Meet Aliza Leventhal

Aliza Leventhal, Archivist at Sasaki Associates

by Sara Mueller

Three years ago, the archives at Sasaki Associates, an architecture firm in Watertown, Massachusetts, did not exist. Today, archivist Aliza Leventhal works to ensure that the significance of this fledgling archive is seen throughout the firm.

A graduate of Smith College with degrees in Economics and American Studies, Leventhal earned her Masters in Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. Her passion for organizing historical records, garnered from working at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, prompted Leventhal to concentrate her Simmons’ studies on the dual History and Archives program. During an internship at the Cambridge Historical Commission (CHC), Leventhal became “completely enamored with design records.”

Through her work with the CHC, Leventhal was drawn to the concept of what “physical environments do for collective memory and what documents do to support or corroborate or dispute that.” This idea has followed her into her current position as Archivist/Librarian at Sasaki, where Leventhal strives to bring together the firm’s belief in the connection between architecture and community and her own education in archives and preserving the past.

While Sasaki has had librarians in the past, Leventhal is the first trained archivist to step into the firm. The first to admit that there is no such thing as an average day, “things that are constantly happening is more like it,” Leventhal balances multiple tasks from providing resources for the architects such as periodicals as well as finding test prep resources, to what we perceive as the usual archival tasks of processing and arranging.

“Sasaki is unique as a firm to have an archivist,” Leventhal says, “there are only, probably, thirty-five or forty firms in the country that have archivists. But most of them have a donor agreement with an institution so the archivist is on staff for them because the institution is requiring the firm to process the collection before donating it.” Sasaki, however, isn’t donating their material anywhere, which allows Leventhal to focus on serving Sasaki instead of being pulled in different directions on archival standards. This uniqueness also helps cut down on the material stored by the archive, which, with about 7,000 projects and all their related material, would be a lot. Leventhal admits that it can sometimes be difficult to get material from project teams for the archives. “I basically have to hear rumblings that a project is about to be closed then I run to that project manager’s desk and say, ‘I hear you have stuff. Do you have stuff?’”  While project managers are more likely than not to say no, that everything is digital, Leventhal knows that at least a few items are in physical form.

“The thing with designers and programmers and anyone who’s doing design for something active, current or for future, is that they are always future looking,” says Leventhal, “and they are very rarely past looking. There can be a lot of tension about talking about the past.” So how does Leventhal advocate for the archives?

Every other year, Leventhal curates an exhibit to help preserve the institutional memory of Sasaki. In addition, she helps to facilitate the orientation of new employees by letting them know that she is there whenever they need something. Leventhal has taken on what she terms her “personal call to arms” for Sasaki, which is to help facilitate knowledge management within the organization. Leventhal works to pair knowledge seekers with a “knowledge mentor,” someone who is an expert in the field who can then pass on what they know.

“It’s a concept of facilitating knowledge sharing and transfer,” says Leventhal. Surprised that she never learned this concept during her archival studies, Leventhal has embraced this philosophy and hopes to create a best practices manual to better facilitate the passing of knowledge.

While it can often be daunting to work as, what’s termed in the archive world, a lone arranger, Leventhal has found ways to bridge the gap between the business and archival worlds. Whether that be through learning to use the language of her organization instead of archival jargon or through the simple act of shortening her e-mails to quick business speak. She knows that she can, also, reach out to others in the library and archive world should she need.

No matter what, though, Leventhal has one major focus in her work at Sasaki: showing pride and teaching others to instill pride in their work. At the end of the day, if she has helped Sasaki to own more of its history, Leventhal feels that she has done her job.

Meet Jessica Lacher-Feldman!

Jessica_Lacher-Feldman, Head of Special Collections for Rochester University

by Natalia Gutierrez-Jones

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jessica Lacher-Feldman, who is the Assistant Dean of Rochester University, as well as the Director of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation. Jessica discovered her affinity for archives during her undergraduate education at University at Albany, SUNY, when she began working at the New York State Museum, which also held a library and archives. At this point she had not thought about pursuing library science, and had been focused on her education in history. Through both graduate classes while obtaining her first masters in history, and the influence of archivists and museum professionals at her job, she began to see the appealing connections between history and library work. Particular outreach events at the NY State Museum, such as ‘camp-ins’ for schoolchildren, made her more passionate about the positive effect of engaging with cultural heritage, and exhibits in particular – a focus that has been central in her career.

