Advocacy and Outreach Opportunities at the Archives*Records 2020 Annual Meeting

Last week was the start of the SAA Annual Meeting with the Teaching Primary Sources Unconference kicking off the Pre-Conference activities. Here is a list of some recommendations for awareness and advocacy sessions and creative outreach.

Please note, there is a mix of live, recorded, and on-demand sessions. Make sure to visit the schedule and view session descriptions to see which category a session or meeting falls and whether you need to register for a session.

Wednesday, July 29

College & University Archives Section

Join the Section to continue discussion on the various topics we’ve had at our weekly “coffee chats”, including collecting COVID stories, working and managing remotely, combating systemic racism at our institutions, and our plans for returning to campus. We’ll split into breakout sessions to explore these topics further. But first (after our business meeting), we’ll hear from Katie Howell, who developed a rapid response collecting initiative to document COVID-19 on the campus of UNC Charlotte.

Students & New Archives Professionals Section

Join SNAP for a brief business meeting as we present updates on section projects and advocacy work from the past year and introduce new steering committee members. 

Friday, July 31

Archives Management Section

Look, I Made a Hat: Agility in the Archives
Archives managers are required to don many hats (as it were) in addressing a range of challenges and moving quickly to implement solutions. After conducting some section business, we will transition to presentations on incredibly timely topics: Budgeting, Personnel, and Advocacy.

Monday, August 3

Storytelling Workshop with Micaela Blei

A powerful story has the potential to connect us to our own experiences, pull a community together, and engage new audiences with our work. In this master class storytelling workshop led by two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner (and former Moth director of education) Micaela Blei, you’ll learn “what makes a story work” and the connections among narrative performance, research, and teaching, as well as brainstorm and craft stories of your own.

The workshop is structured to make the online experience as engaging and welcoming as possible—using a webinar format and then an optional small-group discussion structure to allow you to take part in the workshop at the level that will best serve you. 

Registration is required and there is an additional fee of $49.00 to attend.

Wednesday, August 5

Keeping Archives Relevant in a Dizzying Digital World

Join Preservica customers and staff as they explore together the evolving impact of digital archives, celebrate user projects and stories, and discuss innovations in archival practice.

Thursday, August 6

Plenary 1

In addition to hearing our current president, Dr. Meredith Evans speak, this session includes Jodie Foley and Tempestt Hazel. Jodie Foley is the Montana State Archivist at the Montana State Historical Society.

Tempestt Hazel was the 2019 recipient of the J. Franklin Jameson Archival Advocacy Award from the Society of American Archivists. She is a curator, writer, and founder of Sixty Inches From Center, a Chicago-based arts publication and archiving initiative that has promoted and preserved the practices of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ artists, and artists with disabilities across the Midwest since 2010. Focusing primarily on reframing cultural archives and institutional collections, her exhibitions and projects have been produced with the University of North Texas, South Side Community Art Center, Terrain Exhibitions, the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, the Smart Museum of Art, and the University of Chicago, among others.

2B – Archival Outreach in the New Normal: Using Digital Platforms to Teach Primary Sources

Learn about the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) longstanding partnership with Internet2 and the Presidential Primary Source Project and the teaching series they have done, completely online. They will share tips for presenting in this medium and discuss methods for regaining audience attention and making the session more interactive.

In addition, learn more how NARA has moved its adult programming to online platforms. They will discuss how to host these kinds of sessions with members of the general public and how to manage registrations, digital platforms, and advertising.

3A – From the Margins to the Center: Foregrounding Underrepresented Communities and Revitalizing Mainstream Collections

This session examines how different approaches to foregrounding marginalized groups and individuals have revitalized established collections at three archival repositories.

3B – Showing Up: Community Engagement Events Toward a Better Cultural Record

This panel will explore the centrality of community partnerships in the diversification of the archival record, featuring programs that have hosted grant-funded community engagement activities to create and collect documentation of historically underrepresented groups.

Friday, August 7

4B – Reframing History: Opening Up Archives to Artists

This panel will highlight the Chicago Archives + Artists Project organized by Sixty Inches From Center and feature visual artists, curators, and writers who have collaborated with archivists, librarians, and other collection caretakers for their research-based creative practices to commission new artworks and curate exhibitions.

Hop into History: Archives and Alcohol in America

Grab a drink, and pull up a stool at the virtual hotel bar for a storytelling session featuring archivists who are working to document various aspects of alcohol history in the United States. Whether your drink of choice is beer, wine, bourbon, or cocktails, we’ll share some stories from our collections that might make you think a little differently the next time you take a sip!

Saturday, August 8

S04 – Ambition, Advocacy, and the Future of Storytelling

Orchestra and radio archivists describe how they pitched forward-thinking projects that break storytelling out of its traditional mold. Participants then break into groups to imagine, share, and learn what the future role of archives will and can be. Practical tips and challenges related to technology, project implementation, and advocacy will be shared.

S11 – Community Collections as Digital Collections

L.A. as Subject (LAAS), Chicago Collections Consortium (CCC), and the Recollect community in Australia and New Zealand will address the lessons learned and future visions in achieving a truly collaborative and reciprocal network. Although they are separate and independent entities, LAAS, CCC, and Recollect developed coinciding missions to collaborate with a diverse set of community archives in order to openly share collections and strengthen the profession through more comprehensive knowledge sharing.

S12 – Connecting to Communities: Outreach at the Missouri State Archives

 In this session archivists from the Missouri State Archives will share their experiences with tours, special events, speaker series, and grant programs. The focus is on creating sustainable, diverse programs to reach a broad range of patrons.

S29 – Love Can’t Turn Around™: Evidences of the Belief in the Power of Our Collective Social Experiences as Sites of Pleasure, Purpose and Politics

The Blackivists™ are a collective of trained and credentialed African-American archivists based in the Chicagoland area who address the needs of people interested in creating and preserving personal, community and “non-traditional” archives. The Blackivists™ collaborated with Honey Pot Performance on a series of programs for the Chicago Black Social Culture Mapping Project, which exists to preserve Chicago’s black social cultural lineage through fun and informative experiences focused on a Chicago based cultural art form: House music.

S35 – Project STAND: Highlights and Hurdles of a National Project on Social Justice and Archives

Project STAND, is a consortium of 70 colleges and universities that has created an online resource centralizing primary sources relating to student activism in historically under-documented and minoritized communities. This session will focus on its creation, highlights, and hurdles, and the role of the archivists to build relationships with marginalized communities, provide tools for documenting activism, and advance archival collections. Speakers will discuss the website and collection highlights, the Archiving Activism toolkit, and the symposia conducted in 2019/2020.

