Public Relations and Marketing for Archives: An Interview with Peter Wosh

Wosh2011Among the resources in SAA’s advocacy toolkit is Public Relations and Marketing for Archives: A How-To-Do-It Manual (2011), edited by Peter Wosh and R. James and co-published by SAA and Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc. Today we bring you an interview with Peter Wosh, Professor of History and Director of the Archives/Public History Program at New York University. In this interview with David Carmicheal, Peter revisits the book and discusses the ways it relates to current advocacy efforts.

David: What prompted the book in 2011? Was there an event that brought advocacy to SAA’s attention?

Peter: Back when I was publications editor for SAA [2007-2013] the Publications Committee regularly scanned the literature to identify gaps, and we discovered that SAA’s last real advocacy book had been published in 1994 (Advocating archives: An introduction to public relations for archivists, by Elsie Freeman Finch).  Our scan of journals also showed very little literature about advocacy. There was much more archival writing on technical topics. Then, too, by 2011 archivists had become much more conscious about how central to our work advocacy is and how we need to spend more time on it. So the time was right for that book.

How do public relations and marketing relate to advocacy? Are they the same thing?

They relate, but I think of advocacy as a much broader concept that incorporates marketing and public relations. The public relations and marketing book focuses on how archives relate to user communities—primarily external communities—and how to make your archives more visible by using new technologies. This kind of marketing doesn’t include, for example, political advocacy. Advocacy includes internal audiences, which marketing and PR don’t generally consider.

When we decided to revise the Archival Fundamentals series (Archival Fundamentals III is due to be published in 2017) we thought it important to include a specific volume about Advocacy (being authored by Kathleen Roe) because the publications board thought it was so vital to what we do and had to be more encompassing than marketing and PR.

Advocacy versus marketing—do archivists favor one over the other?

I think they are more comfortable serving more traditional research communities and are still in the process of developing tools to promote themselves and their place in their particular institutions. To some extent archivists are also still hesitant to enter the public sphere of debate when archival issues come to the fore, though that is getting much better. I think it’s hard to mobilize the archival community around issues. Professional associations like SAA and CoSA take a stand on key issues, but I wonder how many people really take a personal responsibility to advocate. Advocacy needs to be sustained and ongoing and not just crisis management. We are better at responding to threats, but successful advocacy is being there all the time and promoting yourself in a constructive way 365 days a year.

How do we turn archivists into advocates?

Advocacy isn’t built enough into archival training and education. Archivists are good at standards and best practices and applying rules and regulations, and that has been the emphasis of our education and professional literature to a great extent. We don’t necessarily need individual courses in advocacy but every course should incorporate advocacy—how does what you’re learning in this course helps you express the importance of what archivists do. It needs to become part of our everyday lives.

Do you have an advocacy success or failure in your career that is instructive?

When I was at the American Bible Society I would ask myself what are the big issues facing the organization I work for and can I put together historical background papers to send to the Vice President or others that might show them the value of the archives. They responded well to my taking existing information and packaging it in a way that was meaningful to them.

When I was an Archdiocesan archivist it was a time when making church records open was a new idea, and many officials were nervous about who might be using the records. I would send them user reports (not just statistical) that included stories about how lives were touched by the archives. By talking about the range of users I was able to demonstrate that making the records available was actually supporting their larger mission to help parishioners and people in general.

I would say, finally, that just doing your job strategically is a form of advocacy. Doing the job well communicates the value of what we do in a quiet way.

Articulating the Value of Your Archives to Resource Allocators

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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