal Miner’s Struggle.

How did you get your gig?

I arrived at the Apollo after spending most of my professional life working in the music industry in a few different — including publicity, radio promotion, project management, copywriting, and artist relations — capacities. While in that world I had overseen several archival releases, compiling new CD collections from old tapes, researching the best available sources, clearing the rights, annotating them, and so on. Putting projects like those together inspired me to explore archives as a full-time pursuit. So, eighteen years or so after I finished undergrad, I went back to grad school to get my master’s degree in Library Science with a concentration in Archives. Throughout grad school I worked processing audiovisual materials at the Southern Folklife Collection, which was an incredible opportunity to learn about the nitty gritty of archiving and about the variety of media formats that are out there. I thought I knew them all…

When this position came across my radar, I was thrilled: What fan of popular music hasn’t been affected by an artist, a song, or a movement that was forged onstage at the Apollo? Being here feels like the culmination of everything I’ve been doing before — and it draws from all areas of my experience.

Tell us about your organization

The Apollo Theater takes inspiration from the rich legacy of the theater’s past in order to enrich the future. Through its education department, the theater introduces young people to the incredible contributions that have emerged from Harlem and the Apollo, while also offering students opportunities to learn about what goes on behind the scenes: production and tech, publicity, programming, and more. The Apollo is also positioning itself as a catalyst for a new canon of works, producing and presenting provocative, powerful new pieces of theater, dance, and music.

I always like to stress that while the Apollo has a remarkable backstory, what our programming team is doing now is every bit as vital. And being the archivist means that I get the best of both worlds: I get to help document the new programs we develop while also watching over the materials that allow us to tell the story of the theater’s history.

Describe your collections

The Apollo Theater Archives is a new initiative. I have been here for just about a year and a half now. The fact that I am here at all is a testament to the long-term vision of the Apollo’s past and present leadership — people like Laura Greer and Mikki Shepard, who kept the torch for the archives burning for years before I arrived. Over the past fifteen years, whenever funding was available, portions of the collection were inventoried and preserved. So when I got here, there were a mix of processed and unprocessed collections, in various stages of preservation. 

Apollo_Smithsonian_16

Photo by Megan Rossman. Working with Smith Fund intern Samantha Scott to arrange A/V materials in the Apollo’s collection.

The Apollo collection spans pretty much every conceivable audiovisual format, in addition to photographs, posters, program booklets, three-dimensional artifacts, ticket stubs and passes, and business records. In the mid-1980s, the Apollo had full broadcast and audio recording studio facilities, and as a result we have a lot of ¾” and open-reel video from both the theater and recorded for production clients. One of the most informative and illustrative areas of the collection is a set of more than 2000 hand-tinted photographs of artists who performed at the Apollo from the 1950s through the 1970s. Taken as a set, they tell us so much about who worked here — and not just the big stars, who are certainly represented, but the ventriloquists, the dancers, the MCs, the animal acts, and others who may have otherwise been forgotten. 

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

We face the same challenges that other largely audiovisual collections contend with: obsolete formats, unclear rights provenance, storage and preservation issues, et cetera. The Apollo is a working theater in Manhattan, so on-site storage space is at a premium. One of the biggest issues we face is that there is no way the collection can match the formidable legacy of the Apollo. People imagine a goldmine of photos, video, handbills, and posters documenting every one of the thousands of shows that happened here. But the Apollo was a working, for-profit theater for most of its life — people were too busy getting paying customers into the seats to prioritize creating a historical record. 

With that in mind, the collection is also not continuous: We have elements from all eras of the theater’s 85-year existence, but not all eras are represented evenly. A number of materials related to the theater were donated to the Smithsonian by the theater’s former owners. But thanks to the growing capacity of digital tools, we’re able to partner with other institutions and share certain items digitally, enriching our holdings and what we will eventually be able to offer potential users.  

Speaking of users, the Apollo Theater Archives are not yet open to the public — so it’s also a challenge for me to ask interested people to wait while we catalog, digitize, and preserve the materials in the collection in preparation for them to be accessed.

What is the favorite part of your job?

I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to discover new objects related to the theater’s history and performances on a very regular basis…but even more exciting is seeing the elements of the collection utilized on behalf of the Apollo Theater’s missions. We preserve these things for a reason, and that’s to share them. So watching them become a part of an educational or community program, or referenced by a visiting artist who is working to create a new work, is incredibly fulfilling.

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Photo by Lisa Mullins. Presenting materials with WNET’s Jenna Flanagan from the Apollo Theater Archives on stage at the Apollo’s annual Open House event, February 2, 2019.

That said, the best part of my job is continuing to discover just how much the Apollo means to people — especially those with roots in Harlem. The theater has been more than a performance venue: It’s a pillar of an incredibly vibrant, dynamic community. I see the theater’s role in people’s lives most vividly through our community events, which engage a largely local audience in conversations about history, culture, and politics. The delight and appreciation they express when they discover that we’re working hard to preserve and extend the legacy of a place they love so much is overwhelming. 

