The Houston Archives Bazaar: An Interview with Emily Vinson, President of Archivists of the Houston Area

HABlogoIn this post, ArchivesAWARE! chats with Emily Vinson, President of Archivists of the Houston Area (AHA!) and Audiovisual Archivist at the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections, about the recent Houston Archives Bazaar.  Emily shares tips and lessons learned from the experience, stresses the importance of collaboration and communication in mounting outreach events, and shares AHA!’s strategies for attracting media attention to the Bazaar, which, despite the devastation brought by Hurricane Harvey just two weeks before, was still a resounding success.
 

AA: Can you describe the idea behind this archival outreach program?

EV: Archivists of the Houston Area (AHA!) is a local archival professionals organization that aims to “promote archival repositories and activities in the greater Houston, Texas area.” In the fall of 2017, we mounted our first Houston Archives Bazaar. The event boasted over 20 local archival organizations. Over 200 members of the public attended. In addition to the organization tables, we also boasted Preservation and Digitization Stations, archival film screenings, speakers, and an Oral History booth. Thanks to generous sponsors and donations we were able to offer attendees tote bags and wonderful door prizes.

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Photo credit: Ai-Ha Do

AA: Where did you get the idea and what inspired you?

EV: We were inspired by the incredible work of the Austin Archives Bazaar. Three members of the AAB planning committee, Jennifer Hecker, Madeline Moya, and Daniel Alonzo came to Houston for the AHA! Winter meeting and shared their experience in planning the 2014 and 2016 Austin Archives Bazaars events. They also shared their extensive documentation with us, which was a huge help.

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Photo credit: Ai-Ha Do

AA: What worked? What didn’t work? Were you surprised by the outcome or any part of your experience?

EV: The biggest surprise was Hurricane Harvey! The storm hit Houston just two weeks before our planned date, and it was completely up in the air if we would be able to move forward with the Bazaar or not. In the days immediately after the storm, we had no way of knowing if our participants would be able, or want to have the event, or if the public would be interested in attending. Ultimately, we decided to proceed as planned. Only three repositories weren’t able to participate. We tried to respond to the disaster by inviting members of the Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance (TX-CERA) to come and demonstrate water-salvage methods for individuals who had been affected by flooding.

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Photo credit: Ai-Ha Do

AA: What would you do differently?

EV: As part of our planned events, we had several speakers – which was great. However, because we were in a music venue, the speakers didn’t have a dedicated space but instead had to speak over the crowd, which was a bit of a challenge. I think in the future we will brainstorm alternative set-ups to ensure the speakers can be heard. Also, we had a “digitization station” to encourage preservation scanning – I think there is an opportunity to do a lot more promotion in this area to ensure attendees are aware they can bring in materials to scan.

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Photo credit: Ai-Ha Do

AA: What tips do you have for those interested in putting on a similar event?

EV: Give yourself lots of time! Everything was very time consuming, which at times was challenging to balance on top of work and other responsibilities. Also, it is crucial to keep lines of communication open throughout the process.

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AA: Did you get media attention? How did that happen?

EV: Yes – we developed a multi-pronged media approach. We started with a press release that we had translated into Spanish and Vietnamese (both wide-spread languages spoken in Houston). We sent our press release to all news outlets in the region. We also utilized Facebook and Twitter extensively, including paid promotions on Facebook. To contact people who might not be reached through those two methods, we printed postcards and posters that we posted at local coffee shops and mailed to local churches and community centers.

 

 

 

EmilySquareEmily Vinson is Audiovisual Archivist and curator of the KUHT Collection at the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections. Prior to UH, Emily worked as an archivist at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy; a project archivist preserving unique audio holdings at New York Public Radio; and a fellow in Preservation Administration at New York Public Library. She holds an MS in Information Studies with a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Preservation Administration from the University of Texas, Austin. Emily currently serves as the President of the Houston Area (AHA!), and is co-chair of the Preservation Committee for the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA).

 

There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Anne L. Foster, Yellowstone National Park Archivist

This is the first post in our new “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, which will feature examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.  To launch this new series, COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Anne L. Foster, Archivist at Yellowstone National Park.

