Since 2010 part of my job has included providing historical site tours focusing on the history of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools that were located on the site which now houses Algoma University.
In the past few years I have been giving between 80-100 tours to a range of audiences, including : K-12, post-secondary students, community groups, professional development groups, government employees, and others. These tours are often paired with an education presentation , a talk from a residential school survivor, or a hands-on educational activity. The tours aren’t meant to provide a complete historical narrative but rather serve as a starting point for discussing the history of residential schools in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and Canada more broadly.
A glimpse of what the average tour includes can be seen in the “Where You Live: Shingwauk Historical Tour” video recently created by Shaw TV Sault Ste. Marie.
It’s Gathering and and Conference planning season again. For the third year in a row my work is planning a large Gathering and Conference for a summer long weekend. This year’s Gathering is occurring on the long weekend in August and I am substantially more involved in the planning and implementation of the Gathering.
Events and outreach activities are a fairly common occurrence for heritage organizations. Events are one of the many ways in which heritage groups encourage first time visitors and promote themselves within a community. It also fairly common that heritage groups rely heavily on volunteers and donations in-kind when planning an event.
The planning experience so far this year has inspired a lot of thoughts about the importance of having an involved volunteer based and community connections. Even large heritage organizations utilize volunteers as in day to day activities and special events. Many hands make for light work.
Volunteers are wonderful. They also require planning and coordination. Every volunteer comes from a unique background and has individual interests and skills sets. A good volunteer coordinator will establish tasks for a volunteer that are suitable to their interests and skill sets. I’ve been lucky in my volunteer experiences. While volunteering for the Dufferin Country Museum and Archives, the Red Cross, and the Canadian Museum of Nature I was given tasks that suited my interests and room to expand my skill set. All of these organizations were also extremely flexible in working with my schedule and supporting me in my initial foray into public history.
Having organized volunteers for specific events has contributed to me having a huge respect for individuals who work full-time as volunteer coordinators or in an outreach role. Scheduling volunteers, providing the right amount of guidance and training, and dealing with unexpected volunteer problems requires patience, flexibility, and a huge amount of planning.
What about volunteers for one off events? A few things I’ve learned from the past events we have organized, include:
Having an orientation session prior to the event can be extremely helpful in avoiding day of chaos.
One off volunteers tend to be a bit less reliable than regular volunteers. Having more volunteers than you think you’ll need usually helps mitigate this.
Assign someone to be in charge of the volunteers the day of the event. Have a central place for the volunteers to meet and take breaks.
Treat your volunteers well (free food always helps) and they will be more willing to help out again in the future.
I’ve been thinking a lot about organizational newsletters recently. These thoughts were mainly spurred by having spent the better part of two days digitizing early copies of the Algoma Missionary News. Like many newsletters the Algoma Missionary News contains information about new appointments, events, holidays, and staff/client interaction.
More significantly, the Algoma Missionary also contains information from all around the Anglican Diocese of Algoma and was mailed throughout the region. This newsletter was started in the mid 1870s and was one of the first cross-region communications. Even in the 1800s, newsletters acted as community outreach tools and allowed organizations to share upcoming events and past accomplishments. The early issues of the Algoma Missionary are now great records of early missionary work in the Algoma region.
Paper based mailed out newsletters are on the decline. But, many heritage organizations utilize email campaigns and e-newsletters. These emails can be used to alert patrons of upcoming events, new donations, heritage risks, and organization accomplishments. The use of email also makes these newsletters relatively inexpensive to create and send out. Additionally, newsletters also have the ability to help fill out corporate histories. Newsletters often contain staff names and event listings, which can help when building institutional memory.
Does your organization have a newsletter? Do you receive any heritage newsletters?
The overwhelming majority of visitors to the archive I work at have never been inside an archive before. Many of the visitors come from outside academia or are undergraduate and high school students stepping into an archive for the first time. In addition to being new to archives, many visitors are searching for documents relating to their personal or family history.
How do you frame the uses and potential research value of an archive to new visitors? This is often the ‘elevator pitch’ for the archive and includes a condensed version of services, resources, and archival holdings. We emphasize that staff are available to help new researchers, that material is available online (and we can provide instruction on navigating the site), and that material can be copied for research purposes.
If the visitor is a student, we often point out potential research topics in their field of study, suggest relevant publications, and encourage them to ask questions. We also remind students of hours and that we aren’t open weekends.
Additionally, all visitors can take a contact card which has our website, email, and phone information on it. We also have more in-depth pamphlets for those interested.
How to you facilitate non-academic research? Since the majority of our visitors are not engaged in academic research, our reading room contains material to help people research family history. We have reproduction photo albums which visitors can flip through, media clip binders (copies of newspaper articles), and copies of frequently used government documents which visitors can flip through at their leisure.
Typically, people researching family histories are able to find necessary material without staff ever having to pull anything from the archive. This cuts down on staff work and the use of reproductions helps preserve original documents and photographs.
How do you greet new visitors at your organization?