Reaching Out to Undergrads at UNCG

This post was authored by guest contributor Erin Lawrimore, University Archivist, University of North Carolina Greensboro


Past SAA President Kathleen Roe kicked off her “Year of Living Dangerously with Archives” presidential initiative at the 2014 SAA annual meeting in Washington, D.C. by strongly encouraging all archivists to take bold actions in promoting the significance of archives and archivists to society. She stated that “if we are going to get beyond the point where archives and archival records are used in modest amounts, for a modest number of purposes by a modest range of users, then we also have to raise awareness of their value and importance.” [1]

A pop up exhibit on our cello music collection

A pop up exhibit on our cello music collection

At the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Special Collections and University Archives, we’ve taken Kathleen’s challenge to heart. While we do have projects that are aimed at increasing awareness of our resources to University faculty, staff, and administrators, we’re purposefully trying to increase awareness among our student body population (particularly undergraduates). While we certainly aren’t the first archives to do any of these outreach activities, we are in all likelihood the first (and probably only) who will reach our student population here at UNCG. Some examples of our activities aimed at raising awareness among the undergraduate population include:

  • Pop Up Archives. Like popular “pop up” restaurants, our “pop up” archives exhibits are well focused in terms of content and strategically planned in terms of location. We want to be where the foot traffic is. The university center, the student recreation center, and even the sidewalk outside of the library building are great locations for engaging students. Each exhibit is tailored for the location (history of athletics at the student recreation center), is up for only 90 minutes or so (timed to coincide with lunch or a change in classes to increase foot traffic), and is small enough to fit on a card table (making planning and transportation simpler).
  • Campus Tours for First-Year Classes. While many first-year students might not make use of the archives as a research resource, many are quite interested in learning about the history of the place that will be their home for the next four years. To engage these students, we work with instructors teaching the University’s Foundations for Learning (FFL) courses, which are required of all incoming students, to schedule a historic walking tour of campus during one of their class sessions. During the tour, we provide the standard facts about the University’s history – but the piece that most students love most is that we also incorporate our three campus ghost stories into the general tour. In Fall 2014, we conducted tours for 18 FFL courses (approximately 250 students).
The Undergraduate Admissions directors are some of our biggest social media fans

The Undergraduate Admissions directors have become some of our biggest social media fans – and sources of new followers

In addition to these types of targeted activities, we’re taking an approach of “archives everywhere.” We want our records and knowledge of our department’s work to be spread across campus. We are using exhibit cases and bulletin boards in the library as well as in the university center to display reproductions of selections from our holdings. Our social media accounts are followed and retweeted/reblogged by the main University accounts as well as other accounts that reach large numbers of students (Admissions, Student Government Association, student newspaper, etc.). Our digital signage in the library building includes frequent references to University Archives and our current exhibits. And our promotional postcards, which include a historic photograph as well as links to our social media and digital collections, are available at all of the library’s service points.

These approaches don’t require a significant change to the work we’ve done in the past, but they do extend our reach far beyond the small percentage of students who physically come into the archives for a class. While we may have some students who graduate and remember only the “awesome ghost story the lady from the library told me,” we’ve made an impression and, for many more, hopefully sown a seed of awareness for archives and the work of archivists.

[1] Kathleen Roe, “The Year of Living Dangerously with Archives” (speech, Washington, D.C., August 16, 2014), Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting, For more information on the “Year of Living Dangerously with Archives” initiative, see

Ball State University Drawings + Document Archive: The Movie


Today we bring you an interview with Carol Street, Archivist for Architectural Records at Ball State University, and the outreach innovator behind
Drawings + Documents Archive: The [LEGO] Movie

Question: What was your inspiration for this video?

Carol Street: As always, inspiration came from a number of places. My 9 year old granddaughter, Anna, is probably my greatest inspiration when it comes to many things, but especially LEGO. Thanks to her, I’ve amassed a not insignificant collection of LEGO bricks and figures, and even created a LEGO model of the Drawings + Documents Archive. But the actual lightbulb moment came when I saw the wonderful stop-motion LEGO movie by the Library of Social Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. The video was the brainchild of the library director Christian Lauersen, who wanted a brief video to introduce students to the resources available at his library. He wrote a fantastic blog post on the making of the video and his reasons behind it, all of which I agreed with. There was that moment after the video ended where I thought—hey! we can do that, too!


Screenshot of the Ball State University Drawings + Documents Archive video on YouTube.


Q: For the archivists out there who may be intimidated by the time, resources, and level of creativity required to produce an outreach video like this, could you give some insights into the production process for this video?