S36 – Protocols 101: How to Start the Conversation at Your Institution

This session explores the future of Indigenous collections stewardship for the 21st century archivist. Following the conference theme, it asks participants to consider how archivists can leverage creativity to make positive changes to collections care and access amidst institutional constraints.

S39 – Remaining Relevant: Changing the aesthetic of archives through collaboration and creativity

This interactive session is opportunity to not only hear what this institution is doing to change the profession, but engage in constructive and collaborative brainstorming with a variety of professionals to incorporate new strategies to better provide access and awareness to collections.

S42 – Setting a New Standard: Practical Applications and Uses of Standardized Measures and Metrics

Presenters will discuss implementation of the  SAA/RBMS Standardized Statistical Measures and Metrics, approved by SAA in 2018, and suggest ways to use statistical data to impact internal operations and advocate for your institution. General recommendations for data collection and application will also be provided. 

Tuesday, August 11

Reference, Access, and Outreach Section

As a part of the 2020 Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists, the Reference, Access, & Outreach (RAO) section will host its 8th annual Marketplace of Ideas. The Marketplace of Ideas takes place in conjunction with the annual RAO business meeting, and offers participants a chance to learn more about creative instruction, outreach, and reference programs piloted by colleagues. 

Thursday, August 13

Committee on Public Awareness

Come meet the members of the Committee on Public Awareness, hear about our activities over the past year, and learn about our plans for next year!

Know of other outreach- and advocacy-related sessions, events, and general happenings taking place over the course of ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2020 that didn’t make our schedule? Tell us in the comments below, or let us know which of these and other annual meeting events you are most looking forward to!

Announcing a Storytelling Workshop with Micaela Blei – August 3, 2020.

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Micaela Blei, PhD, has years of experience working with individuals, organizations, and communities to shape and share the important stories of their lives. Last year at the SAA Annual Meeting in Austin she hosted the storytelling-show-about-archives, “A Finding Aid to My Soul,” to great acclaim! Her popular workshops are invitations to reflection, spaces for discovery, and—most of all—a lot of fun. Her own stories have been called “heartbreaking and hilarious.” She’s appeared on The Moth Radio Hour and live on sold-out storytelling stages nationwide. In 2016, Micaela wrote The Moth’s storytelling curriculum, now used by more than 1,500 educators around the world. Learn more at micaelablei.com.

A powerful story has the potential to connect us to our own experiences, pull a community together, and engage new audiences with our work. In this master class storytelling workshop sponsored by the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) and led by two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner (and former Moth director of education) Micaela Blei, you’ll learn “what makes a story work” and the connections among narrative performance, research, and teaching, as well as brainstorm and craft stories of your own. The workshop is structured to make the online experience as engaging and welcoming as possible—using a webinar format and then an optional small-group discussion structure to allow you to take part in the workshop at the level that will best serve you.

micaela+blei_01After this workshop, you’ll have the chance to submit your story for possible performance in a special online storytelling event—“A Finding Aid to My Soul” on October 1, 2020! If selected, you’ll receive additional guidance from Blei to help fine tune your story.

Register for the workshop here ($49 fee), and stay tuned for more details about the third annual “A Finding Aid to My Soul” storytelling event.

Stories from the 2019 event, including one from Micaela herself can be found on Season 3 of the Archives in Context podcast and stories from the 2018 event can be found here and here. To learn more about Micaela, check out this ArchivesAware! interview from 2019.

 

 

 

 

Live Action Clue: How Professor Plum and Senator Scarlet Help the Wilson Library at UNC, Chapel Hill Solve the Mystery of Student Engagement

The Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill has presented Clue, a live action mystery event twice a year since the fall of 2012. Clue is designed to bring people into the Wilson Library and demystify both the building and the special collections and archives housed within.

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Emily Jack is the Community Engagement and Outreach Librarian at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and has been involved with the Clue team since its inception in 2012. In the following interview with COPA member Chris Burns, Jack describes the work the UNC team puts into this innovative and fun outreach activity and the enthusiastic reception it has received.

Burns: The Wilson Library has produced a live action Clue event every semester since the Fall of 2012, how did you come up with the idea?

Jack: Wilson Library is a beautiful building that looks classically academic. Because of its appearance, many undergraduate students have reported feeling intimidated by the library – or avoiding it altogether.

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Wilson Library, on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, houses the University Library’s special collections and Music Library.

In 2012, a (now retired) employee named Becky Garrett monitored the Fearrington Reading Room as a part-time job. Her professional background was in recreation therapy, a field that uses recreation to achieve therapeutic goals. In other words, her professional orientation was to solve problems with games, and she brought that lens to the problem of students feeling intimidated by the library. So, Becky suggested a live game of Clue for students, and we formed a committee to make it happen.

That first game in 2012 bore almost no resemblance to today’s game. It was more like an elaborate scavenger hunt. Now it’s an immersive narrative game, played on a custom web app, with a three-part mystery to solve, during which players interact with costumed characters and have up-close experiences with collection materials. But we couldn’t have the current version without building from the original version, sparked by Becky’s great idea.

Burns: Why Clue?

Jack: Students perceived Wilson Library as mysterious and old-fashioned, which is also the atmosphere of Clue. Using Clue as the narrative basis for the game gave it a familiar cognitive hook for students to attach themselves to. In essence, it served as a safe and easy bridge between two entities that share aesthetic similarities: one familiar and beloved (the board game Clue) and one intriguing but intimidating (Wilson Library).

It also made our marketing efforts much easier than if we had built a narrative game from scratch.

Burns: How does the event work and how does it make use of the collections and staff at the Wilson?

Jack: Our version of Clue aligns with the original in some ways – for example, its three-part solution, consisting of a who, a what, and a where. But, notably, ours is not a murder mystery. It’s a supernatural narrative with a ghost-related mystery.

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Clue players use a historic map to identify a mystery location in the library.

Using a mobile app, teams complete three activities, each aligning with one part of the solution.

Those activities include:

  • Interrogating six suspects, who are held for questioning around the library. To earn access to interrogate, players answer questions about exhibitions and other details in the library.
  • Using historic (reproduction) maps and wooden overlays made in our makerspace to find a code word, and then a hidden location, and finally a map of the library itself.
  • Interpreting communications from the ghost, and using logic (and student TV clips from the 1980s!) to determine which of a set of collection items is the correct one.

The game is fairly complex; this is just an overview. Collection materials, exhibitions, and staff interactions are woven throughout gameplay. Afterward, while they’re waiting for their scores, players watch a video purporting to tell the ghost’s origin story, but which also serves as a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the closed stacks.

One important aspect of the game is that it’s immersive – both narratively and spatially. Because the narrative is immersive, the players don’t feel like it’s a learning game or an elevated tour of the library. And because of its spatial immersion, they leave feeling completely confident in navigating the library.

