Catching Pokémon: A Historically Themed Pokémon Scavenger Hunt Outreach Activity

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This post was authored by guest contributor Meredith E. Torre, Archivist at the Atlanta Housing Authority.

To celebrate October’s Archives month, the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) Archives recently launched a historically themed Pokémon scavenger hunt. The game was designed to celebrate some of the important people who have contributed to AHA’s history.

This outreach activity was great at eliciting responsive participation, generating conversation, and demonstrating some of the papers and records the AHA Archives holds for people valuable to our history.

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An assortment of Pokémon cards featuring notable individuals.

The fabrication of the game was fairly simple. The game was created entirely out of paper “Pokémon” cards, with corresponding stickers (to show how rare or common that particular Pokémon was) attached to the Pokémon, and a Pokéball or scorecard. Because the game was setup like a scavenger hunt and the score card resembled a bingo card, no knowledge of the actual Pokémon game was necessary to play the game.

The Pokémon cards consisted of biographical information for persons who are a significant part of AHA’s history—Charles F. Palmer, Dr. John Hope, Harold L. Ickes, Jesse Blayton, Clark Howell, and President Roosevelt, just to name a few—and corresponding stickers. These Pokémon were posted throughout AHA’s building. The object of the game was to locate the Pokémon (the person of historical significance) and to “catch” the Pokémon by placing the corresponding sticker onto a scorecard or your Pokéball. In the actual game of Pokémon, some Pokémon are common and some are rarer than others. We printed out less Pokémon cards for those person in our history we identified as already familiar and made them “rare”. On the contrary, we printed out more Pokémon cards for those persons perhaps less familiar and placed them in more prominent places to make them “common” and to give them more exposure.

 

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Pokéball Scorecard

In creating the game, there are lots of Pokémon templates online to choose from. We selected a blank card template created by artist Christian England (LevelInfinitum) on Deviant Art to create our Pokémon cards and edited the images using Pixlr. We created our scorecards as a Word document and printed an image of a Pokéball on the opposite side.

We announced the Pokémon activity and posted the rules with scorecards in centralized locations. We held the game for a period of one week. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the activity and people said in hunting for the Pokémon that they really enjoyed discovering the people who make up a part of AHA’s history and learning things about them they may have not known!

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Completed Pokémon card created for Susie Labord, AHA’s first resident commissioner.

Pokémon themed prizes were awarded in a drawing for the hunters who collected the most Pokémon and to the hunter who collected the Legendary Pokémon, AHA’s first resident commissioner, Susie LaBord.

This outreach activity was easy to coordinate, super fun, and is also easily customizable for your institution!

RESOURCES:

Pokémon templates used in this project: http://levelinfinitum.deviantart.com/art/Pokemon-Blank-Card-Templates-Basic-474601445

Artist’s profile page: http://levelinfinitum.deviantart.com/

Pixlr Editor: https://pixlr.com/

 

Have you developed an innovative outreach program at your repository? If so, please share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be a guest contributor to ArchivesAWARE!

Finding the Hook

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This post was authored by guest contributor David Carmicheal, State Archivist, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and former Chair, SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA)

Good advocacy is always targeted to a specific audience—specific people who need to hear a specific message to drive a specific outcome. In governments, for example, that audience is often legislators who need to hear the message of how the archives benefits citizens so that those legislators, in turn, will be more likely to support the archives with adequate authority, budgets, facilities, and such. Every archives needs support from governing authorities, users, the public, and others who may need to hear targeted messages. But before the target audience can hear the message the archives must grab their attention; we have to find a hook.

Normally archivists use the historical documents themselves as the hook. We tend to believe that the thrill we get from our collections is felt by everyone. After all, what could be more exciting than holding an actual George Washington letter in my hands? Our outreach is often built on the premise that target audiences will visit the archives if we give them the opportunity to experience the delight of hands-on history. And while that often works, it’s not a guaranteed strategy. It’s a good idea, then, to think about other experiences you might use to encourage key audiences to visit the archives.

When the Pennsylvania State Archives held its annual display of William Penn’s original 1681 Charter in 2015 we decided that the excitement of seeing the original document might not be attraction enough for many. So, in addition to advertising the event we sent personal invitations to state legislators offering them a private, fifteen minute viewing of the Charter with the state archivist and an opportunity to have their photo taken with the document, which they could publish in their constituent newsletter or display in their office. More than sixty legislators accepted our offer—a record for the archives—with the happy result that we extended our two day viewing schedule to three full days in order to accommodate the requests. Many legislators brought along key staff members for the photo op (an opportunity for us to meet the people who create policy briefs and provide data to the legislators). Some brought family members, including their children, to see the document and be part of the photograph. All of them took the opportunity to ask questions about the Charter and learn how the archives helps to protect the legal and financial interests of the commonwealth and its residents, beginning with Penn’s Charter.