CS: There is a significant amount of time involved in making even a short video like this. As the only staff member in the archive, I would never have time to do this myself. Luckily, this year I have a very creative graduate assistant, Raluca Filimon, who embraced the project even though she had never made an animated movie before. Although it may seem daunting at first, the movie is really just a culmination of a lot of small projects. We began the process by breaking it down into those smaller projects—such as write a script, create scenes, borrow equipment, learn how to film LEGO figures, select music, record the narration—that ultimately resulted in the finished film. Because it was a fairly long process, we made sure to celebrate the major milestones along the way. Those moments of celebration built momentum for the next phase of the project.

I’ve been very fortunate to have some great graduate assistants from the College of Architecture and Planning.  They’re not only incredibly creative, but also good at project management and research. Raluca did a fantastic job bringing my ideas for the film to life. I had specific goals that needed to be reached, but allowed plenty of space for Raluca and other students to inject their own creativity. All of the graduate assistants who work in the archive added to the film in different ways. There were a lot of “what if….” moments where we would ask things like “what if the astronaut showed up at the end with the disco ball?” Sometimes those ideas were shot down, but others—like the fantastic disco finale—made the final cut. In the end, the process was very much a team effort that brought the students together.


Q: What other forms of outreach do you utilize for the Drawings + Documents Archive, now or in the past? How does the video diverge from and/or compliment those efforts?

CS: We utilize all of the typical forms of outreach, such as exhibits, instructional sessions, a newsletter, and a blog. Our audience is well-versed in design and very creative, so we try to also approach outreach in creative and interesting ways. Last fall my graduate assistants came up with a fantastic promotional campaign that is still filling up the cases outside the archives. The campaign is called “Be inspired” and shows photographs of students and faculty holding up something in the archive that inspires them. The person in the photo writes on the poster what inspires them. Right now our new architectural history professor is holding up a drawing by Piranesi and she wrote that she’s inspired by “historical context”. It’s a fresh, patron-driven way to showcase the amazing collections we have in the archive.


The Drawings + Documents Archive video features the Indiana Architecture X 3D collection.

We’ve also branched out into 3-D printed modeling of buildings and building details that are represented in the collection. The project is called Indiana Architecture X 3D and it has probably been our most effective form of outreach in terms of student reach. The models appeal to younger students who have yet to learn how to model and equally attract older students who are suitably impressed by the level of detail we can create. They all enjoy checking the 3-D printed model with the actual drawing to see if we were accurate in our modeling skills. Even faculty, who can be just as challenging as students to reach, specifically ask us to show them to visitors, potential students, and their classes. The project also allows us to now give something back to our donors who generously support the work of the archive. At the holidays we sent donors small, 3-D printed ornaments based on the collection, which were a big hit and garnered a lot of interest, good will, and even further financial support.


Q: What impact/results are you hoping to see from this video?

CS: I’m hoping that our students enjoy the film and remember the archive when it’s time to conduct research. We often throw far too much information at students during our instructional sessions because we feel it’s our one chance to tell them all about the archive and we want to tell them everything. Students couldn’t absorb all that information at once even if they wanted to. The more instructional sessions I give, the more I realize the time is best served by essentially building bridges for students to cross when they actually need us. I strive to make the archives a friendly, non-intimidating place where they can feel comfortable asking for help when their assignments or interests lead them here. And what’s friendlier and less intimidating than LEGO?

I’d also like everyone to equate archives with fun, not dust.



Asserting the Archivist in Archival Outreach: A Case Study and Appeal

Square Headshot

This post was authored by guest contributor Samantha Norling,
Archivist at the Indianapolis Museum of Art

The Case Study

In January of 2014 I began my current position as Archivist at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. At the time, the IMA Archives was nearly two years into a three-year-long NEH grant to digitize the Miller House and Garden Collection, which documents the design, construction, decoration, and maintenance of the iconic mid-century modern property in Columbus, Indiana. Outreach was built into the project from the beginning, with promotion throughout the life of the grant planned in the narrative. Not only would consistent promotion help to build an audience and keep interest high during the years-long digitization process, but social media outreach would also serve to bolster our fair use claim for sharing archival material created by dozens of third party copyright holders. According to the Association of Research Libraries’ Code of Best Practices and Fair Use:

“The Fair Use case will be stronger when the availability of the material is appropriately publicized to scholars in the field and other persons likely to be especially interested.”

The Documenting Modern Living: Digitizing the Miller House and Garden Collection Tumblr went live in September 2012 as digitization began. With a highly-visual format embraced by the design, architecture, and special collections communities, Tumblr was the natural choice of social media platforms for Documenting. It is also worth noting here that Tumblr staff fully embrace the GLAM community and promote special collections content and blogs regularly!