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Players interrogate a suspect.

Burns: What’s the reception been like among students, staff, and faculty at UNC?

Jack: Reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Students tell us – and their peers – how much they love the game. Most importantly for our purposes, it has been universally successful in meeting its intended goal of lowering the intimidation barrier to visiting Wilson Library.

In post-game surveys, students report feeling surprised by how cool Wilson is and excited to return. They also say things like “I used to be afraid to go in the building. Now I feel way more comfortable walking around.”

We offer the program twice a year and it fills up with a long waitlist every time.

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Players answer questions about an exhibition to earn access to interrogate a suspect.

Burns: I imagine it takes a fair amount of work to pull this off, how have you managed to keep it going and keep it fresh each semester?

Jack: It is labor-intensive. But we have a great committee of staff who feel invested in the program and excited about working on a fun and creative project.

At this point, the planning process runs like a well-oiled machine. Hat tip to Alison Barnett and Katelyn Ander, the committee’s current co-chairs, who are remarkably organized. But we also make regular updates to the game’s structure and content, which keeps the planning interesting.

For game night, we recruit library staff from across the libraries to play all the roles. With a staff as large as ours, there are always new people who are eager to participate.

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Planning committee members and game night staff monitor check-in status on game night. Left to right, Luke Aeschleman, Rebecca McCall, Katelyn Ander, Dayna Durbin.

Burns: Is this an idea you would encourage other libraries and archives to try?

Jack: Using games is a great way to bring new people into libraries and archives. Clue is a fun structure to use, although I always encourage other institutions to make any game their own. Our design is very location-specific. For instance, our structure takes advantage of the fact that we have six public areas, and there are six suspects in Clue. In a smaller setting, you could do something just as successful; you would just have to take the scale into account.

I also encourage people to start small. Our game is successful because we started with something manageable and built it up over time.

ACRL will publish a book this year called Games and Gamification in Academic Libraries, edited by Eva Sclippa and Stephanie Crowe, which will include a chapter about Wilson’s Clue program for anyone curious to know more.

Burns: What other games do you think might work?

Jack: I love the idea of doing something with classic video games like Super Mario Brothers. It would also be fun to take other cultural phenomena like movies and turn them into games.

Burns: What’s next for the Clue team at the Wilson Library?

Jack: We’ve been talking for years about building in some sort of AR or VR component, but we haven’t yet hit on the right way to fit it into the narrative.

Fortunately, former staffer Luke Aeschleman designed the web app to be very flexible and user-friendly, and capable of accommodating just about anything.

Advocacy and Outreach Opportunities at the Archives*Records 2019 Annual Meeting

This week is the start of the SAA Annual Meeting. Here is a list of some recommendations for awareness and advocacy sessions and activities.

First things first — stop by the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) table! We’ll have a table in the conference registration area.

  • Saturday afternoon, 3:15 – 4:30 PM the Kitchen Sisters will be at the table playing clips from their podcast!
  • The Archives in Context podcast team will be at the table Sunday from 8:00-10:30 AM and 3:00-5:00 PM to record your elevator speech!
  • Elevator speech postcards – get them while they last!
  • Crafting Your Elevator Speech puzzle – a repeat of last year’s puzzle, be part of the team that puts it together!

Storytelling Workshop with Micaela Blei

Learn how to tell your story—and tell it well! In this introductory COPA-sponsored workshop, you’ll work with two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner (and former Moth director of education) Micaela Blei, PhD, to find stories that you want to tell, learn strategies for delivering riveting stories, and feel great doing it.

“Sing Out, Louise! Sing Out!” The Archivist and Effective Communication

This session includes panelists providing strategies for effective communication, examples of communication fails, and includes Q&A so attendees can share experiences too.

Are you ArchivesAWARE? Teaming up with SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness to Create a Stronger Archives Community

COPA members share successful initiatives and then engage with audience to brainstorm outreach strategies, solutions to outreach obstacles, and how we can better engage with communities that may have barriers to accessing archives.

Community Connections: Unleashing the Potential of Programs and Services Aimed at Underserved Stakeholder Communities

Archivists who oversee labor and social justice collections share their collaborations, programs, and services that have reached beyond the usual academic or institutional stakeholders and discuss the impact of reaching out to underserved communities.

Get With, or at Least On, the Program: Crafting Session Proposals for Archives-Related Sessions at Non-archives Conferences

Panelists from this session share the history and accomplishments of the Society of Southwest Archivists’ new committee, the State Partnerships and Outreach Committee.

What’s Your Elevator Speech?

The Archives in Context podcast team and the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) are joining together to record your elevator speeches at this year’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas.

COPA will have a table in the registration area with a Crafting Your Elevator Speech puzzle. Stop by to work on the puzzle and to record your elevator speech with the Archives in Context team for inclusion in a forthcoming episode. The podcast team will be at the COPA table on Sunday, August 4 from 8:00-10:30 AM and 3:00-5:00 PM.

We want these recordings to sound like real conversations, so we’re also looking for your help creating some conversation scenarios.

Three ways to participate:

  1. Contact the Archives in Context team at Chris.Burns@uvm.edu ahead of time to set up an interview or to pitch a scenario (doesn’t have to occur in an elevator).
  2. Stop by the COPA table in the registration area on August 4 between 8:00-10:30 AM or 3:00-5:00 PM.
  3. Can’t make it Austin but want to participate, record your own elevator speech and send it to the email address above.

A Finding Aid To My Soul

This year’s show will be hosted by two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner (and former Moth director of education) Micaela Blei. Featured storytellers: Arielle Petrovich, Katie Moss, Travis Williams, Katie Dishman, Joyce LeeAnn Joseph, Cliff Hight, Kira Lyle, Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Leah Harrison, and Joanna Black.

Blowing Off the Dust: How to Move Your Archives from the Basement to the Public Square

This interactive session is about how to partner with your public radio and includes best practices for pitching to public radio, how cultural institutions and public radio complement each other, and information about a current collaboration between an archive and public radio.

Archival Value: Tales of Professional Advocacy

This session features professionals from a variety of archival settings who share how they advocated for themselves, their staff and students, and their colleagues to get administrative support for the resources they  needed.

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

 

An Interview with Micaela Blei, Award-Winning Storyteller and Educator

The Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) is pleased to bring Micaela Blei, PhD, two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner and former Moth director of education, to ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019 this August in Austin, Texas at the JW Marriott. Blei will be teaching a FREE two-hour  “Storytelling Workshop” on Saturday, August 3 (1:00 PM – 3:00 PM) and hosting a storytelling event, “A Finding Aid to My Soul,” on Sunday, August 4 (8:00 PM – 10:00 PM). Pitch Your Story by June 27 for a chance to participate in the event. If selected, you’ll receive guidance from Blei to help whip your story into top shape.

