Federal Funding Impact Story #6

Project: Michiana Memory Digitizing Local African American, Latinx, and LGBTQ Materials in St. Joseph County, Indiana

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Odie Mae Johnson, at graduation, 1931. Courtesy of Indiana University South Bend Archives.

Granting Agency: Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
Grant Program: LSTA Grants to States
State Library Administrator: Indiana State Library
Institutions: St. Joseph County Public LibraryIndiana University South Bend ArchivesIU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center
State: Indiana
Congressional District: 2nd Indiana Congressional District
Grant Period: 2014-2017
Award Amount: $28,880
Institutional Match Amount: $6,000

Jobs Created:
3 FTE for 36 months
9 PTE 20 hr/wk positions for 36 months.

Project Description
In January 2014, the St. Joseph County Public Library reached out to the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center and IU South Bend Archives to combine their collections related to African American and civil rights history. The combined archives launched within the Michiana Memory history website in February 2015. Since then, thousands of guests have accessed the materials. The renewal of the LSTA Indiana Memory Digitization Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services of the Indiana State Library in 2015 led to the inclusion of more materials than ever, including oral histories about African American and Latino history, and the first collection of LGBTQ history in the Michiana community. Guests can access the collections now by visiting http://michianamemory.sjcpl.org.

What was the need for the grant?
We saw the need to make digital content available to the public from St. Joseph County, Indiana. And specifically we wanted to make voices speak out from the primary sources from marginalized portions of our community: African Americans, Latinos, and LGBTQ communities. The Archives at Indiana University South Bend partnered with the St. Joseph County Public Library and the Civil Rights Heritage Center to make this happen.

What has been the primary impact of this project?
We have been monitoring use through Google Analytics – and seeing it in use in the thousands every month. The Archivist at IU South Bend has also been seeing many students’ bibliographies citing the site for primary source research. Further, many reference requests are spurred by people’s use of the site. The requests come in on the national – and sometimes international – level. Consistently – month by month – using Google Analytics – the Civil Rights and African American History section of Michiana Memory, funded by LSTA and IMLS, is in the 2,000 to 3,000 user area – the highest user area of all the sections on the local history site.

Submission by: Alison Stankrauff, Archivist and Associate Librarian, Indiana University South Bend
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Undergraduate Archival Internships: Opportunities for Professional Development -AND- Student Outreach

 

Gene Hyde headshotUntitled-1This post was authored by guest contributor Gene Hyde, Head of Special Collections, and Ashley McGhee, archival intern at University of North Carolina Asheville

The University of North Carolina Asheville is the designated public liberal arts campus in the UNC system, and as such we serve an overwhelmingly undergraduate population. In Special Collections we work closely with the UNCA History Department to offer a credit-bearing internship experience for undergraduates. An internship is the equivalent of a 3 credit hours History course, and interns are vetted by the History faculty in collaboration with Special Collections.

Our interns work 150 hours over a semester with a set schedule. Internships start with readings in archival theory, followed by hands-on arranging and describing of a collection, creating finding aids, and creating a display and/or blog post about their work, all accompanied by plenty of one-on-one mentoring. We have interns most semesters, and sometimes we’ve had two or three at time. Interns seem to enjoy the experience, and often express interest in careers in archives, librarianship, or public history. Indeed, part of the mentoring process often entails discussing these career options.

Last year Special Collections received an internal UNCA grant to purchase a significant local history collection and hire a student intern to process it, and we hired Ashley McGhee. Ashley had previously worked in Special Collections as an intern and had proven herself as gifted and hard-working, plus she is from Western North Carolina and has a strong interest in Appalachian history. As part of her internship responsibilities she was required to process the collection, join me in meeting with the donor and discussing the collection, and write a process paper describing her internship. Her process paper is below.

Gene Hyde, Head of Special Collections, UNC Asheville

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Ashley McGhee in the UNCA Special Collections Reading Room

The John Brown Land Speculation Collection Papers
A Process Paper by Ashley McGhee

          When I came to UNC Asheville to pursue a second degree in History I had no idea how the Library’s Special Collections would have an impact on my life.  I spent more time in the library than I did in class, and quickly made the acquaintance of both the Head of Special Collections, Gene Hyde, and the Archives Assistant, Colin Reeve.  After I worked a summer internship in Special Collections, Gene realized how at home I was among books and manuscripts and asked if I would be interested in working on an additional project.

