Crafting Your Archives Elevator Speech


This post was authored by guest contributor Anna Trammell, Archival Operations and Reference Specialist at the University of Illinois Archives Research Center/Student Life and Culture Archives, and current member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA).

Elevator_040611I’m at the airport waiting to board a plane when a fellow traveler strikes up a conversation. After we’ve commiserated about the shortcomings of the airlines and swapped details on destinations and reason for travel, I know what question is coming next: “So what do you do?” If you’re a new professional like me, you may remember your earlier responses to this question. Mine probably ended up somewhere between a frenetic rattling off of responsibilities and an apology. As the boarding began, I knew that my co-passenger had no idea what I did and was probably pretty certain I didn’t either.

Every encounter like this, whether it is with a stranger who you may never see again or another member of your own organization, is an opportunity to serve as an advocate for archives and archivists. We do really interesting things that will appeal to a wide variety of people. We can easily find ways to engage the public when given even the briefest opportunity to talk about our work. If I had a better response in my airport encounter, that interaction would have likely had no impact on my own position or institution. But I could have made that person aware of what archives are, what archivists do, and why our work is important. Having an effective elevator speech prepared can help make sure you clearly articulate this.

So what does a good archives elevator speech look like? Here are some tips to keep in mind as you begin to think about crafting your own brief pitch:

Skip the Details

An elevator speech should be concise (about 30-60 seconds). That doesn’t give you much time to grab the listener’s attention. Because every word counts, you won’t have time to dive into the particulars of your job. Keep it general. Hopefully, your successful speech will result in follow up questions from your listener, allowing you time to dive into more specific information about your own institution and role.

Focus On Your Listener

Consider your audience and adapt your speech accordingly. Are they wearing a Cubs baseball cap? Maybe you can grab their attention by mentioning that even sports teams rely on the work of archivists. Did they tell you that they are a student at a nearby university? Perhaps they’d be interested in the ways universities preserve student organization records or alumni papers. Listeners will remember a story, especially if it relates to their own interests. Find a way to center your speech on them.

Make it Personal

What really excites you about being an archivist? Engage your listener by sharing your enthusiasm about a particular aspect of archival work or your excitement over the ways archivists are tackling new demands in the 21st century.

SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) created this handy guide to get you started.


Need more inspiration?

In 2007, SAA hosted an Elevator Speech Contest as part of American Archives Month. Lisa H. Lewis had the winning entry with this 28-word speech: “Archivists bring the past to the present. They’re records collectors and protectors, keepers of memory. They organize unique, historical materials, making them available for current and future research.”

On #AskAnArchivist Day 2017, Colleen McFarland Rademaker of the Corning Museum of Glass shared a video of her elevator speech:

Do you have an archives elevator speech? Tell us about it on Twitter using #ArchivesAWARE!

What Are You Reading?

This post was authored by guest contributor Vince Lee, Archivist at the University of Houston, and current member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA).

As archivists and information professionals we read a lot. Whether in school or coming up within the ranks, we read publications to learn and to keep abreast of what our colleagues are doing within the field. Through study groups, discussion groups, or on our own, we’ve run across certain books that have deeply affected us within the profession. These books make us question, reevaluate, and, in some cases, debate in a constructive way the status quo within the archival field.

“Photographs: Archival Care and Management” by Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler and Diane Vogt-O’Conner

I’ve encountered a few such books that have affected me profoundly. As a student pursuing my MLIS, Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler and Diane Vogt-O’Conner’s 2006 book Photographs: Archival Care and Management was an indispensable reference that opened my eyes to the handling and management of photographic materials. As a practicum student inventorying photographic materials at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit and at the University of Michigan’s History of Art Visual Resources Collection, I found myself continually returning to this book for guidance. In fact, since library school, this beautifully illustrated book is one I have kept on my archival bookshelf—its wisdom still resonates.

Randall C. Jimerson’s “Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice”

As a practicing professional, Randall C. Jimerson’s Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice holds another special place on my bookshelf. It has inspired me in the ongoing importance of the work that archivists do in documenting the history of underrepresented groups. For me, that has been in working with Houston’s LGBTQ community. In an increasingly tumultuous world, where “fake news” is an issue and the press is under attack, where the #MeToo movement has demonstrated the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment especially in the workplace, and where governmental deregulations are increasingly pursued at the expense of the rights of others, it’s important that archivists play an active role not only in documenting but providing information, uncomfortable as it may be, to hold government and institutions accountable for their actions. Jimerson’s 2009 book reminds us that archives and archivists play critical roles.