In this interview conducted by Chris Burns of the University of Vermont and past chair of COPA, Blei discusses how she got into storytelling, her time working at Yale’s Beinecke Library, storytelling education, what we can expect from her as the host of “A Finding Aid to My Soul,” and how archivists can apply storytelling to their own work.

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Micaela Blei has years of experience working with individuals, organizations, and communities to shape and share the important stories of their lives. Her acclaimed workshops are invitations to reflection, spaces for discovery, and—most of all—a lot of fun. Her own stories have been called “heartbreaking and hilarious.” She’s appeared on The Moth Radio Hour and live on sold-out storytelling stages nationwide. In 2016, Micaela wrote the storytelling curriculum now used by more than 1,500 educators around the world. Some of you may also know her from her keynote address at RBMS in 2017.

Burns: How did you get into storytelling?

Blei: I found storytelling in 2011, when I left teaching to go to graduate school in education, and could finally stay up late enough on weeknights to go to shows. I found myself at a storytelling show in Brooklyn, and I loved the feeling in the room, loved the kind of community it created—I got up there and it just felt really right! I started going all the time, began teaching it, and ultimately I changed my doctoral research to be about storytelling and identity.

Burns: You actually have some firsthand knowledge of archival work. Can you tell us a bit about your time as a student employee at the Beinecke Library at Yale?

Blei: I often say it’s the best job I ever had (it’s a tie between that and scouting real estate in the Caribbean, which is a whole other story). It was my work-study, to help out Pat Willis (then the Curator of American Lit at the Beinecke) with her correspondence and filing. But we got along so well, and I got really passionate about what she was doing, so slowly I got to do more and more curatorial things. Pat let me be in charge of exhibits—small ones at first—and it was my first experience with really going on an independent intellectual/research journey. I’m so grateful to her for that!

Burns: Your experience educating aspiring storytellers is pretty impressive and includes creating The Moth‘s educational program. What’s a favorite moment of yours from a past storytelling workshop?

Blei: I think my favorite moments are when storytellers are finding out new things about each other through their stories, even if they already knew each other. One of my favorite moments was in a high school workshop: two boys had signed up together and they were best friends. They cracked each other up all the time, and then one of them shared a story with the group about how it felt when his dad passed away the previous year. When it was time to give “feedback” and responses, the teller’s best friend said: “I had no idea, man. You seemed so together that year. I’m so glad I know what you went through.” It reminded me that sometimes, weirdly, it’s easier to share vulnerability with a group than a trusted friend.

Burns: You will be hosting SAA’s storytelling event this August during ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019 in Austin. How do you think about making the night work for both the storytellers and audience? Will there be any surprises? Big musical numbers? Pyrotechnics?

Blei: No big musical numbers planned, unless there is a big demand, in which case I’ll pack costumes . . .

I think a lot about the kindness of a storytelling audience: this isn’t about impressing each other, it’s about connecting with each other. It takes the pressure off. On the audience side, it’s this chance to step into someone else’s experience and realize—that’s happened to me too! Or I never realized that’s what that’s like!

As host, I will also be trying out my absolute best archive jokes from my Beinecke days.

Burns: What are the odds that you might share a story?

Blei: Quite high! I’ll tell a little something at the beginning of the evening, to help set the mood . . . and in my workshop on August 3, which I am so excited for, I’ll probably start us off with a story.

Burns: Why do you think archivists should consider learning more about storytelling as it relates to their work?

Blei: I think learning more about storytelling can help introduce some new tools, but more importantly, remind you that you already have powerful tools that you can use with new intention. We tell stories all the time! Realizing that this is something we are already good at—and can apply it with an awareness—can be so effective in archives work.

I also think that this workshop will help re-frame what “having confidence in public speaking” means. It’s a little bit of a different approach and so many people have found it really helpful.

Burns: Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding your work as a storyteller and educator?

Blei: Not at the moment! If you want more, apply to be in the show, or come to my storytelling workshop, or “A Finding Aid to My Soul”!

Archival Innovators: Bryan Giemza, Director of UNC Chapel Hill’s Southern Historical Collection (Part 2)

This is the latest post in our new series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of the individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of the archivist in society.

Bryan Giemza

This is Part 2 of Lindsay Anderberg’s interview with Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection (SHC) at the Wilson Special Collections Library, part of the University Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (see Part 1 here).  Part 2 continues Lindsay and Bryan’s discussion on how one archive was able to launch multiple innovative projects while challenging the notion of who creates and maintains archives.

LA: Your projects obviously require a lot of collaboration— from grant funding to partnerships both international and local. Can you talk about these partnerships both on a large scale, for example your Mellon grant funding, and about smaller, local connections that have propelled these projects forward?

BG: Funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has certainly enlarged the scope of what we can develop.  It offers the opportunity to grow our collaborations outward in expanding circles.  It enables the development of the backpacks and put us on a footing to contribute our methodology to the project in Yucatán, for example.  The Mellon Grant gives us the opportunity to pull together a Community-Driven Archives Team with multiple graduate students, library colleagues, coinvestigators in other institutions, and talented people and administrators.  Another key element to our model is working with community liaisons, who help us do the translational work of explaining archives work to communities, and explaining community needs to archives.

Train the Trainer session: Participants at the San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM) work with Dr. Karida Brown to conduct oral histories and store digital files.
Image Credit : B. Bernetiae Reed, SHC Community-Driven Archives.

At the same time, these projects are intensely local in nature.  Professor Karida Brown, one of our co-investigators and an innovator in her own right, always points out that you can’t be local enough.  When she was framing up what became the East Kentucky African American Migration Project—one of the SHC’s community partners—she started with the received tools of sociology and mailed out a survey to would-be participants. People in the community responded dutifully, but she realized that the instrument flattened everything out. It didn’t really get at their stories. It wasn’t until she really started talking to people one-on-one that she could begin.  She realized that the survey had been a false start and went back to the drawing board, which really put the project on a footing for success.

Fostering those local connections and surfacing the stories eventually led Karida to the Southern Historical Collection through word-of-mouth referrals from academic advisors. We are connected with larger partnerships and circles of like-minded colleagues who work in this area, too, from the west coast to the east, and finding strength in those numbers, as well as the lessons we learn from community partners.

LA: What is your advice to someone who wants to launch an innovative project with their archives, but might have limited funding or an organization that is not open to change?

BG: In writing about all this, the sheepish fact of the matter is that I work in an institution that is very well resourced, I have the backing of grants, and I work with very talented and creative colleagues.

