Asserting the Archivist, No. 2

This post was authored by guest contributor Samantha Norling, Digital Collections Manager at Newfields and member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA).  This the second post in our “Asserting the Archivist” series on the importance of highlighting archivists and archival work in outreach efforts, rather than just focusing on the collections themselves.

Too often, archivists and archival repositories can get stuck in the loop of sharing only THE STUFF, especially as those posts get a positive response and many interactions. But those collection-centric posts that help to extend our reach to every conceivable interest group on the web provide us with a valuable opportunity to highlight the work, knowledge, and skills of archivists to a nearly unlimited variety of audiences–“Asserting the Archivist” in outreach for our institutions.

In 2014, The Huntington Library created a series of 5 videos–published on Vimeo and shared on their social platforms—that took viewers behind-the-scenes to learn about the work of five staff members who filled different roles in the library. Included in these videos was the archivist, Li Wei.

In less than 3 minutes, Wei communicates multiple key points about what makes archivists unique from librarians and curators, emphasizing the complexity of archival collections and the skills needed to not just organize and catalog large archival collections, but to do so with the aim of facilitating access and discovery.

Do you have a favorite example of archival repositories or organizations/businesses that “assert the archivist” in their outreach efforts? Or would you like to share your experience incorporating archival work into your outreach? Please share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be a guest contributor to ArchivesAWARE!

Sound and Vision: And We’re Live in 5…4…3…2…1

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This post was authored by COPA Chair Chris Burns, Manuscripts Curator and University Archivist at the University of Vermont.

This is the second in a series of posts about the use of video as an archival awareness tool. Feel free to contact the editors of this blog at archivesaware@archivists.org if you have a video or topic you would like to see covered, or if you would like to contribute to this series.

In 2016, we kicked off a new series designed to focus on the use of video in archival awareness and outreach efforts. The inaugural post, Sound and Vision: Using Video to Tell the Tales of Archives and Archivists, featured a handful of videos that had been produced by repositories and some general best practice tips. To be perfectly honest, there were not a lot of examples to choose from at that point in time. The use of video by archives was simply not widespread.

However, the use of video has grown significantly since then, driven in large part by livestreaming services, particularly Facebook Live. This type of video production has a lower barrier of entry, ties in easily to existing social media channels, and consequently is becoming an important outreach tool for archives and special collections. Facebook has made a concerted effort to promote and support Facebook Live, so while there are other tools for live streaming content to your audience, Facebook Live has become the major player, in no small part because of the large potential audience that already exists on Facebook.

What is Facebook Live?

Jennifer Koerber, writing in Library Journal, gives a good overview of Facebook Live and its use in libraries. At its most basic, Koerber notes, it is “video streamed over Facebook and archived there afterwards.” Facebook Live events are live videos as opposed to an edited video. They tend to be improvised, and are often filmed on devices as simple as a phone or tablet. The technical barriers for producing and distributing this type of content are quite low, but as with a more traditional edited video, quality can vary significantly. Paying attention to sound quality and lighting, as well as using a tripod and the best available camera and microphone setup can greatly improve the quality of your video and the experience for your audience. Koerber cites two helpful articles with tips for recording video on smartphones.

Facebook Live events are just that, live events, and need to be promoted to ensure you have an audience. Promotion should target your Facebook audience, but not exclusively. Promoting these events through other channels (blog, email, Instagram, etc.) not only draws people to the event, but also lets them know you have a Facebook account that they might want to follow. Because the events take place on a social media platform, they also have the potential to be interactive. People watching can share their enthusiasm by liking, commenting, and sharing the video. The live component allows you to interact with an online audience in interesting ways, such as soliciting questions from online viewers during the stream. Koerber notes how having a staff member monitor the comments during the livestream allows that individual to respond in real-time and add additional information like links to catalog records or digitized versions of the objects being discussed.

How are Special Collections and Archives using Facebook Live?

One way to use this medium is to provide an introduction to your holdings. The video below, from the National Agriculture Library, features an introduction to their seed catalogs (my favorite is the manuscript catalog from the 1830’s featured about 10 minutes in). The 37 minute video features staff members taking turns discussing items in their collection and has been viewed over 4,500 times in the 2 months since it was posted.

Another way institutions have been using Facebook Live to share their collections is by connecting them to another event, either at their institution or externally. In October 2016, the Dibner Library at the Smithsonian used a Facebook Live event featuring their anatomy books to tie into Halloween and Page Frights. The comments section shows how Dibner staff interacted with viewers throughout the video, taking full advantage of the live aspect of the event.