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Photograph of Anne L. Foster. (Courtesy of Anne L. Foster).

Anne L. Foster has served as Yellowstone National Park’s Archivist since 2010. Prior to that, she was the University Archivist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Traveling Archivist for the Montana Historical Society, NHPRC Fellow in Archival Administration at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, and Assistant Archivist at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Arizona. She is a Certified Archivist (CA), Digital Archives Specialist (DAS), and holds an Masters in Library Science (MLS) from the University of Maryland.

RS: How did you get your gig?

AF: As an undergraduate history student at nearby Montana State University in my hometown of Bozeman, Montana, I used to see flyers advertising an internship in the archives at Yellowstone. While I couldn’t take advantage of the program at the time (I was working three other jobs to pay for school), the fact that archives was a potential career for a history major and that someplace I loved like Yellowstone had one stuck with me. For the next fifteen years, through graduate school and several other archives jobs, I would periodically check and see Yellowstone was hiring. And then, on one random check—they were! I’d just been tenured and promoted at my academic repository, but finally, my dream job was available.  All those other jobs were probably a good thing, though, because they gave the skill set needed to step in as the first professional archivist in Yellowstone and tackle one of the largest backlogs in the National Park Service.

Processing room during our Archives Blitz grant project

Processing room during the Archives Blitz grant project (courtesy of Anne L. Foster).

RS: Tell us about your organization.

AF: The Archives is part of Yellowstone’s Heritage & Research Center (HRC), which also houses the Park’s museum collection, herbarium, and research library.  The HRC is part of the Yellowstone Center for Resources, which is tasked with managing all those things that make Yellowstone so special like the thermal features, wolves and bears, and the scientific research that guides management decisions. While we are part of the National Park Service, we are very fortunate to also have Yellowstone Forever, our philanthropic and educational partner. Yellowstone Forever actually started life in the 1930s as the Yellowstone Museum and Library Association, so our collections have long been a key part of their efforts. Most people think of Yellowstone as the place for geysers and wildlife—and we are–but the Archives is the place where we document those special features and our efforts to preserve them, which to me is something special.

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Entrance to Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center (Courtesy of Anne L. Foster).

RS: Describe your collections.

AF: Like many archives in the U.S., we are both an institutional repository and a collecting institution. Our institutional records are government records and we are subject to federal records laws and guidelines. There are actually two types of records within the government collection: resource management records and administrative/historical records. All national parks keep resource management records. Parks are created to manage a resource or resources and as long as that resource exists, we need to keep records pertaining to those resources to help inform future management decisions (these records are considered “permanently active” as long as the resource is active).  Unlike other national parks, however, we also retain our permanent administrative and historical records like Superintendent’s correspondence, planning documents, partnership agreements and other records that don’t pertain quite so directly to resources. For other parks, those records are sent to the National Archives. Yellowstone is fortunate to be one of the few Affiliated Archives of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This means that the records become part of NARA’s collection, but so long as we meet their standards for preservation, security, and access, we can keep them in our location. This makes it easier for our researchers, both staff and the public, to access our history in one place.

Our third category of collection is our donated or manuscript collections. These materials range from Park visitors’ photo albums, diaries, and scrapbooks through the research of scholars and  scientists who donate their data for future comparative or longevity studies to records of businesses who have operated in the Park over its nearly 150 years. In fact, our Yellowstone Park Company (YPC) records, the main Park concessioner for the first 100 years, is our most accessed collection because it includes payroll records. The YPC hired hundreds of college kids every summer and, apparently, that summer was so memorable that the employees would spend the rest of their lives talking about their summer in Yellowstone. Now, we’re getting those employees’ kids and grandkids coming in to find out what Grandma or Grandpa really did in Yellowstone.

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Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center Archives stacks (courtesy of Anne L. Foster).

RS: What are some challenges unique to your collections?