So, it’s very easy for me to talk about how projects work…. And it’s hard to offer answers that aren’t too pat.  All I can say is that you can be creative and use your reputation in service of others to change things. Put your products in the public domain. Where funders are concerned, it’s important to move your ideas tangibly into practices and products, not just as proof of concept but as proof of the sort of success that others like to invest in. It’s better to come from a place of strength before need.

Backpacks in use: The SHC Community-Driven Archives Team collaborated with Public History graduate students from North Carolina Central University and community members in Princeville, NC, to conduct oral histories and to discern needful resources and cultural projects.
Image Credit : Claire Du Laney, SHC Community-Driven Archives.

Another perhaps too-easy answer is to start small or structure the strategic partnerships that extend your reach and resources. This doesn’t do a lot to disrupt power and funding disparities where larger institutions are concerned, but it gives you a way to tap into the aquifer.  When you are bringing something of value, turn the tables and set the terms.

Last bit of advice: borrow shamelessly and make sure you know what’s going on in your corner of the marketplace of ideas before setting out.  Be careful about reinventing the wheel; figure out how to borrow it from someone else. If you’re applying for a job, go ahead and float a budget and ask for startup money to achieve the vision on the front end—that’s what entrepreneurs do, and it lets you put something on the table when you ask others to participate.  Part of innovating is developing a thick skin. Expect to hear no often and remember that you only have to hear yes once.

If your organization is not open to change, as I see it, there are two options. You can take the long view and begin a change management campaign, as I mentioned earlier.  Or you can move on to an institution that is open. If it comes to that, my advice is to vote with your feet.  You owe it to yourself. If you’re interested in justice and innovation, align yourself with a place that makes it possible.

LA: Is there anything else you’d like fellow archivists to know about your projects or tips for how to launch similar projects at their institutions?

BG: This is a good moment to put in a shameless plug for the Practices in Community-Driven Archives Handbook that we’re developing as part of the Mellon grant.  It’s still a few years out on the horizon, but we are designing it to be useful to practitioners of all kinds. We’re the first to say that these are simply practices—not best practices, but the results of our experiments and learning, since every project is different—so your mileage may vary.  But maybe there’s something you can use there.

The contents of the Oral History Archivist in a Backpack include how-to guides, audio equipment and thank you cards. The Community-Driven Archives Team provides basic tools for oral history success and affirms the importance of community-curated histories.
Image Credit: Aleah Howell, Wilson Library, UNC-CH

We’re currently renovating the web presence for our community-driven projects, and we’re constantly adding our products and training materials as we go.  So if you wanted, for instance, to create a set of Backpacks for a community project, you can find all of the elements of the backpack, down to the pricing, in our online helps.

One other suggestion. Say things at meetings and have your elevator speech ready—ideas have to be reducible to terms that a child can understand quickly.  Speak them out loud.  Language is the first step toward making the ideal into the real, and if you sit in meetings and bite your tongue because you’re worried that your ideas aren’t good enough, nothing will happen.  The African proverb says it best: the open mouth gets fed.

LA: What’s next?  How will these projects continue or are you launching something new?

BG: Well, there are a lot of things. I am excited about the upcoming release of a fulldome movie that will bring our archival materials on southern history to a new format and to new audiences.

And I have a longer vision in mind for building on the potential in Archivist in a Backpack.  It’s about gradually scaling up capacity for community archives.  What if we could create archivally sound storage units—the sort of thing that municipalities throughout the region could afford to include in their planning—and harvest those pods to depositories supported by regional consortiums of libraries and archives?  Repeat the process and enhance inclusivity in each cycle? Community groups that aren’t interested in starting their own brick-and-mortar archive want to know that their materials will have a good archival home that respects the rights of their creators. As a profession, I think it’s a good thing when archivists consider how to join ranks in the scholarly dissemination of participatory methods. We can build outward from there.

These projects certainly have a momentum of their own.  Sometimes good writers turn out stories by creating characters and turning them loose to see what they will do.  Maybe we can think about projects and invention the same way.  Pick up one little piece of the challenge, start the project, and see where it wants to lead you.  We think about innovation as something you do, often through a kind of hard-nosed wrestling with a particular challenge.  But that puts “problems” first instead of people—the characters, so to speak. The reward of good work is more of it, and if you see innovation as a natural outgrowth of generosity, spontaneity, friendliness—well, maybe innovation has an animation of its own, and becomes the sure guide to better places.

Assembling the Archivist in a Backpack kits at the Southern Historical Collection

Archival Innovators: Bryan Giemza, Director of UNC Chapel Hill’s Southern Historical Collection (Part 1)

This is the inaugural post in our new series Archival Innovators!  In this new series, we aim to raise awareness of the individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of the archivist in society.

Bryan Giemza

Our first Archival Innovators post brings you an interview with Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection (SHC) at the Wilson Special Collections Library, part of the University Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Bryan’s bio is contained at the end of this post).  Bryan and the SHC might already be on your radar as archival innovators thanks to the publicity around Archivist in a Backpack and the Maya from the Margins project, the latter of which was awarded SAA’s 2018 Diversity Award as well as a Spotlight Award for team member Bernetiae Reed.  COPA member Lindsay Anderberg, Interdisciplinary Science & Technology Librarian and Poly Archivist at New York University, spoke with Bryan to find out how one archive was able to launch multiple innovative projects while challenging the notion of who creates and maintains archives.

This is Part 1 of Lindsay and Bryan’s interview; stay tuned for Part 2 next week!

LA: Could you start by telling us a little about Archivist in a Backpack and how it fits within the concept of participatory research?

Assembling the Archivist in a Backpack kits at the Southern Historical Collection

BG: Archivist in a Backpack distills some basic tools of archival trade into a kit that’s small enough, and accessible enough, to act as starter material for a community-driven archive project.  We know from experience that oral histories are great for jumpstarting community-driven archives projects. And we know that people love the tangibility of archives experience.  You can see that in the moment of electricity when a student opens a nineteenth-century journal for the first time.  So, the question was, how do you get people of all ages comfortable thinking about themselves as archivists in a way that’s fun and interactive and ultimately empowering?

That’s what participatory research is all about: moving away from methods of enquiry that perpetuate the idea that expertise comes from outside a community. In the world of archives, it addresses a recurrent problem, that communities have limited say in what goes into an archive, what happens to it afterwards, even in its interpretation. Archivist in a Backpack is a kind of hook, it’s a straightforward way to get people into the participatory process and to say, You can do this, too.

Assembling the Archivist in a Backpack kits at the Southern Historical Collection

Assembling the Archivist in a Backpack kits at the Southern Historical Collection

LA: What about your Maya from the Margins project? How does that draw on participatory methodology?

