“Giving Voice to Archivists”: An Interview with Geof Huth and Karen Trivette, hosts of the podcast “An Archivist’s Tale”

Geof Huth and Karen Trivette are the husband and wife team behind An Archivist’s Tale, a podcast featuring “archivists in conversation with archivists, discussing their work and passions and how they care for the historical record and present the storied past.” Geof and Karen have had a remarkably productive year since releasing their first episode on February 10, 2018, with 47 episodes available as of this writing and more on the way. In this post, COPA member Chris Burns flips the script and interviews the interviewers, asking Geof and Karen why and how they created this podcast and what they have learned along the way. [Full disclosure: Chris was a guest on Episode 7: There’s an Archivist for You.]

an archivist's tale logo (2018-02)Chris Burns: Where did you get your idea and what inspired you?

Geof Huth: I had the original idea to do the podcast, which was inspired by the convergence of a few facts of my life at the time. First, my daughter (the almost famous Erin Mallory Long) has had a podcast for years, one focused on the television show Friends. Truth be told, I’ve barely listened to that show, since my interest in Friends is deep enough but not nearly as deep as my daughter’s.

For the last couple of years, I’ve had two other realities in my work life: I have spent at least 30% of my time working on my feet as my records management unit arranges and describes about 12,000 cubic feet of old court records (old meaning back to 1674), and the physical process of merely arranging such volume had left me with lots of empty air time in my head. Atop that, I accepted an additional position as Chief Law Librarian, which required me to drive three hours from Manhattan to New York’s Capital District and then back at least once a month to be with my unit based there. My life had become filled with empty air, and I always have to fill empty air, so I began to listen to podcasts (almost exclusively political ones—maybe not a good idea) to fill that space.

One day (January 10th, 2018), while listening to podcasts as I drove back to Manhattan on the New York State Thruway, I said to myself, “If Erin can do a podcast, then I can too, and I’d love to have deep talks with archivists about their work.” (Well, maybe not exactly those words.) After driving a few miles, I thought, “Wait, I’m married to an archivist! Karen and I should do this together, and an additional voice will make it more interesting.” Not to mention she has a beautiful voice. As soon as I arrived home, I began chattering to Karen about this idea, and we began to draw up a plan for the podcast.

In case it’s not clear, Karen and I are married. That helps us run the podcast because we can discuss issues as we walk places or have dinner or sit on the couch.

Karen Trivette: Geof was the chief inspiration behind my involvement in the podcast. That said, I felt I had an interesting career path or paths (academic and professional) and wanted to share them with others in the field. More so, I always enjoyed hearing how others came to the field of archives management and learning what drives them to stay engaged with and impassioned by the work. I love what I do for a living and love the fact that others do, too; the details are mesmerizing!

We struggled initially with what to entitle the program; after much give and take, we arrived at “An Archivist’s Tale,” since that’s what we wanted to elicit from the conversations. I must admit, I was influenced by the PBS television series, “A Chef’s Life” when I came up with this title; I love how Chef Vivian Howard introduces each episode and thought it would apply well to our endeavor.

Chris: How do you decide who to interview and what do you ask them?

Karen: We have two standard formal questions we ask each subject; first, we ask, “What is your archivist origin story?” Or, “How did you become an archivist in the first place?” It is truly amazing how very different everyone’s story is… I must give credit where credit is due: Bob Clark, Director of Archives at the Rockefeller Archive Center, and the first person we interviewed, proposed telling his own archivist origin story. We adopted the language immediately and it prompts nice introductory content.


Bob Clark shares his archivist origin story in Episode 2: The Document Whisperer.

From there, we usually have many other questions from the subject. Usually, the exchanges flow quite naturally and conversations develop organically as we go along. The second fixed question is posed about two-thirds to three-quarters the way through each interview, the question being, “What keeps you passionate about the work you do?” Again, the responses never cease to amaze and inform. They have actually caused me to rethink my own motivations and inspirations to do the work I do day in and day out.