AF: People love Yellowstone, so much so that there isn’t much about the Park that they aren’t interested in.  This makes archival appraisal a bit challenging—the most routine things truly have the potential for historical value.  Our NARA-approved NPS records schedule, for example, classifies most supply records as temporary. Of course it does—why would one need records for equipment once that item is used up or sold? But, we get queries regularly from people who have purchased former Park vehicles (buses, boats, snowmobiles) and want to know all about their item, down to paint formulas and the names of Rangers who drove them; it’s frustrating not to be able to answer their questions. At the same time, we can’t possibly keep everything.  So, it comes down to a rigorous and often detailed appraisal process.

We can have some unique preservation challenges as well.  Some of our most interesting records are logbooks–bound books used to record eruption data, visitor comments, or deep thoughts about wilderness. But, many of the logbooks are kept in less than optimal locations during creation—backcountry cabins, rock cairns on top of mountains, or next to erupting geysers.  By the time they are filled and transferred to the archives they can be nibbled, rained upon, or even somewhat eaten away by the acidity of geyser spray. During the 1988 fires, the Park’s historian actually flew with a fire crew in a helicopter to several backcountry cabins in order to rescue the logbooks (fortunately, all of the historic cabins were saved). Today, we have a more regular transfer of the logs to help cut down on damage and make use of digital duplication in cases where the damage is significant or potentially harmful to other items.

RS: What is the favorite part of your job?

AF: The location; it is magical to go to work in Wonderland and even more extraordinary to be the keeper of the documentary record for the world’s first national park. That feeling is shared by my coworkers as well as our visitors and researchers—it makes for a lot of enthusiasm and interest in the Park’s history. Every day is different and that makes for interesting and challenging work. There’s a huge amount of variety to my day: the types of records, the archival functions, and the research questions are as varied as Yellowstone’s landscape.

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

 

Giving It a Try: #AskAnArchivist Day

 

This post was authored by guest contributor Caryn Radick, Digital Archivist, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, and current member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA).

In late September, my colleague and I declared this would be the year that Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives would participate in #AskAnArchivist Day! Although most of our social media outreach happens on Facebook and Instagram, taking part in #AskAnArchivist Day would would give us a ready-made opportunity to expand our social media reach further into the Twittersphere.

How we prepared:

Given our late declaration, we had to scramble. We decided to do the following:

  • Reach out to our libraries’ communications office about our participation to see if they could offer suggestions and/or support.
  • Leverage our Instagram presence by preparing posts that could go on Twitter throughout #AskAnArchivist Day using Later.
  • Look for “fun/interesting facts” to post about Rutgers’ collections throughout the day, but to set “office hours” for our participation.

The results of those decisions helped us prepare the day:

  • The communications office offered suggestions (like making videos) and promoted the chat on the Rutgers University Libraries web page and through social media.

  • Using Later let us schedule some posts, in case we got pulled away from our Twitter account during non-office hours.
  • We enjoyed gathering the fun/interesting facts, particularly making a video demonstrating how our dumbwaiter works.

During the office hours (1-2:30) we spent a lot of time interacting on Twitter, but most of our tweeting was with other #AskAnArchivist Day participants. Questions from researchers or people interested in archival life were few. This “are we just talking to each other”? observation came up on Twitter as well. I’d be curious to know which archives have high non-archivist engagement and how they achieve it.

After the session was over, we compiled some quick statistics about the day on Twitter. Our preliminary tally indicated we got about 150 likes and 13 new followers. We later learned that we had made the “What’s Trending” section of the Rutgers Today newsletter (with a tweet about President Obama’s chair from when he attended Rutgers’ commencement).

We also had three of our items posted on that day shared in the Upworthy Story about strange objects found in archives.