BG: The spirit of participatory research infused Maya from the Margins, too. A lightbulb moment came from conversations I’d had with Latinos who were at best reluctant to acknowledge their indigenous past. I knew that young North Carolinians with both Latinx and indigenous roots often feel like outsiders. Their identity is really complex, and as second-generation Americans they’re at an uneasy remove from the experiences and culture of their immigrant parents. In addition to barriers to inclusion, the historic suppression of indigenous culture and language in Latin America poses a problem if you want to transmit a living history. Colonialism is not exactly a force for making people the curators of their own histories—which is what we’re trying to do.

Khristin Landry-Montes and Douglas “Biff” Hollingsworth (Collections and Outreach Archivist, Southern Historical Collection) prepare backpacks that have been translated into Yucatec Mayan for distribution to teachers and students in Valladolid, Mexico

When I visited the State Archive of Yucatán, I viewed Mexican plantation documents that were every bit the counterpart of items held in the Southern Historical Collection, and I began to discern in the archive some common themes in history, movement and migration.  How could we bring people together around the topic of Mayan identity, and, in the participatory mode, enable them to take ownership of those histories, and claim that common ground?

The core idea was to create programming and archives-based exhibits by pairing a cohort of young Maya-identifying people in Yucatán with counterparts in North Carolina. Along with two Morganton high school teachers and two UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate student mentors, the student participants visited the Southern Historical Collection and the State Archives of Yucatán, crisscrossed North Carolina and Yucatán, and collaboratively curated a travelling exhibition that was displayed at exchange sites.

Daniela Garrido Durán uses backpack materials to interview Khristin Landry-Montes at a teacher training workshop sponsored by National Geographic at Universidad de Oriente in Valladolid, Mexico

LA: There’s a been a lot of talk in the archives profession about diversity, inclusion, and social justice, but I think people can be unsure of how to enact these ideas within the existing structures of academic and cultural institutions.  Can you talk about how your projects aim to disrupt power disparities and to empower communities or individuals?

BG: Sure!  One thing I can say from experience is that the challenge endemic to enacting the ideals of participatory research is making sure the implementation of projects matches the soaring rhetoric.  That’s actually where a lot of the space of invention comes in. The conceptual forms have to find embodiment in institutional and operational procedures, and finally, the tangible. We find ourselves answering a thousand sub-questions: for example, what’s the appropriate workflow, and what are the rights considerations, for ingesting material from a community history harvest?  Often it’s a case of first impression.  It puts demands on the imagination of the participants, the practitioners, and the institution.

Assembling the Archivist in a Backpack kits at the Southern Historical Collection

Let me try to make this a little more real and a little less aspirational or abstract. We gathered feedback on Archivist in a Backpack from community partners by including in each a stamped card to be returned to us. One community partner reported, “We all witnessed how meaningful it was for the … participants to get those protectors, a certain kind of unexpected acknowledgement of the value of their memories.” Here again, tangibility matters; having the plastic sleeves made interviewees feel their material is cared for by someone else and not just of value to them.  Archivists can’t be everywhere at once; not everyone has the experience of seeing their materials foldered and rehoused.  There’s intrinsic power in letting the community member be the bearer of that gift.

History from below, as a school of thought in public history, needs to be matched with archives from below.  It’s an orientation toward finding what’s not in the grand narratives and making it present and accessible.  This manifests differently in diverse disciplines, but there’s a kind of interdisciplinary convergence happening, in my view.  It’s happening in sociology, anthropology, public health, and so on.  It’s not an accident that Maya from the Margins required partnerships with colleagues in anthropology, a nonprofit, archives and higher ed abroad, and institutions across campus.  Participatory research provides the common ground for the real interdisciplinary work that we hear a lot about but that’s so rarely achieved.

Delores Porter and Adreonna Simmons use backpack materials to conduct an interview in the historic black town of Princeville, NC

Certainly there’s a built-in tension in the fact that institutions innately want to control narratives. It’s revealing to speak with communities where outside institutions have walked away on their own terms, or pursued their own extractive ends.  The traditional quid-pro-quo nature of collecting ignores the fact that generosity is usually repaid handsomely and that it takes a relationship to bring a person, a story, to an archive.  There’s a long way to go with all this. We still have a hard time paying community experts, for example, and reaching carceral populations, and finding ways to fund community projects directly.

LA: What was the Southern Historical Collection (SHC) like, both in content and in practice, before you started working there four years ago?

As one element of the backpack, these oral history prompt cards pertaining to the terminology of cenotes were translated into Yucatec Mayan and Spanish

BG: The Collection’s origins give it a tremendous magnetic force, since good collections have a way of attracting more good collections. I happened to be hired under a charter for change.  The SHC had a longstanding tradition of outreach, so I wanted to think about how to shift it beyond the podium.  We operated in a fairly conventional manuscripts mode: the goal traditionally has been to get primary material behind thick archival walls.  I was interested in how we could make those walls less intimidating and how we might render them invisible in a manner of speaking.  We took the time to do some planning and to hold ourselves accountable, which put us in a position to do more than react and to set a proactive collecting agenda. My SHC colleagues Chaitra Powell and Douglas “Biff” Hollingsworth bring tremendous creativity and experience to all of these efforts.  Our team agreed that we would be inspirited by an ethic of outrageous generosity and joyful participation, and that we would not lose sight of that simple mission.

LA: Since you were hired under a “charter for change,” what was your strategy for shifting the culture of SHC and launching these innovative projects?

BG: When I joined the Southern Historical Collection, I was determined to shift toward a participatory paradigm as a way of collecting that chimed with the best part of our “Of the People” institutional history. It offered a means to perpetuate a culture of respect and reciprocity. It’s a collecting ethos that will carry into the future, because collecting, broadly, is all about people and relationships. Those relationships are the most important corrective to the selective vision of academe. One of my favorite aphorisms is, No one sees his own ears.  Participatory research methods tend to point to our blind spots.  This is healthy not just for academic institutions; it’s good for communities, and it’s fundamentally an equitable way to go about the process. The power differences between academic institutions and communities—particularly those underrepresented in archives—are beyond enormous. From a collections standpoint, it’s like, the balance of power is tipped in favor of the institution before you arrive, not to mention while you’re there, so how do you continually put yourself in the perspective of a community member?  In those conversations, how can you be aware of the silencing effect of legacies and power disparities that extend well into the past?