Geof: Choosing who to interview is a strange balancing act having much to do with availability. We began with well known archivist friends of ours who were planning to visit New York City. Being based in Manhattan is a boon to us, since so many people come here for work and pleasure. But we are not always in New York, so when we travel—to conferences or for fun—we reach out to archivists to schedule conversations where all of us will be.

What we are really looking for is diversity—of everything: type of work, location of work, ethnicity, race, gender, anything we can think of. Yet we’ve not always been successful finding interviewees who could talk about specific topics. We’ve been turned down by the archivists in public libraries we’ve reached out to, and the one community archives we contacted did not respond to our request. We are a good venue for the voices of archivists, but we are also certainly not the big time, so we don’t always expect a yes.

Beyond diversity, we have developed some themes, areas we focus on. One has been the Archives Leadership Institute, which I attended in the first year and Karen attended this year, ten years after me. I’ve been present at ALI for most of those years and helped run it for the last six. Because of our connection to ALI, we have recorded a number of interviews with people who have attended, run, or taught at ALI, including the entire steering committee I served on.

We also look for people working on special projects or working in an interesting niche that’s not quite archives but which is archives enough for us. It’s important to note that our focus is not on famous archivists but on archivists in general. Some people think they are not important enough to interview, so we tell them why we want people to hear their voices—why we want to document all kinds of archivists and all kinds of archives and records work. Our tagline is “Giving Voice to Archivists,” and that is truly our goal. We want archivists to tell our shared and diverse story.

Chris: What are some the unexpected things you’ve discussed with your archivist guests?

Geof: Maybe the first thought that comes to mind here is how I’m surprised when archivists know something I didn’t imagine an archivist would know, such as you, Chris, knowing of my poetry writing professor Hayden Carruth. It makes sense that you did, since his papers are in your university’s collection, but it is still a surprise.

I’m amazed by what I learn about the people we talk to. Who knew Stacie Williams was a Sconny (or what a Sconny was until she told me)? Why didn’t I know that Vin Novara was formerly a professional musician, which then made sense he worked at a repository focused on music? I’m surprised by how deep conversations reveal facts about people I know well, but facts they may not have otherwise mentioned.


Stacie Williams explains what a Sconny is in Episode 22: The Patterns of History.

Sometimes, I’m startled by my own reaction to guests, such as when I went into a passionate oration about IBM’s importance to our understanding and management of knowledge because it has been willing to play the long game—having spent generations thinking about and improving information management, often in ways that have helped archives.


Jamie Martin talks with Geof and Karen about using archival objects to demonstrate IBM’s long-term commitment to developing speech recognition technology in Episode 6: If You Don’t Start Crawling, You’re Never Going to Win a Sprint.

And the podcast has changed my thinking, as the conversations have taught me more about archives. For instance, I used to be fairly rigid in my thinking about archivists doing oral histories. I wasn’t against our doing that work, because I saw the value of it; I simply didn’t see it as an archives’ function. But now I accept archivists as the initial creators of records, and I think about how other meta- or para-archival activities (as I varyingly call these) add information to our stores of knowledge, and I accept that archivists can be the best people to do this work.

Karen: The most unexpected element for me is the fact that some archivists need permission to speak to us. Some archivists could not even get their supervisors or institutions to grant permission at all, while other archivists are asked to limit what they say. I find this disappointing given archivists’ mission to make information accessible.

Chris: What’s something fun that you’ve learned?

Karen: This is a difficult question to answer! It’s like selecting your favorite child…every subject brings something amusing to the table and the fact that it is a fun field to be a member of makes our exchanges full of enjoyable experiences. I’m always entertained by folks’ academic and career trajectories and the enjoyment they relay in their stories. How people arrive at their archives destination, and where they want to go further, entertains me to no end!