Lessons learned from #AskAnArchivist Day:

  • Figure out what you want to achieve and frame your day in a way that supports it.  For example, if our goal was to gain more Twitter followers and share info about our collections, we were successful. If we intended to interact with researchers and people who want to know more about being an archivist, then it was less fruitful.
  • Start planning early! This allows more time to decide upon and gather images, videos, and facts to share.
  • Think about your set-up for monitoring Twitter. We had multiple screens open and were working on two computers. Sometimes we got a little lost in the toggling, but having two people offering different perspectives was useful.
  • Vary the breadth of objects and media you plan to share. It is tough to predict what will generate the most likes and retweets, so mix it up.
  • Get a good sense of your Twitter statistics (number of followers, averages likes and retweets, etc) prior to #AskAnArchivist Day. This provides a good baseline for comparison.
  • Promote the event through other social media channels. We did this for about a week before the event and it seemed to generate interest.

What lessons have you learned from #AskAnArchivist Day? If you’ve participated for multiple years, what changes have you made since you started?

#AskAnArchivist Day 2017 Summary

 

This post was authored by guest contributor Anna Trammell, Archival Operations and Reference Specialist at the University of Illinois Archives Research Center/Student Life and Culture Archives, and current member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA).

 

#AskAnArchivist Day was once again a huge success, allowing archivists from across the country to communicate directly with the public about their work. #AskAnArchivist was trending in the United States from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm with 8,927 total tweets on October 4 from 4,077 unique users. An additional 759 tweets appeared on October 3 and 1,595 on October 5 (at last count). While the total number of tweets using #AskAnArchivist on Wednesday was down from last year, the number of unique users and hashtag use before and after #AskAnArchivist Day was up significantly.

The top tweet received over 2,300 retweets and 6,300 likes.

Other top tweets highlighted specific items,

provided a behind-the-scenes look,

and answered (almost) every preservation question.

#AskAnArchivist Day not only provided a forum for archivists to interact with the public, but it also encouraged dialogue between archivists. These top tweets are just two examples of these discussions:

Members of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness used #AskAnArchivist Day to ask members of the profession about their outreach activities,

special visitors,

surprising archives positions,

and how they’d describe an archivist in 5 words.

For more #AskAnArchivist Day tweets, check out SAA’s highlights.

What was your favorite question on #AskAnArchivist Day? How did you promote #AskAnArchivist Day at your institution? Any suggestions for archivists wanting to participate for the first time next year? Let us know in the comments!

Thank you to all who participated in this year’s #AskAnArchivist Day and helped make it a success!

Gearing Up for #AskAnArchivist Day

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The members of SAA’s Committe on Public Awareness (COPA) have gathered in Chicago this week to review and rework our work plan for the next year. With #AskAnArchivist Day fast approaching (it’s this Wednesday, October 4th, in case you missed the announcement), we’re dedicating a chunk of time today to get ready our favorite day of the year.

Last year, the COPA members and SAA staff had fun creating promotional memes for the annual event…

…so we’re creating a few more today for a last promotional push.

Follow the official hashtag, #AskAnArchivist, on Twitter–we’ll keep sharing our memes (the good, the bad, and the ugly) up until the big day. And it looks like University of Chicago Special Collections is getting in on the meme fun this morning as well…

Think you can top these #AskAnArchivist Day promotional memes? Share yours on Twitter today and tomorrow to build up momentum heading into Wednesday!

Don’t worry, we’re not spending our entire in-person meeting creating memes. We’ve also come up with a number of questions that we plan to ask throughout the day on Wednesday so that COPA can join the conversation and hear about your archival outreach successes…and failures.

We’ll be asking/prompting:

“What’s an archivist?” elevator speech in 140 characters or less. Go!

What has been your favorite outreach event that brought people to your archives?

Any collections or repositories you’ve heard of that made you say “There’s an archivist for that?!”

…so get your answers ready, and be prepared for more questions coming from COPA! We’ll be using an added hashtag, #ArchivesAWARE, to make it easy to follow our questions.

See you Wednesday!