Everett Fly, George Frederick (SAAACAM – San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum) and Bryan Giemza. SAAACAM is one of the community partners that is deploying Archivist in a Backpack

There is also an admittedly wonkish side to the business of change management; reading a book or two on the topic or taking a course can be helpful. It sounds calculated, and it is: you can develop a campaign for change, and that’s what I set out to do with the SHC team. We thought about how we might build allies across the organization, knowing that we wouldn’t get perfect buy-in from everyone, and that’s something we would have to accept and write off.

Trying to usher in community archives as a new way of thinking about what we do posed a lot of challenges, and it’s still a work in progress.  It’s a first principle of change management that most major change initiatives don’t pan out, and the ones that do require an absolutely relentless communication campaign. That’s very hard to do when you’re building the airplane in the air and doing your best to be responsive to communities.  We’ve been persistent in delivering the message that this work is essential to our identity. Put differently, community-driven archives aren’t just what we do—they’re who we are. It’s another gift to work in a place where others are innately disposed toward trying new things in service of others—and where there’s room for failure.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Archival Innovators interview with Bryan Giemza!

Bryan Giemza is Director of the Southern Historical Collection in Wilson Special Collections at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he has been developing practices in community-driven archives. He is author or an editor of six academic books on American literary and cultural history, including Irish Catholic Writers and the Invention of the American South and Images of Depression-Era Louisiana: The FSA Photographs of Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott. As principal investigator of grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities, among others, he has led a variety of public humanities projects concerning the history and culture of the U.S. South. In 2019 he joins the faculty of the Honors College at Texas Tech University as professor of humanities and literature. Among his duties: working with students in the Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World.

Advocacy and Outreach at the Annual Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Interview with Jason Steinhauer, Public Historian and Creator of History Communication

Public communication has perhaps never been more important for the archives profession as it is today.  That’s why we wanted to talk with Jason Steinhauer, public historian, director of the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest at Villanova University, and creator of the field of history communication.  In this interview with ArchivesAWARE!, Steinhauer discusses his entry into the historical profession as a curator and archivist, his work as a public historian and the creator of history communication, and how archivists can apply the principles of history communication to their own work.  Steinhauer will also be leading the “Carpe Media! Communications and Media Training for Archivists” workshop on August 14 at ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2018.

ArchivesAWARE: Can you tell us about your background working as a museum curator and archivist?

Jason Steinhauer. Photo by Amanda Reynolds.

Steinhauer: I always enjoyed museums; as a child I created exhibits in my parents’ basement. In college, I interned at two museums and fell in love with the work. So, following graduation, I was very fortunate to land a position with the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, working as an exhibitions assistant on an exhibit about American Jewish soldiers in WWII. That exhibit went on to win the AAM Grand Prize for Excellence in Exhibitions and spring-boarded me into becoming a curator.

I also always had a passion for historical records. I inherited that from my parents, who love to sleuth around in archives and used book stores for clues about the past. After working closely with objects as a curator, I decided to get my archivists’ certificate, to learn how to work closely and properly with archival records. The training and experience in archives and museums prepared me for the next phases of my career.

ArchivesAWARE: You’ve since gone on to work as a public historian, first at the Library of Congress and now as the inaugural director of the Albert Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest at Villanova University.  What motivated you to transition out of curatorial/archival work and onto the “front lines” of the history profession?

Steinhauer: As a curator and archivist, I was always a public historian; I just didn’t know it. It was after I joined the Library of Congress Veterans History Project that I learned about public history through the National Council on Public History. NCPH really resonated with me. It was a community grappling with the same questions I had been grappling with since starting my career: How do you make historical scholarship accessible to diverse public audiences? How do you include those audiences in the process of historical inquiry? And how do we use physical spaces, records, and objects to tell stories about the past? I have always been fascinated by those questions, and my work at the Library of Congress and now as the first director of the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest offered me the opportunity to wrestle with them in a variety of settings: with Members of Congress and elected officials, with diplomats, foreign governments, business communities, funders, scholars, and students. As the environments in which we operate grow more complex, the challenges become greater and the task more urgent.

ArchivesAWARE: You’re also the creator of the field of history communication.  What is history communication, and where did the idea come from?

Steinhauer: In 2014, I worked at The John W. Kluge Center inside the Library of Congress. At the time I was friendly with several “science communicators,” and became intrigued by science communication. The sciences have made huge investments in ensuring scientists are trained to communicate scientific research to various audiences through a variety of media formats, not solely for disseminating scholarship but also for the purpose of informing public debates and shaping policy. It seemed to me that the history profession could do the same. I began asking if Masters and PhD programs had made such investments in communications, and found that few had. So I proposed the creation of history communication and set out with colleagues to develop coursework that would wrestle with how history gets communicated across contemporary media spaces—Web, social, video, VR—and identify the skillset necessary to do that work effectively. Four years later we have history communication courses being offered and trainings being conducted nationwide.

ArchivesAWARE: How do you think archivists can apply the ideas behind history communication to their work?  What would you say are some of the biggest challenges facing archivists in this regard?

Steinhauer: I hazard to guess that some of the challenges are cultural and institutional. Institutions and organizations tend to be conservative in keeping up with technological change and taking risks. But history communication work involves risk-taking and innovation, and that’s where training becomes critical. Archives programs can help by preparing archivists to do this work in a systematic way, so that when new archivists are hired, they have the tools and skillset to contribute right away.

ArchivesAWARE: Breaking into history communication would likely require many archivists to develop new competencies on top of their traditional archival training.  Do you have any thoughts on how archivists could best acquire the training necessary to undertake this innovative form of public outreach?

Steinhauer: Our Intro to History Communication syllabus is a great place to start. The syllabus was developed by more than 35 people in two working groups held in 2016. It lays the foundations for communicating history in this current environment. It covers historical thinking, media literacy, different media formats, even the business aspects of history. Second, I think connecting with others, either on Twitter at #histcomm or through our LinkedIn group, would be beneficial. Third, attending workshops such as the one being sponsored at this year’s SAA annual meeting. And, finally, nothing beats learning by doing. I would love to see history communication assignments integrated into archives programs nationwide, so that archivists graduate with the skillset needed for this crucial work.

ArchivesAWARE: Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding your work as an archivist and public historian, and the role of history communication in the cultural heritage professions?

Steinhauer: Communication is an essential part of what we do as historians, archivists, and records managers. We must continue to find strategic and creative ways to communicate, adapting to new audiences and new media formats as they emerge. This has been a recurring theme at NCPH, AASLH, SHAFR, AHA and other conferences the past few years, so I think the profession is awakened to this reality. I’m excited for the future and for the role that the Lepage Center can play.

The Great Society Congress: A Collaborative Approach to Digital Exhibits and Outreach

Staff members at the Wise Library pose for photographs in front of books January 4th, 2018. Photo Brian Persinger Wyatt Jay

This post was authored by guest contributors Danielle Emerling, Assistant Curator, Congressional and Political Papers Archivist, West Virginia University Libraries, and Jay Wyatt, Director of Programs and Research, Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education.