Geof: Just talking to people is enjoyable. Every guest makes me laugh or think or pontificate. I tend to become excited by the intellectual work of archivists and by the ability of archives to deepen and extend human knowledge. That might not sound like fun to many, but sometimes when you hear me on the podcast you can hear that I’m at the edge of my seat with excitement. It’s the way I am. I’m filled with passion about our work, which is why we have a question about passion. For me passion is purpose—as it propels us forward even as it draws people to our work.


Elizabeth Myers talks about believing in the integrity of the work and in the integrity of the historical record in Episode 42: This Mysterious Process by Which.

Chris: What advice do you have for archivists who are considering producing a podcast?

Geof: Have a plan. We sat down and figured out what we were going to do first. We essentially worked out a business plan that didn’t consider money at all (except for initial costs) but focused on management and promotion. That gave us a foundation to build upon. We began this adventure knowing what we wanted to do.

The corollary to that is to be willing to change or abandon that plan at any time. Not everything works out, so we have had to change plans. We originally wanted to release an episode every week, but we ended up with so much content that we have been a weekly show since our second episode. Now, our guests have to wait a month or six weeks for their episode to “air.”

Karen: Know your equipment! I have a fraction of the understanding Geof has regarding our equipment and I am slowly getting more knowledgeable and comfortable with it. We keep things fairly spare and mobile as far as the equipment goes and it still pushes my comfort boundaries.

karen trivette and geof huth of an archivist's tale, photograph by tanya zanish-belcher (washington, dc, 2018-08-14)

Geof and Karen and their mobile recording studio.

Chris: What’s next?

Karen: We are always seeking interview opportunities and we’re lucky to have so many of them. That said, we also make opportunities happen as often as possible. For example, we recently traveled internationally for the International Council on Archives section on University and Research Institutions annual conference, held in Salamanca, Spain. We decided early on to invite speakers and organizers to be interviewed. We were lucky to engage with Dr. Shelley Sweeney and Mr. William Maher. Our equipment is minimal so taking it with us, even across the ocean, is easy! Another opportunity we’ve identified is aligning interviews with professional development outlets. For example, there are a few SAA-DAS certificate training courses soon to be offered in the Austin, Texas area; I am thinking about taking these courses so we’ve considered trying to arrange to interview Dr. David Gracy while there.

Geof: We have plans. We have been trying for months to schedule a recording with two archivists we know who are married to each other. This will give us two pairs of married archivists together on the podcast (counting Karen and me as the second pair), so we’re thinking that setting up such pairings might be another theme for us. We might call these “A Couple of Couples of Archivists,” or something like that—and maybe peer a little into the workings of marriage from an archivist’s perception. And we want to record episodes in every state in the union and in more countries. We want to have reach. We want to have more reasons for people to listen to the interesting archivists we talk to.


Kerri Anne Burke talks about meeting her archivist husband, Alan Delozier, at an Irish studies conference in Episode 43: 2X2: Our Retention Period is Permanent.

We want people to listen to archivists, so we promote every episode we create. We owe that to our guests. On October 20th, 2018, we reached and exceeded 5,000 hours of listening. Certainly, that is a small number in the real world, but good enough in the archives universe.

We view ourselves as a media company (which is how we identify ourselves on Facebook), and so we try to act like a company, if a tiny one. We have stylish square business cards, and we add content besides links to episodes to our social media feeds so that people are reminded of us. We post an almost daily archives quotation. We post dispatches from archives conferences we attend. And I have started writing short essays (1,000 words or so) on archives and posting links to them on our feeds. I’d planned this writing as a personal way to think concisely and publicly about archives, and we thought it would be helpful to associate these with our podcast.

Archival Ghosts: Spooky Stories from “A Finding Aid to My Soul”

The Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) presented “A Finding Aid To My Soul,” an open-mic storytelling session on August 18 at the COSA/NAGARA/SAA joint meeting. The event was a smashing success, with twelve archivists sharing stories to a packed room that were sad, funny, profound, and even a little scary at times.

