Sara Davis is the Digital Project Manager for the Olmsted Archives at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site. As the Site is part of the National Park Service, outreach and public programming is essential and involves everyone at the Site. Park Rangers provide visitor services, including tours, walks and lectures, and working with public schools, supported by archives staff. The archives and museum staff primarily interact with the public through reference inquiries, but they collaborate with interpretation staff on social media efforts and special programming. In the archives, Sara is working to design and develop a comprehensive digitization program that is sustainable long-term focusing on the plans and drawings collection, the most frequently used collection.
This digitization project involves many aspects of archival work. “On an average day, I identify and select items that are a top priority to be digitized, verify locations, create optimized digital images of plans, embed and confirm accuracy of metadata, generate access copies and place master files in long-term storage, and ensure they are uploaded online for access.”
In terms of outreach, she says good outreach involves community engagement, and her daily work at the Olmsted Site facilitates that. “The large-format scanner I use for digitization is located along the museum tour route,” she says. “So I may be physically handling and scanning the collection while a tour is in progress and will speak to the tour groups if they are interested.” Additionally, the digital images she produces are made available for access on the Site’s Flickr page and promoted on Facebook.
The Olmsted outreach efforts include the National Parks community as well. The Site is only one of over 400 National Parks and Sara and her colleagues regularly collaborate with parks and other institutions across the nation on projects.
Sara says her path to finding a career as an archivist has been long and winding. She tried out a number of paths, but none of them kept her interest for very long. But, after thinking about her life experiences, the commonality was that she found enjoyment in assisting others, especially regarding passing on information that would help them succeed. This led her to the Archives Management Program at Simmons. She graduated in January 2016.
She cites the work of her cousin, Gabriel Lopez and his wife, Jodi Lopez, in sparking her interest in archives. They had been using the archives at the University of Northern Colorado to research a historic neighborhood in Greeley, Colorado, known as the Spanish Colonies where Sara’s family has roots. Sara says that the family connection inspired her to pursue archival work because she wanted to ensure that everyone is included in the narrative of the nation’s cultural heritage and equal access to historical documentation.
This inspiration informs the work Sara does at the Olmsted Site. “My favorite part [of the digitization project] is that I am able to provide access to collections to the serious scholar and the casual browser,” she says. “These plans document places. People can go out into the actual place and see the changes over time by comparing it to the historical materials.”
While she cautions that digitization may deter people from visiting the physical archives and engaging in person with others, the benefits of digitization include an increase in discoverability and access. And, perhaps most importantly, with digitization digital outreach and advocacy efforts can be made world-wide.
Rachel Seale has worked at Iowa State University Special Collections and University Archives as an Outreach Archivist for almost two years. She moved from Fairbanks, Alaska, where she worked for six years as an archivist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. At the Iowa State University Special Collections and University Archives, Rachel is happy doing what she does best: outreach and education. Above all else, she enjoys working with patrons and students and teaching them about the archives and special collections. Iowa State University is in Ames, Iowa and holds a rich agricultural history. The university has notable engineering and agricultural programs. The Special Collections and University Archives holdings reflect this history, as do the exhibits Rachel plans. She works to connect the current university students and surrounding community to this history.
Rachel balances many tasks as an Outreach Archivist. She does program planning, teaches classes, coordinates exhibitions, plans meetings to collaborate with different departments in the library and at the university, does a few reference desk shifts every week, and manages the social media outreach. Rachel is on the Events Committee and is Secretary for Librarian’s Assembly for the University Library. She also serves as social chair for the Asian American Pacific Islander Faculty Staff Association at the university and is a new member of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) Committee on Public Awareness.
This variety of tasks works for her, but she acknowledges that she may not be the typical archivist. The exhibition program planning and instruction is the biggest part of her job and she works to make her classes interactive and fun for students. The exhibit coordination and occasional curation takes a lot of time and the department schedules exhibitions almost two years in advance. This part of the outreach is most important to her—she sees making connections with other people as an opportunity for the archives and her institution.