 

Introduction

VRA

Congressional records are held in repositories around the country. Here, records from three repositories document the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 1. Petition for Cloture Motion, May, 21, 1965, “Cloture Petition” folder, Unanimous Consent to Resignations, Box 3, Secretary of the Senate, 89th Congress, Records the U.S. Senate, RG 46, National Archives. 2. Photograph of the Voting Rights Act signing, The Claude Pepper Papers, Florida State University Libraries. 3. Correspondence between the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Carl Albert, with enclosure, Carl Albert Congressional Papers, Legislative Series, Box 89, Folder 87, Carl Albert Center Congressional Archives, University of Oklahoma.

The archives that document the United States Congress reside in repositories throughout the country. How to bring them together in a meaningful and thematic way is a question congressional archivists and historians often ponder. About four years ago we started planning a project that would do just that – use materials from several archives to explore the numerous pieces of legislation that make up the “Great Society” and discover the Congress that passed them.

The digital exhibit, “The Great Society Congress,” is a collaborative project of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (ACSC). The ACSC is an association of organizations that promotes the study of the United States Congress. Many ACSC member organizations maintain archival collections of current and former members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The online exhibit features more than 400 items from 18 member institutions. While our energy initially was focused on creating the exhibit, the exhibit has turned into a great vehicle for new partnerships and outreach.

How We Did the Project

Exhibit

One section of the exhibit focuses on the key legislation passed by the 89th Congress.

Telling the story of Congress is difficult. It’s a large, complex institution with more than 500 members who bring different interests, points of view, and ways of working to a body that needs to make policy for the entire country. Our approach was to focus on the key legislation, the leadership and procedures that shaped this particular Congress, and some of the larger events unfolding at the time, such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement.

With so many different components, we chose to develop the exhibit over the course of two years, releasing pieces of it to coincide with different legislative anniversaries. This made the project more manageable for our all-volunteer exhibit task force.

We were unsure at first how many ACSC member institutions would contribute to the project because participation largely depended on what members were able to find in their collections. We were pleasantly surprised by the response, though.  By the time we completed the site build, we had incorporated over 400 primary source documents from almost 20 different ACSC member organizations.

We also received a wider variety of materials focusing on a broader array of topics than we initially anticipated, and so both the size and scope of the exhibit expanded as the project proceeded.  For example, the W.R. Poage Legislative Library at Baylor University and the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas submitted materials documenting a Food for Peace delegation trip to India led by then-Congressman Dole and Congressman W.R. “Bob” Poage.  The highlight of this submission was the discovery that silent film footage of the trip held at the Poage Legislative Library matched up with audio held at the Dole Institute, and archivists Debbie Davendonis (Poage) and Sarah D’Antonio Gard (Dole) were able to reconstruct this rare source. The submission encouraged us to consider the additional work that Congress does, and as a result we developed “The Political Environment” section of the exhibit, which eventually grew to include features on civil rights and the war in Vietnam.

We brought all of these materials together in an Omeka exhibit, hosted by the University of Delaware Library. With the assistance of the Web Services and Digital Humanities Librarian, we were able to create a special template for the site that blends contemporary design and easy navigability.

NARA Lesson Plan

LessonPlan

The ACSC exhibit task force partnered with the Center for Legislative Archives at NARA to create the “Congress, the Great Society in the 1960s, and today” lesson plan.

After creating the site’s content, we received some anecdotal evidence that college faculty were using the site for instruction, but we hoped that educators teaching at various levels would use the site in the classroom. We also knew educators have a tremendous workload and would likely want something ready-made and flexible to use.

So, we partnered with the Center for Legislative Archives (CLA) at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to create a lesson plan. The CLA is the part of NARA that preserves and makes available the official records of Congress, and as a longtime ACSC member, it had already contributed a great deal of expertise and documents to the exhibit. The CLA has extensive experience developing educational resources, including lesson plans, e-books, and mobile apps, for K-12 educators.   Charles Flanagan, Outreach Supervisor at the CLA, guided us through the lesson plan creation and showed us how to structure a lesson so students build on their knowledge from one day to the next.

The resulting lesson plan, “Congress, the Great Society in the 1960s, and today,” asks students in grades 9-12 to summarize President Lyndon Johnson’s vision for a “Great Society,” place the vision in historical context, and detail the ways in which Congress responded.

Our partnership with the CLA has been invaluable.  Charlie and the CLA’s educational specialists use the “Great Society” lesson plan in many of the outreach activities they conduct with teachers across the country each year, and that has helped make people more aware of the exhibit and encouraged greater interaction with the materials. It has, in many ways, helped keep the exhibit relevant, as we’ve moved on from the 50th anniversary of the Great Society.

National History Day Article

NHDThemebook

Our article, “Congress Constructs the Great Society Through Conflict and Compromise,” appeared in the 2018 National History Day theme book.

In addition to instruction, we wanted to entice students to use the site for their research. One of the members of the exhibit team had worked with National History Day (NHD) in the past, and we contacted NHD about writing an article for the 2018 theme book. Each year, the NHD theme book consists of articles relating to the year’s theme, and it is unveiled at the national competition. They print approximately 12,000-15,000 copies, but most people access it online. The theme book usually receives approximately 300,000 page views.

Our article, “Congress Constructs the Great Society Through Conflict and Compromise,” provides an overview of the exhibit. By pulling out specific documents, photographs, and audio files available in the exhibit, we sought to highlight the numerous ways students could connect Congress’ role in passing legislation with the theme of “Conflict and Compromise.” Following the theme book’s publication in fall 2017, we saw a significant increase in traffic to the exhibit website.   Approximately 7,000 new users have tallied near 18,000 page views on the exhibit over the past eight months.  This represents more than a quarter of the 26,000 users who have visited the exhibit since its launch in April 2015. Like the lesson plan, the outreach that we’ve done to promote the exhibit via the NHD theme book has paid major dividends.

Lessons Learned and the Future of the Exhibit

Through collaboration among member institutions to build the site and partnerships to develop instruction and student research resources, “The Great Society Congress” digital exhibit successfully highlighted congressional archives for new audiences. If we did the exhibit over again, we would consider applying for a grant, particularly so we could help member institutions with costs associated with researching topics, digitizing materials, and creating metadata. Although we will not be adding content to the exhibit, we’ll continue to look for outreach opportunities (like this blog!) to help get more people interested in the exhibit.  We believe it will continue to be relevant for instructors teaching the history of the 1960s at various levels and a fantastic resource for anyone interested in learning more about the Great Society.