SAA and COPA will be sharing recorded audio from a number of the storytellers over the coming months. To kick things off, and in the spirit of the Halloween season, here are a couple of ghost stories shared that evening by Jennifer Overstreet and Terry Baxter.

They are a little spooky and do contain some graphic content, so listener beware.

Jennifer Overstreet, Graduate Student, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

OverstreetJennifer.jpg large

Terry Baxter, Archivist, Multnomah County Archives

BaxterTerry

Recap of “Carpe Media! Communications and Media Training for Archivists” Workshop at ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2018

In this post, authors Vince Lee and Rachel Seale, members of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA), share their impressions from attending the COPA-sponsored “Carpe Media! Communications and Media Training for Archivists” workshop at ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2018.

Workshop facilitator Jason Steinhauer role-playing with an attendee. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Carpe Media! Communications and Media Training for Archivists” was a day long workshop put together by SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) and facilitated by Jason Steinhauer at Archives*Records 2018. This workshop offered archivists the necessary tools and confidence to be better communicators on their profession and organization to a wide variety of audiences. Many of us were forced out of our comfort zones to participate in activities that helped focus our message about archives, in general, and specific messages to our respective stakeholders and users, in particular.

COPA worked with SAA Executive Director, Nancy Beaumont, and Director of Publishing, Teresa Brinati, to bring this professional development opportunity to SAA members. Communicating effectively to the media or on social media is something most archivists have learned on the job and many of us would still like to develop these skills.  Reasons for attending the training and what they hoped to get out of it were articulated at the beginning of the session during introductions between Jason and the attendees:

  • Tools to raise awareness of what they do and the collections they have to the general public
  • Make communications more interesting and impactful to targeted audience
  • Communicate more strategically
  • Awareness and advocacy targeted to grass roots audience on why archivists and their organizations need additional resources/facilities to house and process their collections
  • Donor communications and bridging perceptions on archivists and our roles
  • Awareness and community outreach to potential donors
  • Get “buy-in” from organizational leadership for additional resources
  • Communicating history and heritage to internal stakeholders

    Leadership slide from workshop. Photo courtesy of Teresa Brinati.

Takeaways

  • Be concise and consistent.
  • Social media slide from workshop. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

    Be repetitive, don’t assume people are going to see your one Tweet amidst the 500 million other Tweets that day.

  • You have customers and users. Tailor your message to each group.
  • Your brand is a promise to deliver something to your customers and also how you are perceived.
  • Resist the temptation to be clever.
  • Stick to the message, don’t be cute or snarky or that’s what the journalist may cut out of context and use in their piece.
  • Choose the platform/s that is most used by your customers and users. Don’t know which platform? Survey!
  • Always be connected (ABC)-think about who you are connecting to and with and what message your audience wants/expects to receive.

List of “our words” that we can use to communicate what an archives is to an external audience. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Jason pointing to our “words” to describe what an Archives means to each of us. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Attendees from the workshop came away with a newfound appreciation that words matter and time is short. The words we use to tell our stories about ourselves, our profession, and the organizations we work for must come from us in order to be authentic and resonate to those we are trying to communicate to. We all have a limited amount of time and space to get our point across. We need to think of the essence of the thing without the whole thing. What is the essence of archives? It’s important to strip and distill what an archives is down for our audience in digestible chunks. The essence of archives is about the words we choose to describe ourselves and our profession. It’s important that we incorporate and use our words in conversations with donors, media, and our customers on a consistent basis.

At the end attendees had the opportunity to practice what they have learned in a one-on-one role-play exercise with Jason on various scenarios and situations they may find themselves in- whether it is interviewing in front of a camera, requesting more funding from an administrator or donor, or requesting additional resources in support of a project. Attendees would then receive feedback on their performance from both Jason and their peers.

