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, Archivist and COPA Early Career Member, Kristi Chanda, interviews Stuart Hinds. Stuart Hinds is a Curator of Special Collections & Archives at University of Missouri-Kansas City. Hinds discusses the exhibit “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights” that was built by students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s public history program. It documents the rise of gay and lesbian activist community groups before the Stonewall riots.
KC: What are the main aspects to your exhibit “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights?” What was the process like creating it and who are the main figures involved?
SH: The exhibit tells the story of gay and lesbian activism, both in Kansas City and in the US, in the 1960s before Stonewall, during the Homophile Movement, as it was called. The main thrust of the exhibit is to uncover Kansas City’s surprisingly pivotal role in that movement. The first gathering of gay and lesbian civil rights leaders from across the country, took place in Kansas City in February of ‘66. Out of that meeting comes the formation of umbrella groups for all these different, discrete advocacy and activist organizations across the country. As a part of that umbrella group there is the formation of an information clearinghouse. It was based in Kansas City because the folks here had access to a printing press. So, they would print and distribute the newsletters, the promotional material from a lot of different groups across the country. The exhibit focuses on those efforts, and the formation and activities of Kansas City’s first advocacy group which happened a month after that national meeting. In March of ‘66 the Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom was founded, and they were really active locally. What kicked off the exhibit was the fact that I worked with a committee made up of community members to install a historic marker in downtown Kansas City commemorating the 50th anniversary of that civil rights meeting, and it was put in place across the street from where the hotel used to be. At the same time I worked with a public history faculty member here on campus and his Intro to Public History class developed the exhibit in conjunction with the installation of the marker to sort of flesh out the story that the exhibit tells or that the marker commemorates. It was a class-based exhibit that was a semester-long project, and then I worked with the faculty member and a graduate student who designed the final product. We sort of tightened up the writing and did transitions between panels and all that kind of stuff, and then we got some grant money to fabricate a local version of the exhibit and then a touring version. It went on display locally, in the spring of 2017. The touring version has gone across the Kansas City region and several places in Kansas since then. The process was interesting because it was a class exhibit and I know most of the students weren’t from the LGBTQ community, so they wanted to make sure that they got the story right from the perspective of that community. They interviewed a couple of different folks who were on the committee that worked on the marker. We had a panel discussion with the class, and then reviewed the drafts of their panels. The main figures that are involved in the narrative of the exhibit include prominent national activists, like Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon from The Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco. The primary activist who started the Phoenix Society, who was really a driving force behind it, was Drew Shafer. He was president of the Phoenix for the first two or three years and, you know how some of these organizations work, there’s only one person who makes everything happen, and in this case that was true.
KC: How does the exhibit positively reflect the past and present of the LGBTQ+ community? In what ways can it help empower future LGBTQ+ activism?
SH: The exhibit contextualizes the situation both nationally and locally. The 60s were a particularly oppressive time for the gay and lesbian community. There were lots of efforts to really keep queer people at bay. The exhibit talks about the scene here in Kansas City and how it was surprisingly active. There was a very active social scene. Unlike in a lot of other cities, places where people congregated, essentially gay bars, weren’t typically raided by the police, which they were in lots of other cities in big cities like New York and Chicago and Los Angeles, San Francisco. You saw a lot of raids and a lot of harassment by law enforcement and that wasn’t the case here in Kansas City. The exhibit talks about that. It goes into detail about the activities of the Phoenix Society, which was responsible for that clearinghouse for the national group. They also had their own agenda and set of activities going on locally. They opened a community center in 1968, two years after they founded the group. There was just a lot going on. By the end of the decade they had really overstretched themselves, they were really burnt out, they had really taken on too much. I hope that’s a lesson that local activists take from the experience of members of the Phoenix, that as enthusiastic as you are, and as much as you want to achieve it, you must do it in a balanced way or otherwise you are going to burn yourself out very quickly. Everything’s going to come crashing down, which is exactly what happened with the Phoenix.
