Reaching Out!

Outreach is a core archival function. Period.

I know, I know … I’m not leaving much room for debate there, am I? I’m sorry if I sounded forceful; normally I try to maintain an open mind about all viewpoints when I blog, but I really feel strongly about this particular subject, so excuse my slightly aggressive tone! Honestly, I think most archivists today would also agree that outreach is a crucial part of archival work; however, there was a time when outreach was considered a side effort or a task that was less important than “real” archival functions like appraisal and processing.  According to Timothy Ericson, this outdated mindset harkens from a past era when archivists considered themselves as passive custodians whose only goal was to serve and protect the records that came to them. F. Gerald Ham says archivists were “preoccupied with [their] own gardens, and too little aware of the larger historical and social landscape that sounded [them].”[1] Although it is crucial to acknowledge and understand our past professional practices so we can know from whence we came, sometimes, you just have to say, “so much for the past.”[2] Advances in technology and changes in user expectations/needs now require us to focus more on outreach. As archivists in the “post-custodial era,” our purpose is no longer to serve the records themselves; it is to serve the patrons (both direct and indirect) who can benefit from using our collections. (Part of me wonders if this was always the main purpose yet archivists were simply missing the mark, but that is a different discussion for a different day).

So what is archival outreach anyway? The Glossary of Archival Records and Terminology defines outreach as “the process of identifying and providing services to constituencies with needs relevant to the repository’s mission, especially underserved groups, and tailoring services to meet those needs.”[3] If that definition intimidates you, sometimes I like to simplify it by reversing the word itself. Outreach essentially means, “reach out.” Reach out to those who can benefit from the archives, and make archival services meaningful to them. Plus, the cool thing about outreach is that it can happen in so many different ways. Some archivists may create activities for K-12 or undergraduate students using items from their collections. That’s outreach. Other archivists may create exhibits showcasing archival materials pertaining to Black History Month, President’s Day, July Fourth, or whichever holiday may be happening at the moment. That’s outreach. Archivists may hold special workshops for genealogists or other constituents who have a deep interest in the collections. That’s outreach. Archivists may choose to host receptions, charity events, or community meetings at the archives. That’s outreach. Or, outreach can be as simple as “good, courteous service to any and all reference patrons.”[4]

I’ve included some links below that provide examples of outreach at various institutions.

Kennesaw State University Traveling exhibitions: http://historymuseum.kennesaw.edu/educators/traveling.php

Georgia Archives “Lunch and Learn” workshops: http://historymuseum.kennesaw.edu/educators/traveling.php

Princeton University Department of Rare Books and Special Collections exhibitions: https://rbsc.princeton.edu/exhibitions

“More Podcast, Less Process,” podcast series: http://keepingcollections.org/more-podcast-less-process/

I’d love to hear some examples of archival outreach that you’ve encountered! All comments are welcome!

Here are some pictures from an outreach activity we did at the Flat Rock Archives in October 2015. We hosted our annual Heritage Day and Jazz Festival which included an archival exhibit, music, food, and lots of family/friend fellowship. It was great!

flat rock 2015 jazz fest 9

flat rock 2015 jazz fest 2

flat rock 2015 jazz fest 8

 

[1] F. Gerald Ham, “Archival Strategies for the Post-Custodial Era,” American Archivist 44, no. 3 (1981): 207.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Glossary of Archival Records and Terminology, Richard Pearce-Moses (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2005), s.v. “outreach,” http://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/o/outreach.

[4] William Landis et al. “Reference, Access, and Outreach: An Evolved Landscape, 1936 – 2011,” American Archivist 74, no. 1 (2011): 33, http://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.74.suppl-1.l4625w7459q3g2lu.

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The Greater Love

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I can’t help but think about love. Not just romantic love, but also a different kind of love … the love one has for a profession! As you can probably tell by the existence of this blog, I’m a little bit (well, quite a lot) in love with archives. I love archival materials; I love archival practice and theory; I love the archival profession as a community; I love the purpose archivists serve in society; I love how dynamic and interdisciplinary the archival field is, the list goes on and on. Despite this all-encompassing love I have for anything and everything archival, my boyfriend and I recently had a discussion that made me ask myself, “what is my greatest love?”

heart

In preparation for my upcoming master’s graduation in May, I’ve been applying for many different archivist jobs as well as some PhD programs. My boyfriend has been my sounding board as I apply for various opportunities and interview for positions. One day he asked, “What matters to you most when taking an opportunity in archives—the archival collections you’ll be working with or simply archival practice itself?” His question made me think. Which is the greater love? Is it the love of a specific collection or the general love of preserving history and making it available? If the greater love is the former, the most important aspect of any new opportunity is the subject matter I’ll be dealing with.  If the greater love is the latter, the subject matter is arbitrary; my fulfillment comes from protecting history—regardless of what it is—and making it accessible to others for years to come.

So again, I ask myself, “which is the greater love?” Well, I could go with the preferred phrase of archivists and say, “it depends.” However, in this case, I don’t think it does. I can honestly say that my greater love is for archival practice—collecting, preserving, and making history available to users. I love protecting the past, and I love helping people use records of the past to fulfill various purposes. Yes, it’s always wonderful when a collection is particularly exciting to me because it makes some of the tedious parts of being an archivist much more bearable. However, I know that deep down, I am meant to be an archivist, and this calling is not dependent upon which collection I happen to be working with at the time. In fact, I have a feeling my archival career will lead me to and through many different collections, subject areas, and environments throughout my lifetime. I’m just along for the ride!

This is my assessment of what drives me as an archivist and an information studies professional. Other archivists may feel the opposite way, and that is totally okay. Let’s talk about it. What is your greatest love when it comes to being an archivist? What keeps you motivated? What keeps your archival heart beating when you go to work/school every day?

I’d love to hear from everyone on this one!

“And, on many of these occasions, I have been taken aback by the awe that the ordinary practice of archival techniques can inspire nonarchivists. Part science, part art, and—when done properly—part showmanship, our ability to quickly understand and evaluate the record…. So too is our ability to satisfy research inquiries by applying our complex understandings of how and why the historical record is created. Perhaps in modesty, or perhaps because we devalue the everyday and familiar, we fail too often to appreciate our unique archival skills and capabilities.”

~John Fleckner, ‘“Dear Mary Jane’: Some Reflections on Being an Archivist”