The public programs Rachel has coordinated have been well attended. The exhibition curators design an over-arching theme to an exhibit and then the programming is coordinated before, during, and after the exhibition is open to the public. Programming includes but is not limited to opening receptions and lectures that occur through the duration of an exhibition, surrounding its theme. A key goal is to collaborate with other institutions in the area, like the Ames Public Library or the Ames Historical Society. For example, the Ames Public Library hosted a lecture given by Professor Heidi Hohmann about the development of the Iowa State Parks System this past summer to correspond with an exhibit Rachel’s department put together. With limited parking, the campus can be inaccessible for the general public for events. However, by hosting events at the public library, her outreach events become more accessible and allow for creating valuable relationships in the community outside of the student body.
Rachel explained to me that her position didn’t exist at her institution before she was hired. She acknowledged the freedom she has with these circumstances. When she needs guidance she goes to her Department Head, Petrina Jackson, who has a background in outreach and instruction. She also asks her colleagues at her institution or at surrounding institutions for advice if she thinks their expertise is more appropriate. The openness at Iowa State is one of the reasons she was attracted to this position—making relationships and collaborating with people is very important both on a personal and a professional level for Rachel. This is good advice for those of us entering the field: finding institutions that are open to building your position around your expertise and passion will make both you and your institution more successful.
However, Rachel does also recognize how challenging it can be for institutions to prioritize outreach. It takes a lot of time and attention away from the other necessary work at the institution. From her experience, Rachel thinks her position and the field of outreach and advocacy is growing. In ten years, she sees her position splitting into two separate positions because her institution’s framework is growing, in part because of her successful outreach and advocacy. At the Iowa State University Special Collections and University Archives, there is more programming happening, larger exhibits and opportunities available, more collections to work with (while everyone participates in outreach, her position freed up other archivists to focus more on growing the collection and also created awareness to donors), and more researchers. As the field of outreach and advocacy grows, and the Society of American Archivists (SAA) puts more research out on the field, Rachel believes more institutions will create positions like hers to promote their own growth.
As an Outreach Archivist, Rachel believes her job is to teach people about what the archives are and why they are important. She doesn’t just do community outreach and advocacy—she does it within her own institution. She enjoys dismantling tropes about the archives; for instance, she encourages people to touch and engage with the materials and to find a connection with the rich history held at the Iowa State University Special Collections and Archives. With successful programming and instruction, with these connections patrons and students feel to archival resources and the university’s history, it becomes easier to advocate for her repository and her position. This connection she has with patrons and students is what matters to her—more so than any connection she has with collections in her repository.
Meet Deborah Richards, the Special Collections Archivist at Mount Holyoke College, a small liberal arts college for women in South Hadley, Massachusetts! A graduate of Simmons College with a MSLIS in the archives concentration, Deborah previously worked with the state legislature in Oregon. With a BA in History and Women’s Studies from Oregon State University and a MA in American Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, her interest in history, women’s studies, and activism still inform how she does her work as an archivist today. When she finally discovered archives, she realized she enjoyed research more than writing, and was hooked. Through her experiences as an intern at Houghton Library at Harvard University, student worker at Northeastern University, an archivist at the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, and the Assistant Archivist at the Smith College Archives, Deborah has nearly 20 years of experience working in archives.
For the last four years, Deborah’s day at Mount Holyoke College is always exciting because of her various tasks and responsibilities as one of two archivists. She never quite knows who is going to email or walk through the door. On an average day she could be providing reference services, accessioning new materials, supervising student workers, working with donors, performing stacks maintenance, or overseeing the oral history project for LGBTQ alums. Interestingly, Deborah commented that while a lot of professional focus recently has been on digital materials and resources, digital work is the least time consuming part if her job. Deborah is usually up and moving around, doing something new, and enjoys the range of work in archives.
Advocacy and outreach work is very important to Deborah. She believes that information is kept in an archives is not just there to be saved, but is meant to be used. To achieve that end, archives have to create openings for their discovery. For Deborah, advocacy and outreach are very similar because she wants to promote her archives and its material just as much as everyone else’s archives and their materials. She says that it is a disservice not to do outreach. The most exciting advocacy and outreach project Deborah currently has in progress is the LGBTQ Alum Oral History Project. Recognizing the limited representation of LGBTQ history related to Mount Holyoke in the archives, the archives has interviewed over 50 alums to document their time on campus.
