Meet Caitlin Jones, Reference Archivist at the Massachusetts Archives

by Ashley Thomas

The postmodern structure housing the Massachusetts Archives, shares the short jut of land that is Columbia Point with fellow institution, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and the UMass Boston campus. Located inside the building’s defensive stone exterior, is a spacious foyer that spills to the Welcome/Reference desk, where the warm and generous reference staff sit. At the corral of desks, you will meet Caitlin Jones, Reference Archivist for the Massachusetts Archives.

Caitlin, who is celebrating her fourth year with the State Archives, is one of two full-time reference staff; one-fifth of the small, ten member Archives team. The workload versus personnel ratio isn’t an issue Caitlin assures me. This is in large part due to the help of two co-op students from nearby Northeastern University, and the majority of reference work moving online.

Working reference in a government archive, was not where Caitlin imagined herself as a grad student at Simmons. A natural introvert, she believed processing was her future. Solitude, headphones, and folders of history, a happy archivist make. Instead, Caitlin’s career took a hard-left turn. A temporary position at the Archives turned permanent. Four years on, Caitlin can’t imagine working in a different area of archiving. She enjoys how every day is different – new visitor, new research, new discovery. Some discoveries are exciting, others odd. Caitlin recalls one interaction where a man came in asking for his own death record! Along with discovery, her work has also made her more aware of how reference is the focal point of an archive. She provides me an example, detailing how she and her counterpart are being consulted on how best to organize the new (four!) floors of vault storage.

Caitlin’s career in reference has also demonstrated how important outreach is for archives. In the past, the State Archives had a more robust outreach program. Over the years that has fallen off as records are digitized and posted online. The staff have instead found new, innovative ways to showcase collections. The Archives main internal outreach is through the Commonwealth Museum. Housed in the same building, the Museum’s purpose is to tell the history of the Massachusetts government using documents from the Archive’s collection. Most of the documents in the Museum are reproductions, but the Treasures Gallery holds exciting originals, like one of the original, authorized copies of the Constitution. Although the majority of visitors are school groups, visits to the Museum expose children to the Archives and encourages future visits. Additionally, “every interaction is an opportunity to spread the good word,” Caitlin states. Meaning, every interaction with visitors, researchers, and state agents are an opportunity to advocate the importance and mission of the State Archives.

The Archives are also engaged in external outreach as well. Currently, Caitlin is fostering a growing Instagram account.[1] Utilizing social media, she is reaching a different type of user. The account also allows the Archives to connect with other archivist running similar accounts, and presents a less formal side to a state agency. According to Caitlin the process of gaining permission from the State Secretary’s office was well worth the effort.

Winding down the interview, I asked Caitlin, out of all of the numerous and unique items, what was her favorite. Without hesitation she starts describing the Belinda Royale/Sutton petition. Belinda was an enslaved woman, who upon hearing a reading of the Declaration of Independence wrote a petition to the state legislator requesting back pay for her decades of stolen labor. According to Caitlin the language of the suit is a beautiful description of Belinda’s life, from Africa to the American Colonies. Even better, Belinda’s petition was ACCEPTED! Belinda’s commissioned letter was digitized as part of a processing program with Harvard University.[2]

Concluding our slightly longer-than-planned interview, I asked Caitlin what advice she’d give to incoming professionals on how to conduct outreach and advocacy. Her words were encouraging and possibly: “[it is] important. You can always be doing outreach, you don’t even have to be at work to be doing outreach. … I don’t feel like I am preaching, it’s more like … people are like ‘oh wow, what is that that?’! It is something you should fight for at your institution. It can be hard, … [but] know that everyone is working with limitations and doing the best they can.” Speaking with Caitlin was an immensely interesting and educational experience. If you have time one sunny afternoon, slip over and take a walk through the Commonwealth Museum and advantage of the wealth of knowledge Caitlin and her colleagues hold.

[1]. Massachusetts State Archives (@massachusettsarchives).

[2]. “Petition of Belinda Sutton,” Massachusetts Anti-Slavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions; Senate Unpassed Legislation 1795, Docket 2007, SC1/series 231. Massachusetts Archives. Boston, Mass.$1i

Meet Nate Smith, Chief Archivist of the Boston Planning and Development Agency

by Clare Snyder

The BPDA’s model room houses a 1:40 inch scale, physical, basswood model of Boston’s downtown and portions of Beacon Hill, the North End, Charlestown, Back Bay and the South Boston Waterfront. The Agency hosts tours of the Model Room every Wednesday at 10 AM and 11 AM in two 30-minute sessions. Reservations are required for tours.

The Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA), formally known as the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), was established in 1957 by the Boston City Council and the Massachusetts Legislature to be the city’s official planning agency, taking over the responsibilities of the Boston Housing Authority. The BPDA’s archives work to preserve and make accessible the permanent and historical (at least 50 years old) records of the BRA. The BRA formerly had a library and a full-time librarian, but was at some point dissolved and a portion of its collections was given to the Boston Public Library. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that the BRA established their archives. Some highlights of the archives’ holdings include Urban Renewal records, City Planning records, and early aerial photography of Boston.

For the past three years Nate Smith has served as BPDA’s Chief Archivist and Records Manager.  He began as the sole Records Manager, when there was no differentiation between records and archives. As Nate assessed the collection, he started to carve out records deemed archival material, having permanent historical and research value, and his job description expanded to encompass archival duties. Many of the archives’ oldest records from the early and mid-20th century were indanger of deterioration and in need of immediate attention. The situation led Nate to decide the best way to process the records were from oldest to newest.

As he steadily processes the archives’ records and establishes archival collections to be made accessible to the public, Nate is making strides to reach out to the public. It wasn’t until six months to a year ago when the archives was finally able to establish their own webpage within the BPDA’s website. Nate is using the webpage to present the agency’s material in a more clear and public manner, and will showcase the institution’s finding aids and inventories once they are created.

The lack of visibility and online accessibility has been an obstacle for the archives. Currently, due to the narrow focus of the BPDA’s records and archival material, its audience has been limited primarily to real estate professionals or property owners, looking for information about properties impacted by urban renewal; media, looking for visual material of Boston; and students, doing research on subjects like urban renewal. Through Nate’s networking efforts, lines of communication and referrals between local institutions have helped steadily increase the public’s knowledge of the BPDA’s archives. For example, he reached out to the West End Museum to inform them the BDPA had records associated with the West End Urban Renewal Program for which to the museum to refer interested researchers.  The City Archives has also been a major partner for the BPDA archives, due to a good portion of the BDPA records and archival material being held at the City Archival Center.

Even though the BPDA is located within City Hall and some of their holdings are located at the City Archival Center, it is not a part of the city, receiving no funding from taxes. Its income derives from the real estate properties they own and operate.  Nate is planning to use the web page traffic statistics, especially when a few finding aids are made available online, to show interest in the archives and justify more directing more BPDA resources toward the archives.

For being the BPDA’s Chief Archivist and Records Manager for only three years, Nate Smith has accomplished a lot from creating archival collections to establishing a webpage to elevate the archives’ public profile. Nonetheless, an archivist’s job is never done and Nate has a vision for the archives to be as accessible, approachable, and relevant as possible to the city government and general public.

Meet Bethany Fair, Archivist at the Vermont State Archives

by Julia Greider

Bethany Fair gets to do a little bit of everything in her job as Archivist II at the Vermont State Archives in Middlesex, Vermont. The state archives exists to serve the people of Vermont, and because it’s a government institution, all the records it holds belong to the public and legally must be accessible. Bethany most enjoys interacting with the myriad of patrons—ranging from legislators, to academics, to attorneys, to the general public—who come to the archives for information.

Bethany has found that the reference room is the locus of outreach and advocacy, because people with research needs are always grateful for prompt and thorough assistance. Attorneys form one of the archives’ main user groups, and the archivists spend a lot of time helping them trace the origins and development of laws. As a result, satisfied attorneys often refer their colleagues to the archives with similar requests. The archives also has strong relationships with other government agencies, which it serves not only by holding their records, but also by fulfilling their information requests.

However, Bethany says that the public often has a misconception of the state archives as a place that holds nothing more than old, boring government records that have little research value for today. Furthermore, people think that the government is trying to hide its records from the public—particularly the records of shameful pasts, such as the Eugenics Survey of Vermont, a program that many believe sterilized Abenaki Indians in the 1930s. Outreach can be a great way to dispel these false visions of the archives. For example, Bethany recently helped organize a lecture by a visiting undergraduate who was studying the eugenics program. She’s found that dark topics like eugenics tend to draw people in, and the program is an important part of Vermont’s history. Not only did Vermont Public Radio and NPR do interviews with the student who gave the talk, but there was also an impressive turnout for the talk itself, which then spurred attendees to come into the archives and find their ancestors in these records of the eugenics program. Bethany believes this experience showed people that the government isn’t trying to hide its actions of almost a century ago—in fact, all the evidence is sitting right in the state archives for anyone to see.