Group photo of attendees. Photo courtesy of Teresa Brinati.

Advocacy and Outreach at the Annual Meeting

Gearing up for the SAA Annual Meeting next week in DC? If you’re looking for opportunities to raise awareness about and advocate for archives, or to learn about innovative outreach initiatives to spark your own outreach efforts, then the annual meeting is definitely the place to be. For the second year, SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) has put together a custom schedule to highlight the wide variety of sessions, meetings, and events that feature outreach- and advocacy-related content. View the schedule here, and be sure to add some of these offerings to your custom schedule! Some highlights include…

Carpe Media! Communications and Media Training for Archivists
This limited-enrollment, full-day workshop during ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2018 is tailored to archivists and record managers with a goal of instilling in participants the confidence to be better communicators. Workshop leader Jason Steinhauer, who is well-grounded in the unique elements of the archival profession, provides attendees with tips and tools to bolster public outreach; stimulate public interest in archives, history, and the humanities; and implement strategies to reach STEM-driven media and audiences by applying the principles of the emerging field of history communication to your own work. Though enrollment for this workshop is closed, you can look forward to hearing from SAA, COPA, and workshop attendees about the results of the workshop–including a recap post to be published on ArchivesAWARE!

Archives on the Hill Event
Archivists take on Capitol Hill in this advocacy event that begins with orientation and training in the morning and culminates in Hill visits that pair experienced advocates with those who want to learn. Speak up in support of federal funding for archives! For more information on this event, read this post by the Committee on Public Policy (COPP) Chair, Dennis Riley, on the Off the Record blog.

Information Tables
COPA will be joining other SAA appointed groups and related archival organizations at the informational tables on the Mezzanine Level of the conference hotel. Stop by the COPA table to learn about a variety of outreach-related initiatives including the ArchivesAWARE blog, #AskAnArchivst Day (OCTOBER 3, 2018), Federal Funding Impact Stories, and plans for a SAA Speakers’ Bureau, among others.

A Finding Aid to My Soul…
COPA presents “A Finding Aid To My Soul,” an open-mic storytelling session celebrating the diversity and commonality of the archivist experience. Storytellers will have five minutes to share true stories about their unique, moving, serendipitous, mysterious, special, and often humorous encounters in the archives (no props, please). Sign up in advance or during the conference for a chance to share your story, or simply sit back and enjoy the tales of your colleagues in what promises to be an engaging and entertaining event. There will even be a few special guests. A panel of judges selected from the audience will determine the top storytellers and prizes will be awarded. For more information about this new and unique annual meeting event, read last week’s ArchivesAWARE blog post by COPA Chair, Chris Burns.

Know of other outreach- and advocacy-related sessions, events, and general happenings taking place next week that didn’t make our schedule? Tell us in the comments below, or let us know which of these and other annual meeting events you are most looking forward to!

A Finding Aid to My Soul: An Archivist Storytelling Event

The Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) presents “A Finding Aid To My Soul,” an open-mic storytelling session celebrating the diversity and commonality of the archivist experience. Storytellers will have five minutes to share true stories about their unique, moving, serendipitous, mysterious, special, and often humorous encounters in the archives (no props, please).

Featured Storytellers

  • Terry Baxter, Multnomah County Archives – Encountering ghosts in the archives.
  • Krista Ferrante, MITRE – Job interviews are tough but interviewing while 9 months pregnant is torture.
  • Virginia Hunt, Harvard University Archives – The ten things they don’t teach you in graduate school all learned in one particularly strange donor experience.
  • Petrina Jackson, Iowa State Special Collections and University Archives – My encounter with a burnt cross, and how this item had a personal, visceral impact on me.
  • Elizabeth Myers, Smith College Special Collections – A tragic love story set amongst the Communist Party and World War II.

A Chance to Tell Your Story:

Five additional storytellers will be selected at the performance. Contact Chris Burns at chris.burns@uvm.edu in advance or sign up at the event for a chance to share your story.