By the time that I came in as the IMA’s new Archivist (and Project Manager for the NEH grant), the Tumblr was well-established with a dedicated following that included design, architecture, mid-century modern, and archives/special collections professionals and enthusiasts. As Tumblr had been built into the digitization workflows, there were dozens of draft posts already created and ready to be posted at any time—each featuring at least one digitized item from the Miller House and Garden Collection.

DML Archives Screenshot 1

Screenshot of the Documenting Modern Living Tumblr archive, before “asserting the archivist”

While browsing through the hundreds of draft and published posts to familiarize myself with the Tumblr’s content and established editorial style, I saw rich textile samples, detailed architectural drawings, photographs of the property spanning decades, and correspondence between all parties who worked on and lived in the house and gardens. Though this content had proven to be popular with our audiences for more than a year’s worth of posts, it struck me that there was something conspicuously missing from this project-based Tumblr: archivists and professional archives work.

With many followers from the GLAM community, sharing our set-ups and workflows could make our project an example for the field and help other archivists avoid reinventing the wheel. But more important than this, we were missing an opportunity to introduce our non-GLAM followers to archivists as individuals and as the professionals who preserve and make available the unique collections and items that have captured their attention. It was clear to me that it was time to assert the role of the archivist in our collection-centered outreach.

My pitch at our next departmental meeting emphasized my intent to expand the scope of Documenting Modern Living—to stay true to the main purpose of the blog as a place to share items as digitization progressed, maintaining its editorial style, while adding additional content that would complement THE STUFF.  The first step would be to bring the archivists out of hiding, introducing project staff as people and as professionals in a “Meet the Team” series. The IMA had no security or privacy concerns about featuring staff and their work on social media, so there was no reason to continue obscuring/ignoring the role of the archivists. After all, the collection wasn’t digitizing and creating digital object records for itself.

The initial plan for the expanded scope included posts that shared project workflows and equipment, our professional presentations about the project, and the occasional post exploring archival concepts such as original order and preservation. Within this basic framework, there was room for fluidity and spontaneity, allowing us to take advantage of scheduled happenings (such as Preservation Week and Ask An Archivist Day) and share daily life in the IMA Archives (like the time that a new Miller House-related accession came in or when a curator used the archives to create a Lego Miller House)—all content which brought the archivists and/or professional archives work to the forefront.

DML Archives Screenshot 2

Screenshot of the Documenting Modern Living Tumblr archive, after “asserting the archivist”

The Documenting Modern Living: Digitizing the Miller House and Garden grant was completed in May of 2015, bringing a close to the active life of the project Tumblr. The Documenting Tumblr archive is still available online, and we occasionally post new links and re-blog relevant posts from the general IMA Library & Archives Tumblr. Out of 176 posts created between February 2014 (when we expanded the scope) and May 2015, 23 posts explicitly mentioned or featured archivists and/or archival work (approximately 13% of the Tumblr’s content). While none of these posts went “viral” (used as a relative term here based on our normal level of notes), these posts were much more consistently liked and reblogged by our audience than the item-centric posts, of which multiple received few-to-no notes. Even if our followers came for THE STUFF, it became clear that they were responding positively and interacting consistently when we shared more about ourselves and our work.

The Appeal

What we did by expanding the scope of Documenting Modern Living was not revolutionary (and at 13% of our total content, the new scope was not disruptive of existing Tumblr workflows or editorial style). Many repositories have featured archivists and archival work in their social media outreach, and many more are doing so today than there were a year ago, some on a regular basis. That being said, there is much more room for improvement in how purposeful we are about asserting the role of the archivists and professional archives work into future and existing outreach in all its forms.

It is all too easy to get caught up in featuring the items unique to our repositories in our outreach, especially when our audiences tend to react so enthusiastically to THE STUFF. It is those positive reactions that give us the perfect opportunity to introduce our audiences to archivists and the professional-level work that goes into preserving those collections and making them available. The very existence or creation of an archival outreach program, platform, page, etc. opens up the possibility of raising awareness of our profession, not just of our collections. It is exciting to imagine the collective reach and potential impact if all archivists recognize this possibility and become more purposeful about incorporating archivists and archival work into their repository’s outreach efforts. Dedicating 13% of the Documenting Modern Living Tumblr content to the archival profession may not have had much of an impact outside of the IMA Archives, but a dedicated 13% of outreach from all types of archives, representing every imaginable research interest (and therefore target audiences) has the potential to raise public awareness of archives and archivists in very significant ways.

Stay tuned for future posts on this blog which will feature successful examples of “asserting the archivist” in archival outreach. If you have a favorite example, or want to share your case study of incorporating the profession into your outreach, the editors would love to hear from you—share in the comments below or contact to be a guest contributor to ArchivesAWARE!