A private donor who is an amateur historian of Western North Carolina (WNC) and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park had offered Special Collections papers from the Brown family, which were related to the Speculation Lands Collection already housed in UNCA’s Special Collections.  The Speculation Lands Collection documents land acquisition and ownership in Western North Carolina during the late 1790s -early 1800’s, when land speculators sought land for investments instead of settlement like most frontier residents, and it provides an intimate, and often unique, look at land business dealings during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Brown family papers document land speculation efforts by John Brown and three generations of his relatives.  After securing the details regarding the collection, Gene and I traveled to the donor’s home to meet with him and his wife to discuss some of the finer points regarding the collection.  As noted, this private donor is a historian of Western North Carolina, and every nook and cranny of his personal library contained books, maps, and pictures, all housed in a warm wooden room full of soft lighting and squishy chairs, a bookworm’s dream come true.

The donor was willing to share what he had already learned about the Brown collection as well as provide extensive notes of his research. This was the beginning of background research for the collection, but it only scratched the surface.  Since the collection was related to the larger Speculation Lands Collection, the obvious research choice was to start with that collection and then work backwards.  After perusing it, and then books such as Sadie Smathers Patton’s Buncombe to Mecklenburg: Speculation Lands, along with the previously published “John Brown’s Journal of Travel in Western North Carolina in 1795”, I realized I was going to have to go back even further in my research.  Eventually, I ended up having to go all the way to the mid-1600’s with the first England Land Grants that were chartered for North Carolina, and then the original Eight Lords Proprietors.

When Special Collections received the papers, they were in a big box containing several manila folders with all the documents mixed together. The donor purchased the collection at an estate sale, and there was no evidence that any original order was intact by the time it was obtained by Special Collections. After examining the collection and conferring with Gene, we agreed that the logical way to organize the collection was to separate the documents by each speculator. Most all of the documents were from speculators within the Brown Family, but each man worked in different areas and in different time periods, so I wanted their documents categorized unto each of them so their work could tell their individual stories.

Before even getting to that though, I had to relax the documents, which involved placing the documents overnight into the bottom of a dry plastic container and then sitting that in a larger, deeper container which held a couple of inches of water in the bottom, thus reintroducing moisture and making the items more pliable and less fragile when handled. The materials were then laid flat between acid-free sheets of paper and weighted down to flatten out. Finally, to wrap up the project, I described the folders of material, wrote a detailed description and history of the collection, and created a finding aid.

Once the collection is made public on the UNC Asheville Special Collections website, it will be available for all to use.  Gene and I plan on stopping in to see our friend who donated the collection again, and enjoy his hospitality and talk Western North Carolina history and archives.

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.

Effective Media Relations for Your Archives

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

 

Working with journalists in any medium – tv, radio, print, electronic, etc. – requires a strong focus on relationship building, an understanding of the person or venue you are targeting, and an effective press release to concisely convey your key points. Without a little leg work, you

The wonderful day we had not one but TWO archive story on the University's homepage.

The wonderful day we had not one but TWO archives stories on the University’s homepage. Campus-based journalists and feature writers are interested in local, interesting content.

might be wasting your time writing and sending information off into a media abyss.

First, the key word to remember in talking about media relations is “relations.” Effective media relations is all about building the relationships with the right people. Don’t wait until you have a story in hand to contact your local press. Instead, put your information-finding skills to the test and learn all that you can learn about particular reports and media outlets in your local area. Who has written about issues or events similar to yours in the past? Who has an audience similar to the one you are trying to reach?

When you’ve identified individuals you can target with your news information, contact these folks directly. Ask them to meet you in a coffee shop near their base of operations. See if they would be interested in coming to meet you in the archives. Try to get a face-to-face meeting so that you can continue to build your relationship. A potential bonus: If you establish yourself as a useful source for local information, the reporter may turn to you for guidance on future pieces that are tangentially related to your work.

With relationships in place, your press release will carry a bit more clout. If the reporter knows you, she’s more likely to read your email and not simply delete it along with the others received during the day. But, even with an established relationship, you need to make sure that your press release is a good one. Here are a few tips for making sure that your press release is one that will catch the attention of a busy journalist:

  • Be sure that what you have to say is really newsworthy. Don’t flood your new reporter friend’s inbox with notes about every event, activity, or acquisition. Focus in on the really important things that have a strong, and potentially lasting, community impact.
  • Create an informative, jargon- and acronym-free headline that would allow a reasonably-intelligent person to understand the importance of your message.
  • Write in a clear and concise manner. Think Strunk and White (or read The Elements of Style if you haven’t already). Avoid passive voice (“The archives hosts…” instead of “The archives has been hosting…”).
  • Keep your release short, factual, and to the point. Aim for 500 words or less (definitely keep it to one page!), and include links to your website for additional information.
  • Focus on your opening sentence. This is your sales pitch. It needs to contain all of your critical information (who, what, when, and where), and it needs to convince the busy reporter to read on.
  • Don’t forget to include contact information (name, email, and telephone number)!
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Filming a segment on our special collections for C-SPAN’s 2015 Cities Tour

When you’ve written your press release, email it to those reporters you identified as covering similar topics or reaching your intended audience. You can include it as the text of the email itself (remembering the importance of the subject line), or you can attach a PDF to the email message. If you choose to go with an attachment, write a factual, one-paragraph message for the email itself then point to the attachment. Or, if you have an institutional blog, send the one-paragraph message with a link to a lengthier blog post on the topic.