Serve as a Judge:

Three teams of judges will be selected from volunteers in the audience to determine the top storytellers. Prizes will be awarded. Contestants will be judged on sticking to the five-minute time frame, making the archivist central to the story, and having a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

Sit Back and Enjoy the Show:

Come hear the tales of your colleagues in what promises to be an engaging and entertaining event.

Friday August 17, 2018 8:00pm – 10:00pm
Marriott Wardman Park Hotel
Virginia AB
Cash Bar

You won’t want to miss “A Finding Aid To My Soul”!

As a teaser, here are a few stories from The Moth (featuring respectively a library card, thoughts on memory, and a letter from Iggy Pop) to give you a flavor of what this format looks and sounds like and some examples to aspire to.

Marvin Gelfand: Liberty Card

 

Wendy Suzuki: Saying ‘I Love You’

 

Ameera Chowdhury: School Night

 

A COPA Guide to SAA 2017

Capture

Just one month to go until the annual conference in Portland!  As you plan your conference schedule, take a look at the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA)’s guide to all things public awareness-related at SAA 2017: https://archives2017.sched.com/committeeonpublicawareness.

To make it even more digestible, we’ve broken down the Sched list into the top 5 things you should check out.

1.) Be sure to catch our 2nd annual Advocacy Forum on Thursday at noon!  Our timely topic is “Archival Advocacy and Awareness Amid Social/Political Upheaval.”  This talk will be moderated by COPA chair Sami Norling and the Committee on Public Policy (COPP) chair Dennis Riley.

2.) Chat with us during our COPA office hours in the Exhibit Hall on Friday.  We’ll be there from 8 – 8:30 am and 12:30 – 1:30 pm.  We’ll be collecting your Federal Funding Impact Stories, ideas for Ask An Archivist Day 2017 (October 4, 2017), nominations for inspirational archives speakers and stellar collections, and soliciting contributions to this very blog!

3.) Still not sure what COPA does?  If you arrive early, join us for our meeting on Wednesday at 2:00 pm.

4.) Staying late?  Take advantage of all of The Liberated Archive sessions, happening throughout the day on Saturday.

5.) Finally, look at all of that green in the middle of our schedule.  There are so many great sessions highlighting archival outreach to the community this year.  You’re sure to find one which fits your particular public outreach interest.

See you in Portland!

Live Blogging from RAO Marketplace of Ideas, Group 3

The SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) is excited to be joining this year’s purveyors of hot topics and cool demonstrations at the Reference, Access, and Outreach (RAO) Section Marketplace of Ideas at the 2016 Annual Meeting. In the spirit of trying new avenues for outreach, we are not only encouraging attendees to live tweet with #ArchivesAWARE, but are also experimenting in LIVE BLOGGING–RIGHT NOW.

Group 3

Group 3

We are asking groups of Marketplace shoppers some outreach-related questions to get discussions going, and below are some of the responses we are getting LIVE:

1. What was the best new outreach initiative you’ve tried? If not new, what is your go-to for archival outreach?

    • Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. Outreach resides with the Museum. Tumblr blog for Library. Has 13,000 followers to date. Have a big following among tattoo artists, who like illustrations. Interact with them through Tumblr. Also have a First Friday program with pop-up exhibits.

      Othermalia

      Othermalia

    • Temple University. Cookbooks, do a potluck with older recipes. People come in and find recipes from a selection of cookbooks.
    • Stanford. History of Information class. Students had to make recipes.
    • Go to. Tufts – Alumni events around commencement..Bring a button maker featuring Jumbo the elephant. Flooded with activity. New series of Tufts traditions.
Tufts button maker and buttons.

Tufts button maker and buttons.

2. How do you measure success for outreach activities? What are your benchmarks?

3. That being said, what have been some of your outreach fails?

4. Who do you consider an outreach superstar (not just archives!)