 

The Houghton Library at Harvard University held a Facebook Live event in March 2017 in celebration of their 75th anniversary. During the 48 minute live stream, two Houghton staff members gave a tour of the library, showed off items from the collection, and took questions from viewers. A key aspect of this livestream is that it took place on the main Harvard University account, which allowed the Houghton to reach a much larger potential audience. As a result, the video has been viewed over 67,000 times, and has had 1,900 reactions, 239 shares, and 415 comments. Not all archives will have access to an audience as large as the Harvard community, but it is a good reminder of how partnering with a larger social media account can really boost the signal of your outreach efforts.

The University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center has taken the approach of inviting researchers to talk about items from their collections. In the video below, Dr. Mindy Schwartz talks about an 1887 surgical kit that she uses to teach medical students about the history of medicine. This approach shows viewers not only the cool stuff in the archives, but also how a researcher or instructor uses them.

In a similar way, the US National Archives held a Facebook Live that featured Janet Macreery talking about how she used a range of archival sources to write her novel, A Little Wicked. Archives and special collections libraries have held events like this for many years, but livestreaming them allows institutions to reach beyond audiences who are willing and able to attend these events in person.

 

The Getty Research Institute held a Facebook Live event in March 2017 to talk about how they put together an online exhibition, The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra. The live stream shows some of the material used in the exhibit, but is also a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at how they put this exhibit together.

An example of an institution doing exciting things with video, on Facebook Live and elsewhere, is the University of Iowa Special Collections. Led by Outreach and Engagement Librarian Colleen Theisen, their video work is aimed at engaging with as broad a community as possible. An excellent overview of their efforts can be found in this article by Scott Smith on the Big Ten Network website. You can view their videos, including their archived live streams, on their YouTube site.

In addition to the live streams they have conducted, such as their annual livestream on Shakespeare’s birthday, their YouTube channel features a few ongoing video series they have created that are both fun and informative. Their Staxpeditions series usually focuses on exploring Library of Congress call numbers, but my favorite installment is Staxpedititions 6: Exploring Mystery Boxes : Manuscripts Edition!

The work being done in the examples above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what archives and special collections libraries are doing or could be doing with video. If you are doing interesting work in this area and want to be featured in this series, don’t hesitate to contact us at at archivesaware@archivists.org.

The National Women’s Conference: Taking 1977 into the 21st Century

This post was authored by guest contributor Vince Lee, Archivist at the University of Houston, and current member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA).

 

The National Women’s Conference: Taking 1977 into the 21st Century, November 6-7, 2017

Although the  conference marking the 40th Anniversary of the historic 1977 National Women’s Conference has come and gone, many of its memories, the impact of the sessions, and the camaraderie and interactions of the attendees, who for some was a reunion of sorts, are something all will take back with them from their two days at the University of Houston. The event marked a collaborative partnership between UH’s Center for Public History, the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies, UH Libraries and Special Collections, Houston Public Media, and other partners and donors across campus. Many of the volunteers present over the past two days at registration and the information tables were UH students, staff, and faculty who generously volunteered their time to answer questions, provide direction, record oral histories, and troubleshoot problems to ensure a successful conference experience for attendees.

Conference signage. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Conference registration table. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Oral History Commons

One of the highlights of the two-day conference was the oral history commons that was setup in Special Collections.  Interested participants could drop in or schedule in advance a short ten-minute StoryCorp style interview recorded by a team of graduate students from the Center for Public History. Interviewees were encouraged to talk about their experiences of the 1977 National Women’s Conference. As a result we were able to capture conversations from attendees and original delegates that were there at the 1977 conference.  Once all the footage is compiled we will provide access to the oral histories on the UH Digital Library site.

Oral History Commons at the conference. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Student-Curated Exhibit

The conference provided a venue and an opportunity to unveil the opening of the student-curated exhibit for the 1977 National Women’s Conference, entitled Spirit of Houston: A Retrospective 40 Years in the Making. As part of a class project this past spring, students from the course, Issues in Feminist Research selected materials from the Marjorie Randal National Women’s Conference Collection. Materials selected would relate to the five themes each student group were working on for each of the five exhibit cases, namely: Origins, Preparing for the Conference, 4 Days at the Conference, Controversies and Challenges, and Impact of the National Women’s Conference. Students were recognized for their contributions to the exhibit at a reception given by the library on the final day of the event. As an added bonus, I was able to have my picture taken in front of the exhibit with Peggy Kokernot Kaplan, one of the original runners and torch bearers to the 1977 National Women’s Conference.

