Beyond the Elevator, No. 8

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authorsportraitsBeyond the Elevator is a cartoon strip created by Mandy Mastrovita and Jill Severn. The strip expresses their heartfelt belief that the magic of archives can and should be worked into ANY conversation or situation.  The prospect of this axiom has exhorted the two into paroxysms of giggles, chortles, and howls despite the sober and noble subject matter.  Indeed, they have spent hours cooking up likely scenarios to bring to life in future cartoons.  These little gems appear in ArchivesAWARE! onmonthly basis for the foreseeable future, or until they run out of ideas. Which is where you, the reader can help. Tell them your best stories about talking archives—the wilder, the weirder, the crazier; the better They will even take an elevator story if you make it good. To share your story, please send a description of your concept, relevant details, and contact information (your name and your email address) to beyondtheelevator@gmail.com.

Going on Air (and in print)

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This post was authored by guest contributor Caryn Radick, Digital Archivist, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, and current member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA)

A few months ago, a very fortunate event happened–my institution along with several others received a grant to digitize New Jersey newspapers from microfilm through the National Endowment for the Humanities National Digital Newspaper Program. Excited to get the word out, my library’s superb communications office put out a press release (if you’re not fortunate enough to have a communications office or are interested in more direct outreach to the media, see Erin Lawrimore’s excellent post, “Effective Media Relations for Your Archives”).

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Image accompanying press release from Rutgers University.

As the project director, I knew the story might result in the media wanting to talk to me, but, I still somehow felt caught a little off-guard when I learned that a local radio station, television station, and campus media outlets did indeed want to speak with me. I was more than slightly unnerved by the idea of going “on air,” but also feel it’s important that archivists get out there and talk about what makes their work so special. Although I haven’t done many interviews yet, my comfort-level is increasing.

Below are a few things I’ve picked up as I’ve started interviewing.

  1. Mock interviews. I was able to work with the communications office on this, but even having someone (preferably not someone familiar with the project) read the press release and ask questions would be useful. This will help you see what information is “at the ready” in your head versus what you might want to check (or have easily accessible), how the questions match what you are ready to say about your project, and any habits you might want to be aware of that will detract, such as fidgeting or using “umms” or “likes” when speaking. Also, think about engaging connecting points; for me, focusing on a big New Jersey story described in the newspapers gave the idea more “concreteness” (I mentioned looking at newspaper accounts of the 1916 Jersey shore shark attacks, a story that gets instant recognition, both for what happened and for why the newspaper accounts would be worth looking up).
  2. Each interview is an opportunity to learn. I was thrown by variations on the question “why is this important?” The importance of digitizing old newspapers on microfilm is something I don’t think twice about as an archivist, so I’ve now added those points to my answers (cool stuff you can see/heavy research you can do without leaving home! The possibility of stumbling across an amazing story or fact you’d never heard before). Another repeat question is “Anything else I should know?” This is your chance to get out anything you think you may have missed in the previous questions. I also realized that not all audiences are conversant with what it means to scroll through reels of microfilm and started talking about what that’s like.
  3. Microphones and sound levels. For both television interviews, the camera person/interviewer (in both cases, these were the same person…more about that later) came equipped with a microphone that needed to be attached to my clothing. For the first interview, I needed to clip a wireless microphone to my collar/lapel. For the second, the microphone was on a wire that I needed to place under the bottom of my shirt and pull up before clipping the microphone to the top. Although I did the clipping, both felt slightly awkward to me and I wondered what would have happened if I’d worn a cowl neck for either or a dress for the latter.

Also, be aware of ambient noises. For the radio interview, I had to make up for the air vent above my desk. I scheduled a television interview in a conference room with an adjacent office. Right after we finished, the office holder had an audible conversation. I’ve made a note to schedule another room or check in with the office holder for future interviews.

  1. Time frame. The local radio and television station wanted to interview me on the day that they got in touch. The immediacy has been something else I’ve needed to get used to and made me consider whether I should keep “interview clothes” at work (so far, no).
  2. The interviewers. I may be new at this, but the interviewers are not. They know what makes for a good interview and want to help you. Both television interviews were not, as I pictured, on-camera conversations between the interviewer and me. Both stations sent one person who served as camera operator and interviewer. Each helpfully explained what would happen, where I should look as I spoke, and asked questions. My responses ultimately got edited for sound bites.
  3. If possible, have some visual aids. I’ve started bringing copies of old newspapers and newspapers on microfilm to my interviews to help demonstrate what will happen for this project. All interviewers have either taken pictures or recorded these. Even the radio interview used an image of old newspapers provided by our communications office for their accompanying web story.
  4. You are not the first archivist to talk to the press! Want proof? See what the Society of American Archivists has to say about interviews, working with the media, and more at http://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/american-archives-month-the-power-of-collaboration.

 

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!

Effective Media Relations for Your Archives

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.