Bethany and her colleagues know their outreach has been successful when they get an increased number of researchers coming to them with questions. She’s fielded a wider variety of questions as a result of outreach efforts, because people have begun to realize that the state archives doesn’t only hold birth and marriage records (the usefulness of which should not be discounted, of course), but also the records of both wacky and weighty events of the past.

Because the state archives is funded directly by the Vermont legislature, any changes to the archives budget have to be approved as bills in the legislature. This means there isn’t much wiggle room in the budget, so there isn’t much money set aside for outreach. As a result, Bethany and her colleagues have to create ways to do outreach without a budget, which often means working on their own time and finding people who are willing to give lectures on a volunteer basis. Furthermore, the archives staff has to advocate to the state legislature to ensure that they get the resources they need. Beyond an awareness of public records laws, lawmakers generally have little sense of what the archives does. The archivists, then, must explain their role in the government and why their skill set fits them out best to deal with certain legal issues. However, Bethany says that she and her colleagues must not only advocate for their own institution, but also for what will be best for their patrons—what will provide the people of Vermont with the easiest access to government records.

When the legislature debates bills pertaining to the archives, anyone can testify before the assembly, and theoretically, this is when outreach and advocacy can really pay off. The archives constantly builds up strong relationships both within the government and with the public, meaning that if it were ever necessary, Bethany and her colleagues would have many allies in vocalizing the value of the archives to the state of Vermont. For now, they’re finessing their preservation of born-digital records and working on expanding their digitized holdings in the hopes of creating online exhibits that can reach an even broader public and expand opportunities for outreach and advocacy.

Nixon Now: Divisions on Display

by Jessica Chapel

The entrance to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
The Entrance to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

You can’t cut an American president out of history. How, then, do you represent a president driven from office in disgrace and his complicated legacy? During a recent California trip, I took a detour on my way from Los Angeles to San Diego to ask those questions.

The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum opened in Yorba Linda — a one-time farm town in Orange County — in 1990, 16 years after the 37th president became the first president to resign from office. Unlike every other president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nixon did not plan to donate his library to the National Archives. It was a privately run institution supported by the Nixon Foundation, holding the president’s diaries and his pre-presidential papers.

Congress controlled his administration’s records, more than 44 million pages of documents, plus photographs, film — and the infamous tapes. The 1974 Presidential Recordings and Materials Act gave custody of the presidential files to the Archivist of the United States, a move intended to thwart any destruction of records from Nixon’s scandal-blighted presidency.

Feelings about Watergate and Nixon’s record were still running high when the library opened and museum director John Taylor postponed making two Watergate tapes available. Historians complained about the withholding of materials as much as they did the slant of the exhibits and the presentation of the one Watergate tape incorporated into a display, a decision that Taylor defended as a matter of serving visitors.

“The fact that we are the Nixon library does not deprive us of the ability and indeed the responsibility of placing the information we present in some historical context,” he told the New York Times. “Some people use the word ‘cover-up,’ and what they’re saying is that in fact they do not wish for the Nixon library to put forth its interpretation of this document.”

In 2007, after decades-long legal wrangling, the National Archives assumed administration of the Nixon library and museum, and the presidential records were moved to Yorba Linda. The transfer culminated in a wholesale renovation of the exhibits that closed the museum for a year, a joint project with the Nixon Foundation. The museum reopened to the public in October 2016.

One year later, I was waiting with a dozen other early birds on a Sunday morning for the library’s doors to open. I wanted to see how the revamped galleries told the story of a president whose name has become synonymous with abuse of power, a politician who has been both pop culture joke and high culture inspiration, the subject of numerous biographies, and a man who attempted to craft his own myth from the first sentence of his 1977 memoir: “I was born in a house my father built.”

The conflict in how Nixon figures in cultural memory is matched by a seeming conflict in how the dual keepers of his library and legacy manage outreach and advocacy.

On the Nixon library social media channels managed by the Nixon Foundation — Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat — posts tend toward Nixon’s acknowledged successes, White House events, and happy family moments. Most of the comments on these channels are positive, but there are instances when followers misunderstand who is posting and why: “If you knew the month and date why didn’t you include it instead of all those unnecessary hashtags?,” one commenter asked on Instagram, seeking the original date of a photo. “We are not an archival page,” the account replied.