Students with their professor in front of the student-curated exhibit. Photo courtesy of Regina Vitolo.

 

Peggy Kokernot Kaplan with Vince Lee in front of the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Collaboration and Partnership

In collaboration and partnership with the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI), TAMI and UH Special Collections offered a free film and video digitization program to attendees who brought in footage they had on the 1977 National Women’s Conference. Formats that we could accept included VHS, Betamax, Umatics, and mini DV tapes as well as 8 or 16 mm film. Owners of the footage would complete a loan/use agreement form with the deposit of the media.  In exchange TAMI and UH Libraries would inventory the film and videotape, provide minor cleaning and repairs if necessary, and digitize the materials. Originals would then be returned to the owners, along with the digitized files- transferred to an external hard drive provided by the owner or, for smaller collections, onto DVDs or a 2GB thumb drive provided by UH Libraries.

Texas Archive of the Moving Image station at the Conference. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon and Tours

A full day (9-5) Wikipedia edit-a-thon was offered where interested participants could drop into one of the computer classrooms, learn how to contribute entries to Wikipedia, and start working on entries to help raise awareness and representation of women and feminist topics through the addition of their articles and entries. Other attendees took advantage of tours offered of the Carey Shuart Women’s Archive and Research Collection to learn more about the collections that are housed there in addition to a tour of the exhibit given by student curators.

Student-curated exhibit.
Photo courtesy of Regina Vitolo.

Sissy and Sarah

Throughout the two-day conference there were panels and sessions offered on a wide range of topics touching on “Feminism and Conservatism”, Mixed Outcomes of the 77 Conference, to “Art, Activism, and Artists” and “Invisible Minority Women”. The culmination of the conference was a Roundtable Discussion given by Frances “Sissy” Farenthold and Sarah Weddington and moderated by Dr. Nancy Young. Their discussion for the evening would focus on the topic of Women, Politics, and the Law. They provided their recollections of the 1977 conference and what they have learned, the political ramifications both in front of and behind the scenes, and taking stock of the current political climate for women and where we go from here with the next generation of women.

L-R: Sarah Weddington, Dr. Nancy Young (moderator), and Sissy Farenthold at the UH Law Center Roundtable Discussion on Women, Politics, and Law. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

The two-day conference was a partnership and demonstration of collaboration among the different departments across the UH Campus in raising awareness of what we each could contribute to an historic and singular event. The conference itself was available and open to the general public. For more information on the conference and the various partners involved please visit: http://www.uh.edu/class/mcgovern/national-women-conference/index

To listen to the exhibit podcast: https://soundcloud.com/user-839796282

Sound and Vision: Using Video to Tell the Tales of Archives and Archivists

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This post was authored by ArchivesAWARE! editor Chris Burns, Manuscripts Curator and University Archivist at the University of Vermont.

This is the first in a series of posts about the use of video as an archival awareness tool. This initial post will feature videos which focus on what an archives is and what archivists do.  Future posts will look at promoting these videos, determining their impact, and will take a closer look at some of the other topics archives are using this format to cover. Feel free to contact the editors of this blog at archivesaware@archivists.org if you have a video or topic you would like to see covered, or if you would like to contribute to this series.

On August 26, 2015, Kathleen Roe premiered the Society of American Archivists’ Archives Change Lives video during her plenary talk at SAA’s annual meeting. As of this writing, the video has over 3,400 views on YouTube. The video clocks in at just under three minutes and features Kathleen Roe, Dennis Meissner, Steven Booth and Samantha Norling talking about the power of archives, cut with images from archives, of archivists at work, and of people interacting with archives. The core message of the video is articulated by Kathleen Roe, “What I hope that my colleagues and I will all be able to do together is to explain to people in clear, compelling language why we think archives matter, why what we do is valuable.”

The video was unveiled at the end of Roe’s year as President of SAA, a year where she led Year of Living Dangerously for Archives initiative, which challenged SAA’s membership to increase their advocacy for archives. One compelling way to get this message across, as Kathleen and SAA demonstrated, is through the use of video. A search of YouTube for videos relating to archives, archivists, and special collections turns up a number of attempts to do just that. These videos tackle a range of topics and vary in their approach, goals, budget, and production quality.

The National Archives UK has done a series of videos, compiled in an Explore Your Archive playlist, that tackle big questions as well as feature archivists talking about particular records.