Tweet from the office of Pennsylvania State Senator John Rafferty following his visit to see the 1681 Penn Charter while it was on view this year. Rafferty is pictured with State Archivist David Carmicheal. View the Storify of tweets from this year’s Charter Day event.

A very different attraction drew staff from a key agency to the archives: a trip to the roof of the archives tower. The panoramic view from the top encompasses the city, the surrounding valley, and a distinctive bird’s-eye view of the State Capitol building. The first stop on the tour, though, was the ground floor meeting room where the visitors saw a display of key documents from the archives’ collections and heard a brief explanation of the value of the archives to the commonwealth. The route to the roof passed through storage areas and provided opportunities to discuss the records as well as the aging facility itself. No doubt some of the staff visited the archives solely because of the lure of the rooftop tour, but all of them came away excited about the documents.

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The State Museum of Pennsylvania and State Archives Complex in Harrisburg, PA Source:_http://statemuseumpa.org/50th-anniversary/_

Even if you don’t have a tower archives you can probably devise unique experiences that will attract key people to your archives. Just remember, it pays to think beyond the documents when you’re looking for the hook.

If you have examples of innovative archives outreach that you would like to share on ArchivesAWARE, read more about the editorial process on our About page and contact the editors at archivesaware@archivists.org!

October 5th is Ask An Archivist Day!

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What Is #AskAnArchivist Day?

It’s an opportunity to:

  • Break down the barriers that make archivists seem inaccessible.
  • Talk directly to the public—via Twitter—about what you do, why it’s important and, of course, the interesting records with which you work.
  • Join with archivists around the country and the world to make an impact on the public’s understanding of archives while celebrating American Archives Month!
  • Interact with users, supporters, and prospective supporters about the value of archives.
  • Hear directly from the public about what they’re most interested in learning about from archives and archivists.

How Does It Work?

On October 5, archivists around the country will take to Twitter to respond to questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist. Take this opportunity to engage via your personal and/or institutional Twitter accounts and to respond to questions posed directly to you or more generally to all participants.

Questions will vary widely, from the silly (What do archivists talk about around the water cooler?) to the practical (What should I do to be sure that my emails won’t get lost?), but each question will be an opportunity to share more about our work and our profession with the public. Visit SAA’s Storify that summarizes the 2014 #AskAnArchivist Day to get more examples of questions and answers. Last year generated thousands of questions and answers, some of which have been Storified:

Between now and October 5:

PROMOTE #AskAnArchivist Day among your users and constituents via your institution’s website, Twitter account, blog, newsletter, and any other mediums available to you.

For additional inspiration on what your promotion of #AskAnArchivist Day might look like, see our Storify of marketing from the 2014 #AskAnArchivist Day, as well as these great examples of museums’ promotions of past #AskACurator Days:

Examples of possible Twitter promotion:

  • Happy #AskAnArchivist Day! Our archivists are waiting for YOUR questions. Tag us at @TWITTERHANDLE and use #AskAnArchivist.
  • Archivists at @TWITTERHANDLE are gearing up for #AskAnArchivist Day on October 5! Literally—documents and photo boxes stacked and waiting!

ENCOURAGE the public to use #AskAnArchivist and your institution’s Twitter handle (e.g., @smithsonian) when asking questions so you won’t miss any that are intended for you and so we will be able to track questions and answers to measure overall participation.

TALK to your staff and colleagues to develop a plan for responding to tweets throughout the day.  Will one person respond to all tweets?  Will you share the task? Will individuals sign up for time slots and let the public know who will be available when?

Here’s one example:

  • During #AskACurator Day, one person at the Indianapolis Museum of Art was selected to monitor both the general hashtag and tweets sent directly to @imamuseum. When direct questions came in or interesting general questions were posed via the hashtag, the designated monitor sent the questions to participating curators via email. The curators (and their archivist!) replied with their answers, and the monitor posted all answers from the @imamuseum Twitter account. (See the Storify of the IMA’s participation in #AskACurator Day for results.)

CREATE an institutional Twitter account if you don’t already have one. #AskAnArchivist Day and American Archives Month are both great opportunities to start one! Click here to get started.