Earlier this year, a Nixon library tweet was interpreted as trolling president Donald Trump, prompting a public rebuke from the National Archives.

The Nixon library social channels were also used to question the work of filmmaker Ken Burns, whose Vietnam War documentary aired on PBS in September. “There is no factual support for anything in this sentence,” read one Instagram post, referring to a point on page 347 of the companion book to the film.

Both the National Archives and the Nixon Foundation maintain web pages for the library and museum. The .gov site is oriented to researchers, with information on newly released materials and upcoming events. The .org site is a slicker home for the foundation’s other programs in addition to the library and museum. It was the Nixon Foundation that used its site to respond to Nixon biographer Jon Farrell, who — citing a note written by Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman that Farrell found while doing research at the Nixon library — wrote that Nixon subverted president Lyndon Johnson’s peace efforts in Vietnam late in the 1968 presidential campaign.

Misunderstanding a monkey wrench,” answered the foundation, arguing that Farrell’s interpretation came down to a dash.

Walking through the exhibits, I catch Nixon’s 1972 reelection jingle: “Nixon now, Nixon now, more than ever, Nixon now.” The galleries are bright and interactive. In the Nixon in China room, visitors can pose for pictures with cutouts of the president and First Lady at the Great Wall. At another exhibit, visitors can lift the earpiece of a phone and hear segments of Nixon’s taped calls. Even FDR taped conversations in the oval office, the exhibit tells me. “Tough choices,” blares another, inviting me to struggle — via touchscreen — with the sort of decisions the president had to make.

I come to the Watergate gallery, and if it’s no longer a darkened room occasionally haunted by Haldeman, it is still an unwelcoming room with text-heavy exhibits. I’m not sure who it’s for — amid all the words, the impression is of a reckoning avoided.

Read more:

James Worsham, “Nixon’s Library Now a Part of NARA,” Prologue Magazine, Fall 2007.

Andrew Gumbel, “The Last Battle of Watergate,” Pacific Standard, December 8, 2011.

Christine Mai-Duc, “The ‘New’ Nixon Library’s Challenge: Fairly Depicting a ‘Failed Presidency’,” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2016.

Stephen R. Curley, Tribal Archivist for the Mashpee Wampanoag Community

Stephen R. Curley is the archivist for the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Community and Government Center

by Jessica Hoffman

A vast complex sits apart from a main road on the Cape, housing the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Community and Government Center. Nicknamed “The Castle,” the new building is a state-of-the-art asset, layered with modern architecture, security guards, and restricted access rooms. The building represents quite an upgrade from the Tribal Council’s previous home: a modest cottage donated by a local homeowner. But it can also seem an overwhelming, or even intimidating, change.

But tucked into the basement of The Castle is the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Archives, an archives whose outreach and advocacy success depends on building trust with the people it serves.

Stephen R. Curley is the tribe’s first archivist. When he was hired two years ago, the Tribe handed off a room full of boxes, some basic infrastructure, and a set of operational benchmarks. Since then, he has created a functioning archives from scratch: learning about his holdings, identifying their strengths and weaknesses, cataloguing, digitizing, and creating collections.

Curley admits to being surprised and impressed by his progress. “I’ve built it from the ground up. I’m still building. You need to build up an archive before you can do all the community outreach. That way you can show people what you are doing and how their materials will be treated…We want to have our materials in great condition before we display them. It makes a huge difference… People wonder what to do with their own collections. If they know us and trust us and know we will preserve their collections properly they will turn to us.”

While gaining physical and intellectual control of the Tribe’s holdings has been daunting but achievable, gaining the trust of the tribal community of the community has proven to be a much more difficult challenge.


Stephen R. Curley is the first archivist for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Archives

Originally from Arizona, Curley began his career as an anthropologist. However, he realized he wanted to focus his energies on something less esoteric and more concrete. He wanted to make a difference. In shifting to the field of archives, he hoped to work with tribes to develop and decolonize institutions, better suiting them to the needs of the tribes they serve.

For Curley, the Mashpee Wampanoag Archives was the perfect opportunity. “There wasn’t anything better I could have picked,” he declared. “Tribal archives help lead to tribal sovereignty…but the idea of a tribal archive is still nascent. Not many tribes have their own archives. And they are mostly community based. This is something that isn’t the norm.”