“Teaching with Primary Sources,” edited by Christopher J. Prom and Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

While these two books have impacted me personally, the SAA Publication Board’s One Book, One Profession reading initiative is designed for collective impact. Launched two years ago, the program invites the entire profession to read selected titles written by members and published by SAA, and to engage in conversation through in-person and virtual book discussions.  For 2016–2017, the selection was Teaching With Primary Sources—how we can use our collections to enhance information literacy and, in a way, counter “fake news.” The current selection is Through the Archival Looking Glass: A Reader on Diversity and Inclusion, which talks about not only what we collect, but also representation and the lack thereof within the profession. Sometimes the silences or gaps within our collections, and also in the profession, say just as much—if not more—than what is actually collected and how we as archivists are perceived.

“Through the Archival Looking Glass,” edited by Mary Caldera and Kathryn M. Neal

Book discussions not only serve to stimulate conversation among archivists and information professionals, but can also serve to raise awareness and showcase archival holdings at our institutions. Gulf Coast Reads is an annual regional reading initiative that promotes select titles by authors whose works delve into historical events and themes relating to the Texas Gulf Coast region. Programs are designed around the book and a call is extended for digitized images from regional archival collections that supplement the book or its themes, such as early historical images of flight, World War I, African American history, and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Collective contributions of digitized images by area repositories are maintained by the Harris County Public Library in the greater Houston area for a limited duration (typically through Archives Month in October). In addition to stimulating discussion, the presence of contributed images alert readers who may also be researchers and archives users to potential collections of interest.

Gulf Coast Reads

Books influence us in myriad ways, from our formative years as students to practicing professionals within the field. Our archival collections have the power to influence, just like books. What are some of the books that have affected you professionally? Perhaps made you reevaluate and take stock of where you are as an archivist? Let me know what you are reading!

Catching Pokémon: A Historically Themed Pokémon Scavenger Hunt Outreach Activity

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.


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.



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!


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!


Pokémon templates used in this project:

Artist’s profile page:

Pixlr Editor:


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

I Advocate, You Advocate, We Advocate…with the Advocacy Toolkit


This post was authored by guest contributor Christine George, Archivist and Faculty Services Librarian, Charles B. Sears Law Library, SUNY Buffalo Law School


Advocacy is a tricky thing. Sure there are definitions for it, but it seems like it means something slightly different to everyone. If you want proof, check out the Steering Shares on the Issue & Advocacy (I&A) Roundtable’s blog. One of the questions each I&A Steering Committee Member answers is “How would you define advocacy?” Each and every one of us has a different answer. Not drastically different, but each comes from a different perspective. Though the Steering Shares are only from the current I&A leadership, I feel fairly confident that past leadership also had varied perspectives.

One of the things to come out of those varied perspectives is the Advocacy Toolkit. Created by I&A’s 2013–2014 leadership, the Advocacy Toolkit was meant to pull together resources on advocacy for archives and archivists. In its own words:

A large part of advocacy involves convincing financial and political stakeholders of the value that archives add to a given community, and all related efforts need be supported by evidence. The resources listed, which also serve as access points to more resources, contain the types of quantitative information and qualitative narratives that help make the case for archives. This list is not exhaustive; rather it is a starting point for those looking for facts, arguments, and compelling reasoning to lend weight to their advocacy efforts. The resources linked here do not indicate endorsement, but offer some templates which can be used to formulate advocacy efforts.

The Toolkit has been updated by subsequent I&A Steering Committees. Over the years, the Advocacy Toolkit hasn’t caught on. We wanted to change that in a big way when we decided to tackle the latest update. To start, the Advocacy Toolkit got a new home. Beginning in 2016, we moved the Advocacy Toolkit and the I&A blog to our new website. Then we reached out to the Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC) to help us expand the Advocacy Toolkit.

Step 1 of this collaboration is to evaluate what we have and plan out how to move forward. To do that, we need your help. Yes you. Chances are that if you haven’t already had to advocate for yourself or your collections you will have to at some point. We’d like your feedback on what we have and what you think might be missing. Please take a few moments and review the Advocacy Toolkit and then go and take our survey available at The survey will be open until THIS MONDAY, 5/16/16. If you have questions about the survey, or thoughts beyond the survey, feel free to contact us at

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.