Deborah’s archives offers a variety of other advocacy and outreach programs at Mount Holyoke. First, the Archives and Special Collection is very active on social media, thanks mostly to student workers. The archives uses many platforms to reach the most people, including Twitter, YouTube, tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat. To further showcase some of their collections, the archive produces numerous exhibits, both online and in house. The archives hosts ‘Crafternoons,’ a monthly afternoon of crafts for students to get them through the door, make them familiar with the archives, and introduce history or archival materials. A recent craft was creating old-fashioned felt college pennants, and an upcoming activity is ‘Do It Yourself Tea Bags.’ The archives also has a project called Transform/Transcribe which involves crowdsourcing transcription of letters from the archives’s collections. This type of project shares what the archives has and tells volunteers and alums that the archives wants them to visit, help, and be involved. Additionally, Deborah involves the archives in other on-campus activities. The archives brings its button maker to campus activities like Mountain Day, to increase its visibility and network. The archives works closely with classes and professors and the Alumnae Quarterly for publications.
For Deborah, the best types of advocacy and outreach projects are those that involve the audience. She argues that if you let people actually get their hands on something or do something, they will be far more engaged. Some of her favorite projects from other institutions have been oral history projects, the CLGA’s walking tours, and the History Project’s Gayme Night (an evening of board games taken from the collection). She does recognize the challenges, specifically limited time, in creating a successful program. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes, time-consuming steps, rehousing materials for displays for example, so Deborah thinks it is essential to find small ways to do outreach, like the student directed social media and the traveling button maker. She is always inspired by what other archives are doing.
Meet Jade Pichette, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator for the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA). Although Pichette’s background in social work might make them an outlier in the archival field, they see this atypical professional experience as an asset. Pichette’s work in nonprofits, and especially their work in anti-oppression advocacy and education, strongly informs their approach to archival work. In pursuit of an organizational mission to serve as a resource and catalyst for progress for LGBTQ+ people, the CLGA works to collect, preserve, and make available materials created by or about the LGBT community. Through their outreach work, Pitchette works to ensure that CLGA’s mandate: to preserve the history of marginalized people – is fulfilled in a way that is equitable and inclusive.
When asked what their ‘average’ day at CLGA looks like, Pitchette’s response resonates with those familiar with community organizing: “I don’t have one.” CLGA’s outreach efforts and volunteer activities bring the community into the archives through diverse and dynamic programming, from leading neighborhood walking tours to curating themed exhibitions.
Pitchette’s work has allowed the CLGA to develop strong partnerships with community organizations, including with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, which has recently worked with the archives to create timeline of LGBTQ history in education. This material reached the Federation’s 7,000 members across Canada. Going forward, the archives and the Federation plan to collaboratively design workshops to help teachers integrate more LGBTQ history into the elementary level curriculum are underway. This partnership harnesses the strengths of both sides – the Federation has curriculum design expertise; CLGA brings their LGBTQ history expertise – and is focused through Pitchette’s anti-oppression framework, emphasizing an equitable lens that traces history beyond dominant, mainstream narratives.
Without outreach that is “explicitly centered in anti-oppression and anti-racism,” says Pitchette, community archives can be vulnerable to “reproducing only the perspectives of those who work or volunteer,” and in turn representing only those perspectives in collections. By reaching out to non-white and non-cis-gendered communities in acquisition, and by helping update collections policies to demonstrate an explicit interest in records from intersectionally marginalized communities, Pitchette has worked to ensure collections represent a diversity of viewpoints. Aside from collection development work, Pitchette also focuses on the reference interactions patrons’ have with CLGA’s board members, staff, and volunteers on a daily basis. By instituting mandatory diversity and inclusion sessions and a strong volunteer policy, Pitchette aims to foster a welcoming environment at CLGA, and create an organizational culture that values inclusion.
CLGA currently seeks proposals for a consultant to aid in their selection of a new name. Their current name – the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives – can be seen as at best unwelcoming, and at worst exclusionary, of people who don’t identify as specifically “lesbian” or “gay.” CLGA’s stated goal of the upcoming name selection indicates a desire to “better reflect [their] mandate to support the archives of LGBTQ2+ people.” This name change can itself be seen as a form of outreach, aiming to identify the organization to those whose history it seeks to preserve.