KC: What obstacles have you and your colleagues faced with creating this exhibit? What issues are you currently encountering?
SH: When the exhibit was first introduced and initiated, there really weren’t many obstacles. It was just a matter of the students doing the research and connecting with the resources that we have here, just doing the work of the class in conjunction with connecting with local community members. I will say we did get a little bit of pushback when we applied for grant funding. We received funding from the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, which straddles the border between Missouri and Kansas, which was a real hotbed during the Civil War; that was the emphasis of the Heritage Area when it got started, but they’ve since broadened the scope to really focus on different interpretations of freedom. So, we thought this would be a good group to apply to for some of this grant money.
There was some hesitation on the part of the institution’s leadership to take this to the review board because the concern was that they would just immediately push back on it because of the content.
We were able to convince them to be strident and move forward and they agreed, and we got the funding to do it.. The touring version of the exhibit has traveled across Missouri and across Kansas to several different places: to a small-town public library in southeast Kansas where there is a very active queer community, to public libraries here in the metropolitan area, and to museums and historical societies. There was never an issue in the eight or nine places it’s been. Then I was working with folks who are affiliated with the Missouri State Museum, which is in the state capitol in Jefferson City. We were having conversations about queer Missourians in advance of the state’s Bicentennial which is this year, as they were trying to do an exhibit on important Missourians in the history of the state, and they reached out and we talked about some of the the activists here in Kansas City. As part of that conversation, I mentioned this touring exhibit. They were excited about that, and reached out earlier this spring when we made the final arrangements to get the exhibit to them. It went up in what they call the History Hall, which is the hallway outside of the museum, inside the Missouri State Capitol. Some legislative aides, and a legislator reached out to the Museum and asked why this exhibit was on display. They got a very appropriate response from the Director of the Museum, and then they took it further. They took it to the leadership of the department that oversees the museum, which is the Department of Natural Resources.. The leadership of the Department of Natural Resources, four days after the exhibit went on display, decided to remove it from the state capitol. There was a big hue and cry that got a lot of media attention, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. It was in the New York Times, it was in the Washington Post, it was in The Advocate, it was an all sorts of queer blogs. You really couldn’t escape it. As a result of the outcry, the Department of Natural Resources relocated the exhibit in one of their buildings, also located there in Jefferson City, a historic building about four blocks away from the state capitol, far less visible and far less accessible. That’s where the exhibit remains to this day, even though most of the national, regional, and local professional history organizations issued public letters to the governor demanding that the exhibit be relocated back to the state capitol, which didn’t happen and won’t happen at this point. So that’s been challenging on many different levels.It’s just interesting that we encountered this pushback in a building that is supposed to be for all Missouri citizens. First, that they would censor student work and second, that they would censor a specific community of Missourians is really disheartening and frustrating.
KC: Has there been any discussion about future organized plans to take this a step further?
SH: Well, the flip side of the coin is that now we have about seven institutions in line that want the exhibit. I was just talking with the folks at the Missouri State Museum today and it looks like it will come back to us after the holidays, and then we’ll get it first in line for the next showing. Along the way we received generous support from a radio personality in St. Louis who has funded fabrication of another edition of the touring exhibit, and it will go to St. Louis probably within the next few weeks and tour. He’s coordinating several different sites throughout St. Louis to have short term displays of the exhibit through the first six months of 2022. So, it will get out there. It’s just unfortunate it took this ugliness to make that happen.
KC: What do you hope the public would gain when visiting your exhibit?
SH: You talked about an awareness of stories that reflect the histories of the American LGBTQ communities that aren’t about big cities–that aren’t about New York, that aren’t about San Francisco, that aren’t about Los Angeles. That’s why we started this archive, because the stories that emanate from here help complete the picture. There are lots of Kansas City ties directly to the national narrative. That meeting is just one of those ways and we really hope to expand people’s understanding of the fact that there was activity going on here and similar sized cities and even smaller places while the more well-known stories we’re going on.