Jessica’s current position as both Assistant Dean and Director of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation requires her to balance the grounded work that must be accomplished in the archives with the need to act in the interest of all of the universities libraries as part of her broader role. At her previous job at LSU, Jessica had the responsibilities of Assistant Dean without the formal position, and she has found it helpful to have the official title in her leadership. The balancing act of Jessica’s two roles will be eased in future months as the library hires two new curators and creates a new outreach position for Special Collections. Her average day starts early, arriving at her office around 7 am to have some time to herself before a day full of meetings with the dean, assistant directors, staff she supervises, regarding collection development, exhibits, projects, and grants. On top of that, she spends time keeping up with email communications, particularly with existing and potential donors. Recently her evenings have involved background reading for a class she taught at the University, and preparing for a TED Talk style presentation about her work in archives. Writing articles and working on another book project also occupy her time outside of official work hours.

Her outreach and advocacy work involves myriad tasks, including applying for grants, connecting with donors, and planning and producing exhibits. She tries to intervene in the more traditional programming and give a new approach to involve the whole community and get people excited; a recent project involved yarn bombing! She finds experimentation, creativity, and a mixture of branding and surprises to be the best approach to public programming. Jessica also tries to bring in outside institutions, such as the allied community organizations Historic Brighton and the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House.

Jessica’s passionate approach to outreach and advocacy means that she is constantly representing her profession, and constantly working. She finds archives essential to democratic societies, and wants her colleagues in archives to understand that outreach and advocacy are not a separate, extra component of the work, but a fundamental part. She hopes to convey her energy and commitment to those involved in outreach projects so that they also feel fully engaged in the work and the successful outcome. Jessica also would like to see more artists in the archives, bringing the documents to life through performing or visual arts. She sees these projects as important opportunities to emphasize the success of output fueled by research in the archives.

One challenge Jessica sees for outreach and advocacy work is, as she puts it, “bandwidth.” Staff can become stretched thin with responsibilities and Jessica wants to ensure outreach is appropriately prioritized. She sees this challenge also as an opportunity to shift our philosophy to encompass advancement through outreach. When she needs help with a project, she will engage community members who specialize in the area that needs support. She sees this asking as creating a connection and in a sense, deputizing a community member who will thereafter feel like a part of the archives’ success. Another challenge Jessica has faced is working with donors and collections that were controversial, and having to negotiate with senior administration as to how much publicity and community involvement these collections should receive. Jessica believes archivists have a responsibility to be willing to work with a collection regardless of personal feelings towards the materials. Tension can also arise in her position due to competing priorities as to the target audience of the archives. There needs to be an institutional focus to support faculty, but also collection policies that appeal to external and international researchers and bring in a varied audience.

Jessica has written a book on archival exhibitions (Exhibits in Archives and Special Collections Libraries, 2013) and this form of public programming is important to her. She sees exhibits as a foundation for any way that we approach outreach and advocacy, as they can create a narrative or platform that can be built off of in various ways. Exhibits can ground our message in the actual materials. They give us an opportunity to formulate what we need to say and to consider who our audience is ahead of time. Furthermore, they have value in that there is a lasting component to exhibits, and evidence that becomes preservable, especially in the case of digital exhibits. Jessica’s powerful work ethic and passion for cultural heritage make her an ideal advocate for archives.

Exhibits in Archives and Special Collections Libraries by Jessica Lacher-Feldman

Myron Groover and Activist Advocacy

Myron Groover (photography by Victoria Ostrzenski)

by Alden Ludlow

Myron Groover is the Archives and Rare Books Librarian at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He received his Master of Archival Studies and MLIS degree from University of British Columbia, Vancouver in 2012. He also holds a MA Honors in History from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland (2006). We spoke with him on issues of advocacy and outreach in a phone interview on September 29, 2017.

For Myron Groover, advocacy in the archives field is an overtly political project. Having graduated with his MLIS degree in 2012, he found the situation within Libraries and Archives Canada (LAC), at the national level, to be dangerously in disarray. With the appointment of Daniel J. Caron as Librarian and Archivist of Canada in 2009, government employees found themselves under siege, with budgets being cut and information professionals being fired.

Groover’s advocacy work grew out of budget cuts to LAC during the administration of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (in office 2006-2015). Defunding of cultural heritage institutions during the administration led to the firing of many LAC professionals, and those that remained were further pressured in their jobs, including requirements that they sign non-disclosure agreements, effectively muzzling them and preventing them from discussing their work in publications and at conferences.