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

Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody on Myspace and the Precarity of User Content on Social Media Platforms

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Rachael Woody

This is the latest post in our series Responses and Retrospectives, which features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession. Interested in contributing to Responses and Retrospectives?  Please email the editor at archivesaware@archivists.org with your ideas!

 On March 18, 2019 the world learned that Myspace lost millions of songs, photographs, and videos posted prior to 2016. Myspace reports that the loss of data occurred due to a server migration project gone wrong. Such a loss of digital content received mixed reactions as some were horrified and others relieved that their Myspace content was lost. Once a major social media platform from 2003-2008, Myspace has since declined in usership with the rise of Facebook as the predominant social platform. Now, in 2019, Myspace is mostly used for musicians to share work and connect with fans.

It Can Happen to You

What happened to Myspace isn’t an isolated event. It can and will happen again. Social media platforms are not oriented to prioritize the preservation of user generated content. These platforms have the capacity to store user data, but don’t necessarily have backup measures in place for their digital content – as was the case for Myspace. Or, if you are of the more cynical persuasion, some technology experts believe that Myspace may have intentionally deleted millions of digital files so as to not have to maintain them.

When these social media platforms emerged and for almost a decade into most of the platform’s lives, there was no way to download your content. If you wanted to leave Myspace you had to delete your account and there was no way to download any of the content you uploaded during your time using the platform. How do I know this? Because, like many of you, I began on Myspace only to leave it a five years later for Facebook.

Myspace Love Letters

I joined Myspace the summer of 2005 and left the spring of 2010. Myspace had photos, posts, and messages that I didn’t have anywhere else thanks to a computer hard-drive crash and the nonexistence (in my world) of smart phones with cloud syncing. Sure, I could have selected and right-clicked on every photo to download, and copy+paste each post, but that would’ve been a tremendous amount of labor. However, there was one cache of data I could not leave behind: the love letters my husband and I wrote to each other when we first began dating. I consulted with several of my digital archivist peers to figure out if I had any options available to me to save those love letters. The consensus? Print them out.

MyspaceLoveLetters

We Need an Exit Strategy

As archivists, when we consider things such as a collections management system (CMS) we are now experienced enough to know that any platform considered must have an exit strategy for the collection data. Things change, software companies fold or merge, collection needs change, technology changes, and budgets change. Any one of these reasons is enough to instigate data migration to another CMS platform.

Most social media platforms are beginning to offer exit strategies. The top platforms now offer options to retrieve your content, though, I admit, from an archivist’s perspective the options aren’t great.

How to Get a Copy of Your Content

First of all, if you use a smartphone then chances are good that the digital content captured on the phone is syncing to a cloud. That’s good because it means that you still have access and control over all of your original content and its original file quality. The top three social media platforms each offer a way to retrieve a copy of your data. Facebook allows the most customization as you can select a time period, type of content, and a low/medium/high quality setting for the files. Facebook will then provide you an HTML or JSON file for you to download. Twitter offers to send you a file of your content but there is no way to customize what you receive, nor is there mention of what type of file you receive. Instagram lacks customization as well and will provide you a JSON file.

Archivists and the Appraisal of Social Media Content

When we use social media platforms we tend to share without a thought given toward how we might sustainably access the digital content later. As archivists, appraisal as we know it tends to only happen when a length of time has passed. Time and perspective help archivists decide on whether the material in question is of sufficient historical value to be accessioned. As social media users and digital content generators, we may need to save all digital items for a future appraisal to take place. But how can we guarantee access to our digital content? Why is there no easy way to do this?

Preserving Digital Content Isn’t Easy

As digital archivists are well aware, the management and long-term access to digital files is amorphous and hard to predict. Why is preserving long-term access to digital files hard to manage or predict? Here’s a few reasons:

  • Changing file formats and software used to create and access files
  • Poor past practices
  • No intuitive file naming conventions
  • Data corruption
  • Physical medium damage to disks, USBs, CDs, etc.
  • Inability to digitally migrate the content to an accessible format

Preserving (Digital) Objects with Restricted Resources (POWRR) is a great resource for those who want to learn more on how to protect their digital content.

How to Safeguard Your Content

Being proactive is the best strategy to help safeguard your digital content on social media platforms. Here are a few recommendations to consider:

  • Make sure you have a digital file backup system in place and that it’s working. I’ve encountered many people who thought they had a backup system in place only to find out it wasn’t working like they thought it would.
  • If you have the option to automatically sync your content to a cloud then do so.
  • Invest in cloud storage with trustworthy companies that practice at least some digital preservation principles (such as Dropbox or Google Drive).
  • If you’re an institution that generates a lot of web content then consider services such as Archive It for additional support.
  • Request a copy of your “archive” from the social media platforms you use.
  • When in doubt, (if it’s important to you) print it out. Paper is still King when it comes to formats we know will be around for a while.