Ultimately, Pitchette sees inclusive outreach as imperative to the survival of community archives, as well as one of the major challenges in the archival field. They feel that the profession as a whole needs to come to think of outreach as integral to the work of archives – and as something that is directly connected to funding. New professionals coming through MLIS programs can help push the conversation to the fore of the profession, pushing for recognition of outreach as a necessary component of a functioning archives. Outreach is essential to help people – especially marginalized people – see that their histories are valuable, an essential step towards preserving those stories for the future.
When Bill Barrow was a child growing up in Cleveland, an electric sign on the city’s West Side lodged itself in his memory. A tipped bottle of milk poured light into a glass, advertising Dairymen’s Milk, a local company. “I keep asking the world for a photo or a home movie,” Barrow told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2012.
He isn’t asking the world for a photo of that milk bottle sign out of nostalgia. Barrow, the Head of Special Collections in the Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University, oversees the Cleveland Memory Project, a digital repository of images, oral histories, documents, and other materials chronicling the history of Cleveland. The centerpiece of the Cleveland Memory Project is the 500,000 photographs in the Cleveland Press Collection, a trove that spans decades of city life.
Launched in 2002 by the Schwartz Library in partnership with community organizations throughout Northeast Ohio, the Cleveland Memory Project has been a collaborative effort from the start, said Barrow, and outreach and advocacy work has been key to building the repository both within the library and the community.
“Not much would get accomplished if I tried to run Cleveland Memory entirely out of Special Collections,” said Barrow, explaining that he’s as motivated by idealism as he is by pragmatism. “I have an old Sixties notion of community organizing and participatory democracy fueling this all-together-now approach.”
Barrow, who holds a master’s degree in history from CSU and a master’s in library science from Kent State University, began working with the Cleveland Press Collection as a graduate student in 1993; in 1994, he was hired to process the Cleveland Union Terminal Collection at Schwartz. Both collections became part of the library’s Special Collections department when it was created in 1999, the same year Barrow was brought on as Special Collections Librarian.
The Cleveland Memory Project grew out of earlier efforts to digitize and make local history collections accessible, and a long list of teams across the Schwartz Library and CSU — including Digital Production, Discovery Services, Multimedia Services, and the Law College — was engaged to make it real.
Keeping that early momentum going remains a priority. “The Cleveland Memory Team has meetings monthly at least 11 times a year and is very well attended,” said Barrow. “We use it to keep everyone abreast of relevant developments and to discuss new project proposals.”
It’s that engagement that gives Barrow reason to believe the work of the Cleveland Memory Project will continue well into the future. “The challenge is always money. I’d gone to library school at age 48, so recognizing that my economic life as a librarian wouldn’t be 50 years, targeted my ambition on trying to get as much of the print-based local history resources into the digital realm as I could,” said Barrow.
“There’s still tons to be done. More money, more staff, more everything, would push that job closer to completion. But with the Cleveland Memory Team functioning so well, I think they’ll carry on, state budget permitting.”
Barrow cautioned that buy-in can’t be taken for granted. “Silos are always a problem, whether because of territoriality or lack of conviction that [an institution’s] mission calls for working with others.”
Collaborating with the audience also matters. When work on the Cleveland Memory Project began, “we started with those [topics] we knew the patrons most often requested when they came into Special Collections. We have a feedback loop where people can ask questions, correct mistakes, or volunteer collections to donate,” said Barrow.
“We have allowed other libraries, historical societies, government agencies and even individuals to mount material in Cleveland Memory, which helps us focus outward more. The idea is not to have a show-window where the CSU staff decides what the people want to see, but rather a community stage where we invite colleagues at other institutions to put material up from their holdings.”
Barrow plans to keep finding ways to bring the larger community into the archives. He gives talks around the region, speaking to civic groups about the Cleveland Memory Project and Special Collections. He’s made use of a blog and a newsletter — as well as Facebook and Twitter — to connect with the Cleveland Memory Project’s audience.