“What I was experiencing was this incredulity that there was this systematic dismantling of knowledge infrastructure which was essential to the core functioning of government and its ability to be accountable to its own citizens, and hardly anyone was saying anything at all,” Groover noted in a recent interview for this profile. “The professional organizations were all afraid to say anything, and the people who worked in the institution were terrified to speak up.” He found himself taking on advocacy on behalf of an archives and library meta-discourse at the national level.

Groover has a broad and varied background which put him on the trajectory to taking up the cause on behalf of his fellow Canadian professionals. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he grew up in the United States; at fourteen he attended high school in Switzerland, and after that university in the United Kingdom. He left the UK for Canada in 2007 to attend library school.

Groover’s vision of advocacy is broad, yet nuanced. It looks beyond institutions, seeking to work within the social fabric itself. “The business of advocacy, if it is anything, is working together to build a shared narrative of a society wherein libraries and archives are valued and contribute to the well-being of the people that live in it,” he argues. “Advocacy is the process of building that shared narrative, or repairing it when it gets frayed, and making sure everyone can participate in it.”

His advocacy on behalf of LAC employees began to come to the fore in 2012. “I was desperately underemployed at the time, and I did that on my own without any institutional support from anyone,” he says. While in school, Groover had been maintaining a listserve to promulgate his advocacy ideas; in 2012, at the Canadian Library Association (CLA) conference, he took his fight to the top. Caron, “the hatchet-man the right wing had brought in to shepherd through the destruction of the national library, was the keynote speaker,” Groover recalls. The speech was not well received. “Later that day he had a Q&A panel, and I did the unthinkable thing and got up in his face, and asked him some detailed questions; he couldn’t answer them all, and it was a disaster.”

However, that was not enough. “What started out as this impassioned political project of getting people to care morphed into chronicling the decline,” he says. “I thought, we may not win, but I’ll be damned if they are the only ones getting their line of rhetoric out there.” While his message coalesced around issues of accountability, it was draconian LAC employee speech policies introduced in 2013 which drove him to take his advocacy to the next level. “The employee free speech issue ended up getting a lot of attention, because that was where it was easy to connect what was happening at Library and Archives Canada with regular people,” he says. “Everybody has some conception of what it would be like not to have freedom of expression. Everyone has an intuitive understanding that having your participation in mainstream politics curtailed by your employer is outrageous.”

Groover turned to social media to broaden his audience and increase awareness, and that turned out to be the missing piece. “Social media is a way of reaching people who can help you out, and who want to hear what you have to say,” he relates, adding, “what Twitter did was give me an opportunity to take those longer blog posts, encapsulate them, and get them into a broader sphere where you are able to interact with journalists and policymakers directly.” Members of Parliament were taking notice, and Groover was given the opportunity to shape discourse, noting that all the policy work he was doing was a “heavy lift.”

All that lifting paid off. Caron was fired in 2013; the pressure against him finally reached a peak, and what finally did him in was cheating on expenses. “It was a Pyrrhic victory,” Groover notes, adding, “there was never any accountability for any of the things he did in LAC. As I predicted early on, if they got away with it for long enough, then it wouldn’t be possible to rebuild, and indeed that’s exactly what happened.” Despite continuing issues at LAC, morale has improved; Guy Berthiaume was appointed in 2014. “Just by bringing in someone with a different personality, who is willing to take a more conciliatory rhetorical line, that has made a huge difference.”

Another casualty of this upheaval was the CLA, which disbanded in June 2016. In the end, they did not live up to their mission. “They never had vision on anything, never took to advocacy on these issues,” Groover says. “They gave no value back to the community at all.”

Advocacy on behalf of the profession has been taken up by several smaller organizations, and individuals like Groover. “We don’t have whistleblowers in Canada,” he notes. “There is no tradition of that here. You really do need rogue actors, or at least people who have the autonomy to say what they really think. I was lucky enough to be able to do that … I built my standing in the community through unremunerated advocacy work,” he jokes. A new advocacy and culture of transparency within LAC is taking root in Canada, led by professionals in the field, using social media as a tool to connect with journalists, politicians, and citizens.

“It turned into something I didn’t expect,” Groover concludes. “I think back on it, where it started and where it ended up, it is not always clear to me how I got from point A to point B.” This opportunism–addressing needs where they are most pressing–is at the very heart of advocacy.



McMaster University William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections –

McMaster Rare Books on Twitter –

Bibliocracy blog –

Bibliocracy on Twitter –

Meet Randall Jimerson!