Archives Awareness on the Redesigned SAA Website


After many months of planning and development, the Society of American Archivists launched a redesigned website last week. Coordinated by SAA staff members, the new website reflects the work of many SAA constituent groups, including the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) and the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy (CAPP).


The four main goals of SAA’s 2014-2018 Strategic Plan.

As a reflection of SAA’s current Strategic Plan, which prioritizes Advocating for Archivists and Archives as Goal #1, “Advocacy” is now prominently featured on the website’s main navigation bar. In this context, SAA defines “Advocacy” as not only the shaping of public policy that impacts archives and archivists, but also includes the act of raising public awareness of archives collections, institutions, and professionals.

Advocacy Banner

Advocacy links available directly from the main SAA page navigation bar.

Over the past year, COPA has worked to compile the many resources that lived throughout the former SAA website–on various sub-pages, constituent groups’ micro-sites, and external pages like this WordPress blog–and make them available in one centralized place on the redesigned website. These can now be found under “Resources & Toolkits” under Public Awareness.

The current list is just a starting point, with new additions to be added as they are identified. We welcome suggestions for additional Public Awareness resources and tools. They can be shared in the comments below, or e-mailed to As the ArchivesAWARE! blog was developed as a forum for sharing and discussing awareness-raising tools, tips, and experiences, we also welcome guest authors who want to highlight their resources on this blog, as a more dynamic compliment to the static Resources & Toolkits list!


Just as the Advocacy and Awareness pages will continue to evolve, so will the entire website continue to expand–and the SAA office is eager for feedback. Take the survey and share your thoughts over the next few weeks!

Highlight: Advocating Business Archives Toolkit

This post was authored by guest contributor Scott Grimwood, System Manager of Archives, SSM Health Care


Most archivists acknowledge the importance of raising awareness of archives and their value to individuals, organizations, and society as a whole–especially in regards to major stakeholders and decision makers. For business archivists, this reality cannot be denied: effective advocacy is often directly related to a business archives’ (and archivist’s) continued existence within that organization.

Any business archives exists at the discretion of the business it serves and is at risk of being shut down if it is not seen as adding value to the organization, or as they say in the business world, providing adequate return on investment (ROI). This can be very difficult for business archivists since ROI is measured by how much money you either earned or saved the company.

In 2014 the Business Archives Section (BAS) of the Society of American Archivists put together the “Advocating Business Archives Toolkit” as a central resource to its members, as a place where they could find extremely helpful information on and examples of successful advocacy. Because advocacy and awareness is vital to the to the entire archives profession, BAS encourages all archivists to utilize this valuable toolkit.


BAS Advocating Business Archives Toolkits screenshot, Society of American Archivists website

The Advocating Business Archives Toolkit has a wealth of information broken down into seven categories:

  • How to Get Started,
  • Articles on the Value of Archives,
  • BAS Member Recommendations & Success Stories,
  • Elevator Speech Examples,
  • Helpful Sites,
  • SAA Training Opportunities on Advocacy, and
  • Tips & Tricks.

The resources come from a wide variety of sources including external sources such as the American Association of School Librarians, American Alliance of Museums, and the Harvard Business Review.

The goal of the Toolkit is to provide archivists with the basic information to create and implement an advocacy program, and it does an excellent job. While the information from outside sources is very helpful, by far the best information comes directly from the experience of business archivists. Nothing beats a practical idea that has been tried and tested.

Most of the “archivist-tested” advocacy materials can be found in the “BAS Member Recommendations & Success Stories” and “Elevator Speech Examples” sections. The information and examples in both can be thought-provoking and inspiring, especially if you are looking to increase your advocacy efforts. Even if you do not work in a business setting, the motivations behind each example will be familiar to all archivists, and you’ll find many ideas that you can use as starting points to create an effective advocacy plan and individual projects and programs to raise awareness of your archives in your institution/organization/community.

Screenshot 2

Portion of the BAS Member Recommendations & Success Stories section of the BAS Advocating Business Archives Toolkit

While there can never be a single source for anything, the Business Archives Section’s “Advocating Business Archives Toolkit” comes pretty close when it comes to archival advocacy. It is worth your time to check out the toolkit and see what it contains that can be of help to you!

Share your favorite source of archival advocacy ideas in the comments below, or contact the ArchivesAWARE editors to contribute a guest post! Read more about the submission process on the About page, then contact the editors at