KC: Any plans in the making for future displays/events?
SH: We have a local undergraduate college of art and design here in Kansas City, the Kansas City Art Institute. I’m working with one of the faculty members there, and he has taught a class on queer archives the last couple of years. This year, he’s teaching it again in the spring, and he really wants to focus the students’ efforts on this topic and the controversy around the exhibit, and then make work in reaction to the controversy. One of the venues that expressed interest was the Kansas City Public Library, so I’m hoping we can finagle having the Making History exhibit and the students’ exhibit on display at the Public Library simultaneously because I think that would really be an interesting opportunity for some conversations and just more awareness. I’m excited about that opportunity. We’ll see what happens.
This is the latest entry in our Archives + Audiences series, which 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. In this post, COPA Member and Archivist, Angie Piccolo interviews Samantha Manz (Cherokee Nation) about the Minnesota Historical Society’s Native American Artist-in-Residence program (NAAIR.) Manz is the collections associate for the Minnesota Historical Society’s Native American Collections and program associate for NAAIR.
AP: Please tell us about your program.
SM: The Native American Artist-in-Residence program is funded by the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies and we work with Native American artists from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. They don’t have to be tribal enrolled members, but they do have to be affiliated with a tribal nation. When I say artists, we’re not working with fine arts artists, we’re working with people who are learning about traditional arts, such as beadwork and quillwork.
This year we have an artist who is learning how to make traditional Dakota dugout canoes and birchbark canoes. A few years ago, Denise Lajimodiere (Ojibwe) learned how to birchbark bite, which had almost been lost. So we try to work with artists who are working with the type of traditional art form that is almost lost to the community.
In a pre-Covid world, we would have two artists-in-residents, but this year we have three artists who are studying jingle dresses, canoes, and quillwork. In addition to the artist-in-residency, we have the Encouragement Grant and this supports younger and upcoming artists. The Encouragement Grant allows them to visit the Minnesota Historical Society Collections and buy supplies.. We try to provide a lot of feedback for artists too, because a lot of them are community members and applying to the NAAiR program can seem intimidating and discouraging. And if they are rejected, then they won’t want to reapply and that’s not our goal.
Over the years, we have acquired pieces from different artists. We allocate $7,500 per artist for MNHS Collections to acquire contemporary items. For example, April Stone (Ojibwe) is a black ash basket weaver and we only have one piece from her in our collections. She made a traditional Ojibwe black ash burial basket. We were able to buy several smaller pieces from other artists. So it depends on the artist.
Additionally, part of the artist’s contract includes public programming. In the past, artists have conducted three public programming events, but this year we are only requiring two public programs. Artists can host public programs on their reservations, community centers, and at MNHS.
When people come to these events, we have them answer a few questions of what they learn and then we keep track of all of that. Right now, the program is shifting to thinking less about the artist’s interactions with the community and more of how we’re impacting the community on a whole. Sometimes for artists, working with their community means taking on an apprentice and teaching them. So we’ve had a few artists in the past who’ve had an apprentice who’s learned from them and came with them to look at our Native American collections.
Sometimes the artists go and look at other museums, like the Minneapolis Institute of Art. One year we had an artist who went to the American Indian Museum in DC, and looked at their collections. We try to combine collections research with traditional Native American art. So they’re learning from the collections, we’re learning from them, and then they’re going out and teaching the rest of their community.
AP: What are some challenges that are unique to this program?
SM: I think right now, especially with Covid, it’s harder. In the past we’ve been able to go out to community members, like different reservations in the area or in South and North Dakota, and do application workshops and answer questions, which is harder to do in Covid. So that’s one challenge and the other challenge is whether or not we’re able to support them with what we have in our collection. So I think those are the two biggest challenges. Also having to reject artists even if their work is beautiful and we love it. It’s harder to get them to reapply, especially because they’re community artists versus fine art artists who are used to applying for such big grants. So we’re trying to bridge that gap between what’s a community artist and how we define artists.