Remember that journalists are busy, busy folks, and your press release is far from the only one they will receive on any given day. Think about reporters’ deadlines and schedules before sending a press release. For instance, many print reporters will appreciate releases early in the morning as opposed to the afternoon. Additionally, avoid the urge to call the reporter directly immediately after sending the email. It’s doubtful that the message got lost in the internet ether, but it’s likely that the hard-working reporter hasn’t had time to read it. Bugging her isn’t going to get your message read any quicker.

Finally, if a reporter does indeed report on your event or activity, either by using your press release directly or giving you any kind of media coverage, follow up with a “thank you.” And, two or three months after your event, follow up again with a quick email to let the reporter know how the event went or what the lasting impact of the activity has been. This will give your journalist friend a sense of how you fit in to the greater community – your impact and influence. Also, this can be an incentive to report on you even more when the next big story pops up!

Have other tips about or examples of successful media relations? Share in the comments below or consider contributing them to ArchivesAWARE! Read more about the submission process on the About page, and send your ideas or drafts to the editors at archivesaware@archivists.org.

Matching Undergrads with Archives: “Speed Dating” in the UNC-Asheville Special Collections

Gene Hyde headshot

This post was authored by guest contributor Gene Hyde, Head of Special Collections at University of North Carolina Asheville

Undergraduate research is a hallmark of the University of North Carolina Asheville, the state’s designated Public Liberal Arts University.  As part of this institutional mission, we in Special Collections work closely with the History Department and other departments to incorporate primary materials into the research process. This is the tale of how Special Collections worked with one particular class, History 373.

History 373, taught by Dr. Ellen Pearson, was the first digital humanities course at UNCA. The class was small, with three teams of students, each working with a collection or collections. Their assignment was to conduct research using primary materials from Special Collections as well as other primary and secondary materials, then write and create digital humanities projects rather than traditional papers. We planned one class session for the student teams to select the collections they would be using for their projects, and we selected a “speed dating” process to introduce them to the collections.

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Digital History class at UNCA with Professor Ellen Pearson

The role of Special Collections in this process was somewhat traditional in that we were serving as a resource for materials rather than supporting the technological issues and platforms that digital humanities projects entail. For the technology side, the class was also paired with a Computer Science class and had extensive support from the library’s Media Design Lab.

Knowing that this was a one-semester project, we kept certain parameters in mind as we curated collections for this “speed dating” class, selecting collections that met the following criteria:

  1. We came up a with an initial list of a dozen or so collections, then consulted with Dr. Pearson. She took the topical pulse of the class, and we narrowed it down to six collections covering three basic themes in local history. The students had access to the finding aids for these six collections prior to the class.
  2. To facilitate the visual component of digital humanities, we selected collections that had maps, photographs, brochures, newspaper articles, and other images in addition to manuscripts.
  3. The collections each had a “full tale” to tell – that is, there was enough documentation in one or more of these collections to craft a complete narrative within the span of one semester.
  4. We kept copyright in mind, opting for collections where we owned the copyright, the collections contained public documents, or we knew that copyright could easily be secured. We knew that some students would probably want to use entire articles from the local newspaper in their digital projects, so I made a quick call to the managing editor and secured permission for this. Special Collections regularly provides them with photos for local history columns and they were glad to reciprocate for student projects.
  5. We located other collections that complimented the collections we were suggesting. For instance, we owned the city record documenting a downtown mall development proposal, and special collections at the local public library had the records of the citizens groups that fought the downtown mall development project. We work closely with the archivists at the public library, so I called and gave them a heads up about what we had in mind for this student project. They were delighted to help the students, and access to both the city and the citizens’ group records were critical in the success of that project.

Why this emphasis on pre-selecting collections? UNCA requires a final capstone research project for all majors, and we have seen some students struggle to settle on a research topic. We also knew that, in addition to choosing a topic, some might experience learning curves with the technology involved in Digital History projects. For these reasons,  Dr. Pearson and I agreed that pre-selecting particular collections for the students to choose from would allow the students to concentrate on their research and mastering the technology.

When the class came in, we had arranged representative materials from the six collections on tables around the reading room – setting the stage for “speed dating.”

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We walked around and introduced each collection to the students, describing the content, research possibilities, and the kinds of images and graphics in each collection. We also noted when there were related collections (at UNCA and the public library) that would help with their research.