But, he is an outsider in the Mashpee Wampanoag community, a community with a hearty distrust of institutionalization and concerns about the historical exclusion, misrepresentation, and abuse of Native American tribes by academic institutions.

“People have a lot of mistrust and misconceptions… That trust dynamic… It’s a big piece in creating a viable archive. We want people to know that they can trust us to keep their family collections here and that we’ll try to curate them respectfully and we won’t just have other tribal members take things out. Because that’s happened before in other tribal settings.”


But the Tribal Archives relies on more than just community trust. Trust of the Tribal institutions and infrastructure is critical. And it is something Curley has worked hard to cultivate.

Curley has advocated for his archives since the moment he arrived, building relationships within the Tribal Government itself. He speaks regularly with the tribe’s chief, recording interviews for the future. He also uses these meetings to ground himself in the history of the tribe — a critical part of understanding his holdings and establishing himself as a trustworthy professional. He also works closely with the Tribe’s legal branch, assisting them with the research and records needed for their work.

Curley is also working hard to build relationships outside of the Mashpee community. He is actively reaching out to other institutions in the field, such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts State Archives, Amherst and others, in hopes of building partnerships that will allow the tribe to reclaim some of their historical material via digital surrogates. Curley views these relationships as critical, not only to help grow the Archives’ holdings, but also to help reunite the sovereign history of Tribes.


The Archivist often does not have final say or control over the Tribal Archives programming ideas. All programs and events are subject to approval by the tribe’s governing infrastructure and press office. And, they often want to avoid anything politically charged. It’s a recurring theme with some of Curley’s outreach ideas.

“The inconvenient truth of archives is internal bureaucracy and politics… Even though we’re just dealing with paper, it can be very political. There’s a bureaucracy that we sort of operate within,” he said.

For example, the tribe recently passed the 40th anniversary of their well-publicized land claim lawsuit. Curley proposed an event to mark the occasion: a screening of a well-balanced video followed by a panel discussion with key players from the trial and historical experts. Unfortunately, his idea was vetoed by the PR arm of the tribe. “It kind of just boiled down to it was ‘too political’ and they don’t want to dredge up bad feelings,” Curley explained.


Curley’s best community outreach tool may be his newest employee, Wasutu-Nopi (also known as Denise Kersey. Her love of history and interest in her family’s past inspired her to apply for the Elder Apprentice position in the archives. “I like seeing my relatives way back when.” When she was just eight, her grandmother died. Through her work, Wasutu-Nopi discovered pictures of her grandmother in her early twenties and “…to get to see her then is… oh wow.”

Wasutu-Nopi is a tribal elder, a distinguished position in the tribal community. Even more, she is well liked and trusted in the community. As a result, her presence and participation in the archives raises awareness of the archives amongst the tribe. “Lots of people didn’t know what (the Archives) was or why it was needed. Or even where it was,” Wasutu-Nopi said. But her work with the Archive has gone a long way towards strengthening community bonds.


Thus-far, the Archives hasn’t done much community-facing outreach, focusing instead on intellectual control. However, both Curley and Wasutu-Nopi have lots of ideas for future programs.

Curley is planning to exhibit their holdings as much as possible. Both a blog and a Facebook page for the Archives have recently gone live. And Curley is committed to creating more online resources, such as an online catalogue of the Tribal Archives holdings. Currently, a small wall-mounted monitor near the Archives entrance cycles through a loop of various digitized images. Curley hopes to add more monitors, or perhaps iPads, with images throughout the building. Ideally, the pictures would not only cycle on a loop, but each picture would have description or content, identifying the people or activities seen in the photos. He’d also like to build a self-guided walking tour on a nearby trail, allowing people to wander the sites and view the timeline of the Wampanoag tribe and their history in Mashpee.

As October was Archives Awareness month, Curley also implemented several special programs to raise the Archives’ visibility. A temporary workstation installation in the rotunda of the Government Center, showcased the Archives’ catalog to a new audience. The Archives also collaborated with the Elders Department’s “Lunch & Learn” program, offering public tours of the space and holdings.

Curley wants his outreach efforts to not only build community trust, but also build the Tribal Archives holdings. The entire image collection of the Archives has been scanned and photographed. However, they have very little metadata.   Curley wants to crowdsource as much information as he can by inviting community members to a social night where they can view some photos on a big screen — and hopefully match names to faces and scenes to events. He also plans to throw digitization parties, allowing community members to bring their old photos to the event to be digitized, and hopefully also be allowed to keep digitized copies for the Archives as well.