AP: What do you like most about your job?
SM: I really love interacting with the artist when they come in and look at our collections, the things that we learn from them, and what they learn from us. I think it’s a really great opportunity to see how these objects are living in a lot of ways because there’s so much knowledge within objects. Particularly with 3D objects, there’s so much cultural knowledge within them, as well as traditional knowledge.
The artists are able to learn from objects in ways that non-Native artists can’t. That goes for really any artist who comes in to look at our collections. They’re able to teach us things about what they know from their community, and then we add it to our database. I think it really shows that the objects and collections are living and we can learn from them in the same way that they can learn from us.
AP: What are some of your goals for the future of this program?
SM: I think in a lot of ways, how can we continue to help grow this program? What do we want it to look like in the future? Do we want it to continue to grow? How do we want to capture community development? I would love to see more work within the Twin Cities as well, and particularly with the youth. I think we have so many great Native organizations and in the Twin Cities where we can work on combining art and sovereignty and getting people more involved on a day-to-day basis versus just having the artist. I would love to do more community engagement with it.
AP: What do you hope people (both the artists and audience) take away from this program?
SM: For artists, it’s great to see them take this grant and then continue to apply for other grants and have other amazing opportunities and showcase their work in other museums and continue to show in contemporary and more mainstream institutions. I think it’s great to see Native artists participate in some of these mainstream museums that we don’t see and for people to see native artists on a daily basis. For the Native people who feel disconnected, they are able to take these opportunities to learn and grow in their communities and cultures and reconnect with them.
For non-native people to be able to interact with Native artists and learn more about native history, Native arts and see that on a daily basis and see that represented fully. There’s all these representations of Natives as stoic and daunting. I think having those representations challenged is great and to see the vibrancy of the material culture really shows how resilient Native communities are.
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.
The Historic Village at Allaire is a living history museum named posthumously for its founder James P. Allaire. The museum interprets an iron-producing factory town during its peak year, 1836. The village offers a variety of craft demonstrations and activities such as blacksmithing, hearth cooking, and carpentry.
In this latest post, Archivist and COPA Early Career Member, Kristi Chanda, interviews Felicity Bennett. Felicity Bennett is the Museum Collections Coordinator. Her role is both an archivist and handling museum collections. For the first time in the museum’s 60 year history, there is a full-time paid staff position whose sole purpose is to look after the collection. The role was usually handled by volunteers or added to other positions in the past. In her new role, she is looking to further professionalize the museum and organize the collections.
KC: Who was James Allaire and what was his significance to Allaire Village?
FB: James P. Allaire is our founder for the Allaire Village, and during his lifetime it was actually called Howell Works. He was a steamship engine manufacturer, and he had an office in both New York City and Monmouth County, New Jersey, where we’re located. What we were doing was harvesting bog iron, which is a renewable source of iron, and smelting that down into workable iron. It was basically a forge used to manufacture all the parts for the engines that would get shipped to New York for boats.
KC: What types of materials are in his collection? What items are particularly interesting to you?
FB: So, in addition to the museum collection, our archival collection has more of his business documentation, such as his deeds. He did purchase a lot of land from local farmers and everything to build this kind of manufacturing town. We also have some of his personal papers, photographs and other things of that nature. I would say the most interesting to me is the personal papers of his son, Hal Allaire. He was just kind of an eccentric man and he lived here after the village forge shut down. He basically turned into a recluse and kind of let everything become deserted and in ruins. There were still people living here and he did entertain quite a bit in the house, but he was more interested in letting everything return to the forest.
KC: What are some misconceptions surrounding Allaire Village? What information from the collection helps free some of these misconceptions?