This post was written by Rachael Cristine Woody, a member of The Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). The opinions and assertions stated within this piece are the author’s alone, and do not represent the official stance of the Society of American Archivists. COPA publishes response posts with the sole aim of providing additional perspectives, context, and information on current events and subjects that directly impact archives and archivists.

An Interview with Micaela Blei, Award-Winning Storyteller and Educator

The Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) is pleased to bring Micaela Blei, PhD, two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner and former Moth director of education, to ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019 this August in Austin, Texas at the JW Marriott. Blei will be teaching a FREE two-hour  “Storytelling Workshop” on Saturday, August 3 (1:00 PM – 3:00 PM) and hosting a storytelling event, “A Finding Aid to My Soul,” on Sunday, August 4 (8:00 PM – 10:00 PM). Pitch Your Story by June 27 for a chance to participate in the event. If selected, you’ll receive guidance from Blei to help whip your story into top shape.

In this interview conducted by Chris Burns of the University of Vermont and past chair of COPA, Blei discusses how she got into storytelling, her time working at Yale’s Beinecke Library, storytelling education, what we can expect from her as the host of “A Finding Aid to My Soul,” and how archivists can apply storytelling to their own work.

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Micaela Blei has years of experience working with individuals, organizations, and communities to shape and share the important stories of their lives. Her acclaimed workshops are invitations to reflection, spaces for discovery, and—most of all—a lot of fun. Her own stories have been called “heartbreaking and hilarious.” She’s appeared on The Moth Radio Hour and live on sold-out storytelling stages nationwide. In 2016, Micaela wrote the storytelling curriculum now used by more than 1,500 educators around the world. Some of you may also know her from her keynote address at RBMS in 2017.

Burns: How did you get into storytelling?

Blei: I found storytelling in 2011, when I left teaching to go to graduate school in education, and could finally stay up late enough on weeknights to go to shows. I found myself at a storytelling show in Brooklyn, and I loved the feeling in the room, loved the kind of community it created—I got up there and it just felt really right! I started going all the time, began teaching it, and ultimately I changed my doctoral research to be about storytelling and identity.

Burns: You actually have some firsthand knowledge of archival work. Can you tell us a bit about your time as a student employee at the Beinecke Library at Yale?

Blei: I often say it’s the best job I ever had (it’s a tie between that and scouting real estate in the Caribbean, which is a whole other story). It was my work-study, to help out Pat Willis (then the Curator of American Lit at the Beinecke) with her correspondence and filing. But we got along so well, and I got really passionate about what she was doing, so slowly I got to do more and more curatorial things. Pat let me be in charge of exhibits—small ones at first—and it was my first experience with really going on an independent intellectual/research journey. I’m so grateful to her for that!

Burns: Your experience educating aspiring storytellers is pretty impressive and includes creating The Moth‘s educational program. What’s a favorite moment of yours from a past storytelling workshop?

Blei: I think my favorite moments are when storytellers are finding out new things about each other through their stories, even if they already knew each other. One of my favorite moments was in a high school workshop: two boys had signed up together and they were best friends. They cracked each other up all the time, and then one of them shared a story with the group about how it felt when his dad passed away the previous year. When it was time to give “feedback” and responses, the teller’s best friend said: “I had no idea, man. You seemed so together that year. I’m so glad I know what you went through.” It reminded me that sometimes, weirdly, it’s easier to share vulnerability with a group than a trusted friend.

Burns: You will be hosting SAA’s storytelling event this August during ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019 in Austin. How do you think about making the night work for both the storytellers and audience? Will there be any surprises? Big musical numbers? Pyrotechnics?

Blei: No big musical numbers planned, unless there is a big demand, in which case I’ll pack costumes . . .

I think a lot about the kindness of a storytelling audience: this isn’t about impressing each other, it’s about connecting with each other. It takes the pressure off. On the audience side, it’s this chance to step into someone else’s experience and realize—that’s happened to me too! Or I never realized that’s what that’s like!

As host, I will also be trying out my absolute best archive jokes from my Beinecke days.

Burns: What are the odds that you might share a story?

Blei: Quite high! I’ll tell a little something at the beginning of the evening, to help set the mood . . . and in my workshop on August 3, which I am so excited for, I’ll probably start us off with a story.

Burns: Why do you think archivists should consider learning more about storytelling as it relates to their work?

Blei: I think learning more about storytelling can help introduce some new tools, but more importantly, remind you that you already have powerful tools that you can use with new intention. We tell stories all the time! Realizing that this is something we are already good at—and can apply it with an awareness—can be so effective in archives work.

I also think that this workshop will help re-frame what “having confidence in public speaking” means. It’s a little bit of a different approach and so many people have found it really helpful.

Burns: Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding your work as a storyteller and educator?

Blei: Not at the moment! If you want more, apply to be in the show, or come to my storytelling workshop, or “A Finding Aid to My Soul”!