#AskAnArchivist Day 2017 participants list

 

Beyond the Elevator, No. 10

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authorsportraitsBeyond the Elevator is a cartoon strip created by Mandy Mastrovita and Jill Severn. The strip expresses their heartfelt belief that the magic of archives can and should be worked into ANY conversation or situation.  The prospect of this axiom has exhorted the two into paroxysms of giggles, chortles, and howls despite the sober and noble subject matter.  Indeed, they have spent hours cooking up likely scenarios to bring to life in future cartoons.  These little gems appear in ArchivesAWARE! onmonthly basis for the foreseeable future, or until they run out of ideas. Which is where you, the reader can help. Tell them your best stories about talking archives—the wilder, the weirder, the crazier; the better They will even take an elevator story if you make it good. To share your story, please send a description of your concept, relevant details, and contact information (your name and your email address) to beyondtheelevator@gmail.com.

October 4th is Ask An Archivist Day!

AskAnArchivist_GIF_2017What Is #AskAnArchivist Day?

It’s an opportunity to:

  • Break down the barriers that make archivists seem inaccessible.
  • Talk directly to the public—via Twitter—about what you do, why it’s important and, of course, the interesting records with which you work.
  • Join with archivists around the country and the world to make an impact on the public’s understanding of archives while celebrating American Archives Month!
  • Interact with users, supporters, and prospective supporters about the value of archives.
  • Hear directly from the public about what they’re most interested in learning about from archives and archivists.

How Does It Work?

On October 4, archivists around the country will take to Twitter to respond to questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist. Take this opportunity to engage via your personal and/or institutional Twitter accounts and to respond to questions posed directly to you or more generally to all participants.

Questions will vary widely, from the silly (What do archivists talk about around the water cooler?) to the practical (What should I do to be sure that my emails won’t get lost?), but each question will be an opportunity to share more about our work and our profession with the public. Visit SAA’s Storify that summarizes the 2016 #AskAnArchivist Day to get more examples of questions and answers. Last year generated thousands of questions and answers, some of which have been Storified:

Between now and October 4:

PROMOTE #AskAnArchivist Day among your users and constituents via your institution’s website, Twitter account, blog, newsletter, and any other mediums available to you. Click here for the public announcement (and feel free to pick up language from it for your own promotions). Memes are a great way to drum up excitement and are easily created through an online meme generator. Check out examples of last year’s promotional “Philosoraptor” memes here and here.

For additional inspiration on what your promotion of #AskAnArchivist Day might look like, check out what your peers did last year:

And see our Storify of marketing from a previous #AskAnArchivist Day, as well as these great examples of museums’ promotions of #AskACurator Day:

Examples of possible Twitter promotion:

  • Happy #AskAnArchivist Day! Our archivists are waiting for YOUR questions. Tag us at @TWITTERHANDLE and use #AskAnArchivist.
  • Archivists at @TWITTERHANDLE are gearing up for #AskAnArchivist Day on October 4! Literally—documents and photo boxes stacked and waiting!

ENCOURAGE the public to use #AskAnArchivist and your institution’s Twitter handle (e.g., @smithsonian) when asking questions so you won’t miss any that are intended for you and so we will be able to track questions and answers to measure overall participation.

TALK to your staff and colleagues to develop a plan for responding to tweets throughout the day.  Will one person respond to all tweets?  Will you share the task? Will individuals sign up for time slots and let the public know who will be available when?

Here’s one example:

  • During #AskACurator Day, one person at the Indianapolis Museum of Art was selected to monitor both the general hashtag and tweets sent directly to @imamuseum. When direct questions came in or interesting general questions were posed via the hashtag, the designated monitor sent the questions to participating curators via email. The curators (and their archivist!) replied with their answers, and the monitor posted all answers from the @imamuseum Twitter account. (See the Storify of the IMA’s participation in #AskACurator Day for results.)

CREATE an institutional Twitter account if you don’t already have one. #AskAnArchivist Day and American Archives Month are both great opportunities to start one! Click here to get started.

And if an institutional Twitter account is not an option for you, answer questions from your personal Twitter account! If your institutional affiliation and job title are not already listed on your profile, be sure to add that for the duration of #AskAnArchivist Day.

If you plan to participate, please email SAA Editorial and Production Coordinator Abigail Christian with your Twitter handle so we can create a list of participants.

TWEET and GREET! Take advantage of this opportunity to join with archivists from around the country to talk to and hear directly from the public on October 4.