FB: So, there is the misconception that it was deserted or abandoned because the original title for our museum was the Deserted Village of Allaire. A lot of the forge and businesses shut down, but there still were people living here, and there’s never really a gap in ownership. So we do have in the collection, we have a lot of the deeds saying who owned it and when. We also have a lot of photographs showing people doing something similar to motor tours. Because during the turn of the century that was a really big public tourist activity. People would get in their little cars and drive on tracks because it was a new adventure at the time.
KC: So, I remembered when I searched Allaire Village online, it was listed as a haunted historical site. I heard about you all receiving inquiries from paranormal investigators.
FB: Those websites are very inaccurate a lot of the time. As far as the history goes, I saw one saying how Hal was a child ghost, that he was a little boy, and he died when he was in his 50s. So, definitely not a child. I have seen stuff confusing his [James’] two wives. You have to be careful using websites because one, ghosts aren’t real, and a lot of the history isn’t correct.
KC: Is there additional information that you would like to add about the collection?
FB: We do continuously find more information by going through our archive. I think that’s really interesting how we can continue to learn just based on what we find, like reading someone’s old diary or something.
KC: Is there anything specific that you’ve learned like any of the materials?
FB: So we’re actually putting together an exhibit about the later years of the village. I had never known the name of who owned the village between Hal and Brisbane and who sold it to the state. I recently found out that it was a man named William Harrison, who was a friend of Hal, who purchased it and paid off taxes and then sold it.
KC: I remember when learning about Arthur Brisbane, there was a lot of misinformation surrounding his contributions.
FB: Brisbane was a huge newspaper editorialist and did a lot with Hearst newspapers and magazines, which are still around today. I forget off the top of my head which ones are still owned by them, but I know it’s a lot.
KC: What do you hope visitors would take away from their experience at Allaire Village?
FB: My hope is for visitors to be engaged with history and to see the relevance between life in the village and today. There are a lot of parallels in how people live then and now. This is really the start of the industrial revolution and a lot of the industry and businesses visitors see in the village had a direct impact on societal and economical changes that happened over the last century. I also want to see more people get involved in local history, because there’s always really interesting things to learn.
The Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) is collaborating again with our favorite professional storyteller, Micaela Blei, for our archivist and archives-centric storytelling event, A Finding Aid to My Soul, on October 6, 12:00 pm — 1:00 PM CT.
Micaela Blei, PhD, is a storyteller, educator and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She’s a two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner, former Director of Education for The Moth and former third grade teacher who has told stories, taught storytelling workshops and hosted shows around the world. She gives keynotes and research talks on storytelling and empathy at conferences and universities nationwide. Micaela’s stories can be heard on The Moth Radio Hour and podcast, the acclaimed podcast Family Ghosts, and many others. You can find out more about her upcoming online courses and hear more stories at micaelablei.com.
This is your third time hosting COPA’s A Finding Aid to My Soul. Last year we took this event online for the first time. What surprised you about last year’s event? What do you think the benefits are of an online event?
It was a surprise how well it worked! I was nervous at first: it was our first time working together for a show that was fully online. But I was thrilled when people shared their reactions— that they found it meaningful, connecting and most of all fun. I think the benefit of an online event— and this isn’t news to us, now that we’ve been doing things online for over a year— is accessibility. It was amazing to see people logging in from all over, who might otherwise not have made it to a live event.
You offer coaching and storytelling workshops to all kinds of groups. What is it like working with archivists?
I find archivists to be really fun to work with, partly because of my own personal fascination with libraries and archives! I worked in an archive as an undergrad (at Beinecke, for the amazing Pat Willis) and it has always felt like the career I never had. Also, archivists understand stories! You all are immersed in stories all the time, and you’re communicators in so many modes— to the public, to stakeholders, to the people whose archives you are stewarding. In short— you’re my favorites.
Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding your work as a storyteller and educator?
Just that I’m thrilled to be back working with SAA and I truly can’t wait to work with some new archivist tellers this year!
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 email@example.com.
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.