We laid down basic ground rules for handling collections – only remove one folder at a time, respect the original order within the folders, and only use pencils, laptops, or cell phone cameras. Each team could spend five minutes to “date” a collection, then it was time to move on. We then cut them loose on the collections!

The three teams quickly fanned out and began examining the collections, moving to different ones, talking with each other, asking us questions, and conferring with Dr. Pearson. We circulated and provided more context  about the collections, pointing out useful related materials that were not on display in the reading room that they might find helpful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe reading room was abuzz with activity and collaboration, and it was clear that a number of students were excited about what they were finding. As they settled in and began looking deeper into the collections, talking waned and serious examination began to take place.

Dr. Pearson then told everyone that “the first team to claim a collection gets it,” resulting in some friendly competition between the teams as they jostled to claim their favorite collections. Selections made, the teams were then ready to start their research.

Over the course of the semester the three student teams were regulars in the Reading Room. We assisted them with documents, helped them with scanning, consulted on finding secondary materials, helped them navigate copyright issues, and generally helped them with the primary resource component of their digital history projects.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFeedback from the students and Dr. Pearson was very positive – they found the “Speed Dating” to be an effective way to gain a short, intensive immersion into each collection’s possibilities.

A news article about the project with a photo of the Downtown Mall Project group (taken in Special Collections) was posted to the UNCA webpage, which highlighted the role of Special Collections in the process.

Reaching Out to Undergrads at UNCG

Erin
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, http://www2.archivists.org/history/leaders/kathleen-roe/incoming-presidential-remarks-the-year-of-living-dangerously-for-archives. For more information on the “Year of Living Dangerously with Archives” initiative, see http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously.

Articulating the Value of Your Archives to Resource Allocators

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

 

If someone asks “why is your archives important?,” how would you answer? Is your archives important because it preserves and provides access to important historical materials? Does its importance stem from its ability to foster a sense of community and “place?” Perhaps your response would focus more on its ability to provide accountability or serve as evidence of past actions. All are wonderful responses. But, when you are talking with a resource allocator – particularly one who has no past experience with archives – lofty ideals and notions of identity-building or remembrances of past events often aren’t going to cut it when they want to know why they should give you a sliver of the big (but shrinking) money pot. You need concrete evidence of the impact that your repository has in order to ensure that administrators’ support continues.

Cello_Music_CollectionThere are many ways to assess an archives’ value. From circulation numbers to gate counts to collection growth, each number gathered can provide useful clues as to how your archives is changing (or should be changing) over time. But, numbers alone do not make an effective argument for the archives. In order to advocate for your repository to administrators and others who hold the purse strings, you must frame these numbers in a way that fits their overarching missions and goals.

You must place the archives within the greater picture of your parent organization. To do this, of course, your parent organization must have clearly identified goals and objectives (hopefully it does, but, if not, that’s a whole different post!), and your archives must define its mission and purpose within those broader goals. How does your work contribute to the mission of your parent organization? For instance, a university archives is often housed within an academic library at a university. You should be able to clearly articulate how your archives directly impacts the library’s main objectives. If your library’s stated objective is to support undergraduate education, how does your archives contribute to this goal? How does your work help support undergraduate education at your institution?

Often you will need to advocate for your repository with administrators at an even higher organizational level. Returning to the example of the university archives, you may need to also consider how your archives contributes to the goals of the university (of course, ideally, your library’s goals will be in line with those of the university). Remember that you will often be advocating for your repository with non-archivists who, in all likelihood, are heavily focused on the present bottom line. Can you articulate the value of the archives in terms that non-archivists use and understand?

0205151447Once you understand and can articulate your value within the larger framework of your parent organization, you can then turn to the various metrics you have collected. How does each measurement demonstrate that you are contributing to the mission of your organization? For instance, return to the example of the library that is particularly focused on supporting undergraduate learning. A gate count of the number of undergraduates attending teaching sessions in the archives is one way of demonstrating your value to the library’s mission. But, that number might get lost in the world of general information literacy courses which most (if not all) undergraduates are required to attend at some point in their academic career. Perhaps adding information on the number of research hours accrued by undergraduate students coming into the archives for class assignments (as opposed to more basic instructional sessions) would enhance your advocacy and your ability to tie the unique contributions of the archives to the mission of the library.

Archives, libraries, and other cultural heritage institutions will always have the challenge of having numerous indirect and collective benefits that may not always be easy to directly measure and quantify. Yes, your archives holds unique information that can’t be found anywhere else and ensures that it is accessible now and in the future. But proving why that is important and why funding must be maintained (or increased) to support that role is critical to ensuring you get the money and support you need to do all of the work that goes into meeting that broad mandate.