Archives Power: Memory, Accountability and Social Justice
Randall Jimerson, Western Washington University










By Hannah Yetwin

Randall Jimerson is the director of the graduate program in Archives & Records Management and professor of history and at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. He is a past president of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), as well as New England Archivists (NEA). He’s had an illustrious career in the archives and in education, and has been a part of many impactful programs, projects, and organizations. I spoke to him for about an hour about all things archives, particularly about his perspective and role played in outreach and advocacy.

Professor Jimerson was interested in history from a young age. As a child, he moved from Massachusetts to Virginia and was called a “Yankee” upon entering school. He was curious about the origin of that word, and that sparked his interest in historical research. Later, he earned a PhD in American History at the University of Michigan and began his archival career at the Bentley Historical Library. He continued to a full-time position there and was officially hooked on archives. Currently, his time involves teaching graduate and undergraduate courses, coordinating internships for graduate students, and research and writing of his own. He is presently writing an article about a fellow archivist for a dictionary of archivists.

For the first half of his career, Jimerson was an archivist at the University of Michigan, then Yale, and finally the University of Connecticut. He was the only archivist at UConn for an extended period in the 1980s, and outreach & advocacy were things he did in the rare instance of having free time. However, he found outreach to be essential: “If we’re not doing outreach, what’s the point of acquisition and trying to do reference service?” he asked. While he was at UConn, Jimerson completed 4 grant projects, one of which was a grant proposal for developing a records management program in the archives. He worked across departments surveying records and began a process of creating retention schedules, promoting the service of archives, and helping offices to access and file their own records easily. He created a 60-page pamphlet for assistance and advice for department heads to do their own recordkeeping.

When asked about what makes a good outreach/advocacy project, Jimerson pointed to the key elements, starting with defining an audience. He narrows it down to the following things: targeting specific audiences, clearly defining the statement you want to convey, and considering outreach to be a fundamental part of an archives program all the time, not occasionally. Jimerson has seen industry-wide improvement since the 1980’s, and although there is a lot of emphasis and concern on archival encoding over outreach and advocacy, he thinks there is a growing awareness and understanding of archives. In the 1980s, he was involved in the planning and development of a project providing basic archival education to people around New England with the NEA. This program was designed for librarians, town clerks, historical society professionals, and people that worked with archival materials but had no formal archives experience or training. The function of the program was to teach professionals what to do with archival materials to put into effect good management of archives for preservation and access purposes. This occurred in the form of day-long workshops, covering archival theory and concepts. These workshops happened in a dozen locations in every New England state. 6 weeks after each workshop, there was a follow-up that was essentially a survey of what those professionals had implemented in the time since the workshop and covering follow-up questions. Just being involved was a very rewarding project for him and seemed to have met some of the outreach and advocacy needs he thought the profession needed, and defended the needs of non-archivists who have responsibility for archival materials.

With regards to challenges in outreach and advocacy, Jimerson responded that getting recognition and understanding for archives from resource allocators is the most challenging; that people who control budgets often don’t think that archives need a lot of support. When dealing with stakeholders, defining who the audience is, making the importance of the records very clear, making clear decisions about which audiences are served, and then how to go about developing a centralized mission are crucial. Stakeholders look for a mission statement or a strategic planning process in mind. If an archivist doesn’t have a clear sense of what services one can provide, it’s going to be difficult to convince anyone that you’re doing anything important.

As for his current role in outreach & advocacy, Jimerson explained that he considers everything he does to be public programming and outreach. As the director of an archives and records management graduate program, he works for archival awareness from many different angles. He considers teaching to be outreach; by facilitating this kind of professional development in others, he is doing outreach on behalf of the general concept of archives. When it comes to the future of outreach & advocacy, Jimerson says it’s important for anyone working in an archive to have some engagement: talk about their work, post blogs, tweet, etc. Institutional cultures should be adjusted to allow people in all positions to participate in outreach to promote archival repositories. Jimerson’s current work focuses on the role of archives and archivists in society, including concepts of memory, accountability, social justice, and professional ethics; all themes which are supported by proper outreach and advocacy programs within archives.

To find out more, check out his book, Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice 


Meet Jill Shaw, Archivist and Records Analyst


Jill Shaw, City of Vaughan Archives

By Rebecka Sheffield

I was lucky enough to meet Gillian “Jill” Shaw in 2009, at the University of Toronto iSchool, where we were both students. We caught up again last week to talk about outreach and advocacy in the context of municipal archives. Since graduating with her MI degree in 2011, Jill has been working in the field of archives, museums and records management for both the public and private sector. She currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Municipal Archives Interest Group (MAIG) for the Archives Association of Ontario, a professional association that includes more than 300 members across the province.