And if an institutional Twitter account is not an option for you, answer questions from your personal Twitter account! If your institutional affiliation and job title are not already listed on your profile, be sure to add that for the duration of #AskAnArchivist Day.

If you plan to participate, please email SAA Editorial and Production Coordinator Abigail Christian with your Twitter handle so we can create a list of participants.

TWEET and GREET! Take advantage of this opportunity to join with archivists from around the country to talk to and hear directly from the public on October 5.

Undergraduate Archival Internships: Opportunities for Professional Development -AND- Student Outreach

 

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

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

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

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

Gene Hyde, Head of Special Collections, UNC Asheville

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Ashley McGhee in the UNCA Special Collections Reading Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Ideas for Outreach at Archives*Records 2016

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This post was written by guest contributor Chloë Edwards, who is a digital records archivist at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and session chair of “Remembering the Afterthoughts: Outreach to Archives’ Underserved Constituents.”

As early career employees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), Krista Sorenson and I were interested in finding a way to participate in this year’s joint SAA-CoSA conference.  When thinking up a session proposal our biggest goal was to create a session we would want to attend, something with a practical focus that could speak to the daily work of archives. It came down to outreach for a couple of reasons. First, whether you work for state government, a university or a corporation, whether you’re a lone arranger or one staff member out of 50, we all have to do outreach in one form or another. Second, Krista and I both work on different outreach programs at MDAH that have been fairly successful and easy to implement at little or no cost, and we knew we couldn’t be the only people with good outreach ideas to share.

With this in mind, we realized that the lightning round format would be a great fit. We could bring together a much larger group of people to tap into a wider range of experiences. Even better, each session participant would get just a few minutes to share the basics of their most interesting or most successful outreach programs without getting bogged down in the institution-specific details that can make other people’s programming seem inappropriate or out of reach for your context. Recruiting a mix of state government and university archivists would let us and the audience learn from the best of what two professional groups that don’t always interact have to offer.

To that end, finding a good mix of speakers was going to be the key to our panel’s success. We thought long and hard about where we wanted to reach out. At this session you will hear from early and mid-career professionals working in institutions across the southeast. Limiting the search to this geographic area was a strategic decision. Conceptually, it provided a nice geographic theme to tie everything together. Practically, recruiting would be easier if those with limited travel budgets—especially other state government archivists—were in driving distance of Atlanta.

We ended up with a fantastic group who were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about participating. Two of our speakers come from small, private, liberal arts colleges, one secular (Oglethorpe University) and one affiliated with the Baptist Commission (Samford University). Another speaker represents the Georgia Institute of Technology, a large, public research university that was founded as a school to train engineers after the Civil War. Also represented is Duke University, a highly ranked private research university in North Carolina, and most uniquely, the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of historically black colleges and universities whose Robert W. Woodruff Library serves the student body of three separate institutions.

Our government archives speakers come from the Library of Virginia, which serves as both the state library and state archives for the Commonwealth; the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, which grew out of the dedicated collecting work of the South Carolina Historical Society; and of course, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, one of the nation’s few comprehensive state historical agencies.

The outreach initiatives you will hear about in our session are similarly varied:

  • Jessica Hills from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History will talk about SCDAH’s annual electronic records training day for state agency employees.
  • Krista Sorenson from MDAH will discuss how the Local Government Records Office has worked to deliver individualized training to county governments across Mississippi.
  • Amy McDonald of Duke University will discuss her pop-up outreach to student groups on the Duke campus.
  • Jody Thompson of Georgia Tech will share how she has reached out to working architects to bring their collections into the archives.
  • Eli Arnold from Oglethorpe University will impart how on-campus exhibits have helped foster cross-campus connections.
  • Claire Radcliffe of the Library of Virginia will talk about collections blogging at LVA.
  • Chloë Edwards from MDAH will discuss the department’s efforts to bring the archives to the state legislature.
  • Rachel Cohen of Samford University, a Baptist institution, will share how the archives has bolstered its connection with the Baptist Historical Commission.
  • Andrea Jackson of the Robert W. Woodruff Library will discuss her efforts to promote the Tupac Amaru Shakur Collection through events including a block party and on-site conference.

We look forward to sharing our stories with you in Atlanta next month!

The lightning round “Remembering the Afterthoughts: Outreach to Archives’ Underserved Constituents” will take place at Archives*Records 2016 on Saturday, August 6th at 10:30 am.

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

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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.