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.

Ball State University Drawings + Document Archive: The Movie

Street

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!

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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.

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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.

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