One of the big questions they address is What is an Archive? The production elements are similar to the SAA video, it clocks in at just under 3 minutes, features a combination of talking heads and still images, and has music playing in the background throughout. Like the SAA video, the premise is simple and direct, it is a short video of archivists and archives users speaking passionately about the power and importance of archives. The three-minute length of these two videos is no accident, as it is often recommended as the maximum length for promotional videos. The video was published in October, 2013 and has been viewed over 4,100 times.

A video produced in 2014 by Duke University’s Rubenstein Library begins with a voice stating, “I think it’s a challenge and a curse to explain what an archive is to people, and it’s because it means so many different things to different people.” The video, The Guardians of History, digs a little deeper than the two mentioned above, taking a look at the work of seven archivists at Duke. This video is a little longer, coming in at just under 9 minutes, but again features interviews, still images of archives and archivists, and a musical backing track during part of the video. The interviewees speak candidly about the difficulty they have in explaining what they do to friends and family members, one speaker noting, “sometimes it’s not worth the effort to explain what an archivist is, so I’ll go ‘Oh, I’m a librarian.’” The video is an honest look at the work of archivists, giving voice to their passion for the work, and discussing some of the humorous and very human items in archival collections. The video is a good introduction to archival work. The budget is not on a Hollywood scale, but the quality of the sound, images, and editing are all very good. To date, the video has been viewed over 1,500 times.

At an Institutional level, BYU took a novel approach in 2011 when they made a fictional trailer for their L. Tom Perry Special Collections, parodying the trailers of blockbuster Hollywood adventure films. To date, the clip has been viewed over 13,000 times.

Two years later, they made a more conventional, and more informative, introductory video. This video has been viewed just under 800 times.

Of course, the number of views a video gets does not really tell us whether a video has successfully met its goals. Those goals could be for an institution to experiment with the process of producing a video, or to create a video that can be played in a classroom setting or sent to a patron in advance of a research visit. However, creating a high quality video that people want to watch and share should also not be understated. It is relatively easy to shoot footage, and increasingly easy to edit that footage, but creating a video where the sound quality is consistent, the edits are relatively seamless, and the content is compelling takes a certain level of skill and patience.

A number of videos get into the question of what an archivist does, which can be helpful in explaining our profession to people who might be interested in a career in archives as well as getting the word out more broadly.

A 2010 example of this type of video comes from the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Archives, A Day in the Life of an Archivist. The video features an archivist explaining their work over a musical backing track. As the comments indicate, from both viewers and the creator, this was an initial attempt by the Sackler Archives to work in this medium and there are some issues with sound levels. That said, the video has been viewed over 12,000 times, which demonstrates that this is a topic of interest, and is either well promoted or frequently found through internet searches.

By comparison, another video done at the same time, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives Introduction, has been viewed just under 1,900 times.

Some other videos that introduce viewers to archivists and their work are:

Meet Our Vintage Collection Archivist, Bill Bonner – National Geographic (over 45,000 views)

 A Day in the Life of a Processing Archivist, UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture, 2014 (300+ views)

 Aaron Rubenstein, University and Digital Archivist, UMass Amherst Libraries, 2014 (around 150 views)

 Peter Hirtle’s Thoughts on Being an Archivist, Debra Schiff, Here and There Blog, 2011 (2,300+ views)

 Not all institutions are as well-known or have the same ability to promote content as the National Geographic, but there are a few key principles that we should keep in mind as we develop content in this area in order to ensure our videos successfully reach their intended audience.

  • Compelling content. As archivists, we know we do interesting work. Video is not and should not be the only way to tell our stories, but the passion we have for our work and the visual appeal of the materials we work with make video a great opportunity for archivists. Demonstrating that passion, telling fascinating stories from our work, exhibiting collection highlights, and using humor are effective ways we can pull in viewers.
  • Clearly defined goals. Why are you making the video? Who do you hope to reach with the video and how will you reach them? Is your video aimed at an internal audience or a much broader audience?
  • Production value matters. Experimentation and a Do-It-Yourself ethos are laudable, but we should also be striving for something that people want to watch and share. Poor production quality will compromise good content.
  • Promotion is key. Creating a well-produced video with a good story is only the beginning. Working with whatever outreach outlets are available and appropriate for your video is essential to achieving success.

The videos highlighted above show that there is an audience for stories about and from the archives. We can create a larger audience for this content by collectively developing more content. Some of it will necessarily be institution-specific, but there is also certainly a role for more videos produced by SAA and others that talk more generally about archives and archivists. Video is a powerful medium, and we as archivists should be taking advantage of it to promote our institutions and the archival profession.