Jill recently joined the City of Vaughan Archives as an Archivist and Records Analyst. Located in one of the fastest growing city in Canada, Vaughan Archives now serves more than 300,000 residents, city staff, and curious researchers. The archives houses all City records with long-term value, business, church and school records, directories, census records, and historic photographs, as well as maps, plan and land records dating back to the 1790s. In addition to municipal records, the archives collects personal papers and is the official records source for the Vaughan Township Historical Society, Woodbridge Agricultural Society, and the Burwick, Vellore and Maple Women’s Institutes. As you can imagine, Jill keeps busy! She is not only responsible for managing archival records, but also provides guidance to City staff on how to manage their current recordkeeping practices.

Over the past several years, the City of Vaughan Archives has actively sought to increase its community presence using  a variety of outreach strategies. The archives has, for example, invested in greater social media use, including its Facebook and Twitter pages, and the City of Vaughan’s blog, where visitors can learn about all of the programs and services that are available. The archives also uses social media to promote a number of physical exhibitions of materials from its collections that are on display at various locations throughout the City of Vaughan. A list of the archives’ social media addresses can be found at the bottom of this post.

Jill is particularly proud of the archives’ “mini-series” posts, which have been produced as part of the City’s community engagement program to connect citizens to municipal services. Over the past few years, this mini-series has introduced  visitors to new archival accessions, discussed preservation and conversation concerns, and provided information about outreach initiatives produced by the archives, including tours, exhibitions, and preservations to students. The mini-series posts also report on community events that have involved archival staff. Archival staff were available during Vaughan Culture Days and even offered samples of a cake baked with a 1875 recipe found in the historical collections;! They were also part of an event at a local public library that helped bring together children and experienced stitchers to in an old fashioned quilting bee.

In addition to “mini-series” posts, the archives also uses social media to showcase its collections to a broader and increasingly younger audience. Each month, Jill works with City staff to select an image, document or collection to feature in a series called “The Way We Were.” This series allows the archives to showcase both frequently used and lesser known collections held in the City repository, and to generate engagement with the collections in new an exciting ways. Jill has noticed that the use of social media has facilitated an increased interaction between the archives and the public it serves, as well as contributed to a greater awareness of the rich documentary heritage collected and preserved by the City.

Jill and her colleagues continue to develop new strategies for engaging the City’s older demographic. Over the past few years, staff have observed that seniors rarely contact the archives through email and are not as comfortable using the internet or web searching. As a result, the archives’ otherwise very successful social media outreach does not always reach the city’s senior population, which continues to grow. In response to this challenge, Jill has made sure that the archives takes part in events throughout the city and has even volunteered to be the Secretary of the Vaughan Township Historical Society, a local historical and charity group. This experience allows Jill to connect with folks who might not otherwise learn about the archives. As well, the archives has established a partnership with the Vaughan Citizen, a local newspaper. Each week the newspaper published an archival image of interest to the community a segment called “Vintage Vaughan.” Jill has found that this partnership has lead to a noticeable increase in the number of local seniors interested in donating their materials to the archives.

The great news is that reference and research requests have increased over time and donations continue to come into the archives. Jill has also noticed a steady rise in the number of people who access the archives’ blog or other social media. All of this demonstrates the importance of diversifying outreach strategies and meeting community where they are, whether that be at quilting bees, through social media, or in local newspapers.

You can find out more about the Vaughan Archives:

On the Web:

On Facebook:

On Twitter:

On the Vaughan City Blog:

Vintage Vaughan (through the York Region Media Group website):

Launching October 9!

Get ready! Starting on Monday, October 9, we will be launching our Professional Profile Series. Each profile will feature an archivists or cultural heritage professional working in innovative and impactful ways to connect communities to collections. Stay tuned for some incredible content created by students at the Simmons School of Library and Information Science (!

Simmons @ Boston

Welcome to Archives Unboxed!

Archives Unboxed is hosted by the fine folks at Simmons College School of Library and Information Science (SLIS), and features profiles of outreach and advocacy work in the broad field of cultural heritage. Blog content is contributed by students in the MLIS graduate program as part of coursework for LIS476: Archives and Cultural Heritage Outreach. This blog was started in Fall 2017 and is managed by students and faculty at Simmons SLIS.

For more information about Simmons SLIS or to find out how to get your projects profiled on this site, please contact crilly{@}