Wasutu-Nopi also has a vision for the future of the archives. “I’d like to have kids know what went on in the past. I’d love to have groups of kids coming in and they could see what went on during the Federal Recognition Process. It’s not an easy thing to understand. But they could sit around the table and look at pictures and connect. They could see how we make dreamcatchers, earrings, baskets, and we could tell them stories of the past.”

A lot of people in the community have “a notion that larger institutions don’t care about them.” says Curley. “We can change that… It’s a community archive, not just a governmental archive. It belongs to them. We exist to serve the tribe. And they have an expectation for us to do right by them and to be of use.”

To learn more about the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Archives visit:



To learn more about the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land claim lawsuit read:

Mashpee Indians: Tribe on Trial by Jack Campisi

Meet Genevieve Weber!


Genevieve Weber of the Royal BC Museum & Archives

by Ariel Barnes 

In late September I spoke with Genevieve Weber, an archivist at the Royal BC Museum & Archives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. She studied History at the University of Victoria and received a Master of Archival Studies with the First Nations Curriculum Concentration from the University of British Columbia in 2008. After completing her Archival Studies degree Genevieve moved to the Nass Valley, where she worked as an archivist in the Nisga’a Lisims Government. Before starting at the Royal BC Museum & Archives she worked in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia and the BC Provincial Government. Currently, she works as an archivist focusing on First Nations records and liaison. As part of her job, Genevieve handles outreach for the archives, including managing the archive’s social media accounts.

The Royal BC Museum & Archives serves as a provincial museum and archive, collecting artifacts, documents, and specimens of British Columbia’s natural and human history. As a provincial archive, the BC Archives is the home to the governmental records of British Columbia. The archive provides access to the public as well as researchers and government officials.

The BC Archives and the BC Museum work together to create exhibitions for the museum, with archivists providing archival records for displays. A current exhibition at the Royal BC Museum is called Family: Bonds and Belonging, which explores what it means to be family and how traditions can evolve over time. As part of the exhibition archivists at the Royal BC Museum & Archives offered three workshops on family history and genealogy. Genevieve describes the workshops as successful because some visitors attended multiple sessions. In a larger sense, Genevieve believes that any outreach program that sparks an interest is successful, whether the interest is remote (meaning online) or onsite. A successful outreach program has to be engaging and aware of its audiences. As an archivist focusing outreach Genevieve feels that it is crucial to be aware of the different audiences or groups attending a potential program.  During our conversation, Genevieve stressed that a successful outreach program takes its audience’s interests into consideration and respects the differences found between groups.

On select Thursdays, the Royal BC Museum & Archives opens its doors to patrons over the age of 21 after closing for themed events called happy hours. These Musuem Happy Hours bring collections and visitors together in new and interesting ways. Genevieve is most proud of a recent event called Museum Happy Hour: Pride, which showcased the LGBTQ+ community in the museum and archive.  For the event, Genevieve selected relevant archival records, including a radio feature about drag culture in Vancouver in the 1980s and a copy of a 1970s pamphlet about the gay community in Vancouver written by an anonymous gay man. This program meant so much to Genevieve because it allowed museum and archives visitors to connect and relate to the archival records a way that can be difficult in the traditional archival setting.

During our discussion, Genevieve said outreach is an important aspect of archival work because programs are a way to bring people into the archive and connect with the records. Genevieve believes that without outreach archives would not have an audience for their collection.  Without outreach programs to bring people in the archives the materials will not be in use and history will be lost. To Genevieve archival materials are for use and outreach programs allow for users to interact with archival records in new and interesting ways.

Genevieve’s days are never dull. Her days can vary depending on the work that needs to be completed. Genevieve normally spends one day a week doing reference work. On other days Genevieve works with First Nations records and liaises with researchers. When she is not working directly with researchers, she manages the archives’ Twitter feed. One recent campaign celebrated Women’s History Month in Canada by highlighting some of the interesting collections from women located in the archive. Genevieve mentioned that all month long they were going to be posting information about inspiring women using the hashtag #WomensHistoryMonth. She also spends some time providing group tours, which requires research on Genevieve’s part as she targets the tours to the group’s interests. Over the course of a week she will have worked on many different projects but that is just part of the job for an archivist at the Royal BC Museum & Archives.

You can find out more about the Royal BC Museum & Archives here:

On Twitter:

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 –

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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):