And to connect with donors, who have added their items and memories to the repository. If the world hasn’t yet come through with a photo or video of that old electric sign for the Cleveland Memory Project, longtime Cleveland denizens did with reminiscences when Barrow put out the call on his blog. Dairymen’s Milk still haunts more than a few people’s dreams.
Looking ahead, Barrow’s thinking about how to make collections more available to the public.
“I’m coming around to an access mode for Special Collections, rather than a preservation one,” said Barrow. “While still acknowledging the importance of preserving primary sources, I’m opting for a model whereby Special Collections is the repository of material destined for digitization and access. To me, preservation has always been only a long-term access strategy and now, with digital technologies, we can provide superior access without particularly compromising the preservation factor.”
Currently serving as the Interim University Archivist and Curator of Special Collections at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass), Andrew Elder recognizes the importance of outreach and advocacy within the archival field. His entry into the archives was sparked by an interest in activism and the ways history is constructed through the use of archives. He explains that he lacked the personality of a conventional activist and thus found a way to fulfill his interests through involvement with archives that provided communities an opportunity to document their own stories. Andrew’s personal and academic interests lead him to Simmons College, where he completed his Master’s of Science in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives Management. As a professional archivist, Andrew stays engaged with his work by dedicating his free time to community archives and volunteer organizations.
After moving to Boston, Massachusetts in 2006, Andrew began working with the History Project: Documenting LGBTQ Boston through an internship. He continues to support this all volunteer organization as an archivist, member of multiple subcommittees and a co-chair of the Board of Directors. Andrew explains that the History Project’s mission is to document and preserve the history of the community, but more importantly the organization is concerned with actively sharing their archival materials with members of their community and the general public. The History Project provides free and paid public programming, and Andrew remains involved in the planning and outreach integral to such programs. He is currently working on the 2017 HistoryMaker Awards, an event he helped launch in 2009 that was held on October 11, 2017. Andrew’s involvement with this event also includes script writing, design work and the never-ending struggle to balance the politics and mission of the organization. For some, his involvement with this organization would be enough to constitute a full-time position, but yet Andrew manages to find time for this work beyond the many requirements of his current position at UMass Boston.
In August of 2017, Andrew transitioned from Digital Archives and Outreach Librarian to the Interim University Archivist at UMass Boston. This move required that Andrew shift some of his duties to other colleagues, but he continues to engage in outreach and advocacy in his current position. Although his average day now includes managing his department and attending meetings about library wide initiatives, Andrew continues outreach work through face to face donor visits and advocacy efforts in fundraising strategy sessions. Further, Andrew is also involved in the Mass. Memories Road Show, a digital history project supported by UMass Boston that offers communities throughout Massachusetts an opportunity to bring in photographs to be digitized and compiled into an open archive. This program demonstrates the services archives can offer to communities wishing to document their own history. In reference to community projects, Andrew understands the significance of remaining respectful of a community’s right to establish their own archive separate from formal institutions. Archives should work to support community organizations or archives through outreach and advocacy without imposing on these communities.
For Andrew, outreach and advocacy remain part of his personal and professional involvement with the archives. He stresses the importance of being an archivist that talks about archives in order to communicate the value of archival institutions, and to persuade others to see the value in their potential contributions to archives. Andrew views archival work as a public service for it also allows individuals the chance to gather more information about something new. Andrew explains that successful public programming surrounding the archives should allow for discovery, but should also be entertaining in order to hold attention and increase engagement. In outreach development, Andrew also states the value in communicating with other professionals in the field. He recognizes that archivists and other information professionals face numerous pressing issues on a daily basis, but reiterates the importance of a commitment to outreach and advocacy within archival work. This includes creating regular content, maintaining social media, working with volunteers and fundraising. Largely, Andrew encourages more individuals in the archival field to look beyond the archive for outreach and advocacy opportunities.
Within the archival and larger information field, Andrew demonstrates the capacity of archivists to support outreach and advocacy work in their professional and personal lives. Although Andrew maintains a busy work life at UMass Boston, he continues to dedicate his time and energy to community-led archives and programs. He is certainly doing as much as he can to advocate for archives and demonstrate respectful outreach work.
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.
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.
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.
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.