Organization Social Media Accounts

MediaFor the past number of years I’ve been managing the Activehistory.ca social media accounts, namely Twitter and Facebook.  Since the fall I’ve also been managing Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts for my work.

The accounts are somewhat different in nature.  The Active History accounts are primarily used to promote new website content, so I don’t have to be overly creative in my posts other than writing captions, pulling quotes, or selecting accompanying images.  On the other hand the archives social media accounts are pretty wide open – they can cover ongoing projects, events, draw attention to digitized content, and basically anything else I can think of.

In both cases I’ve found a few different ways to make the process more manageable:

  • Schedule content.  In the case of Facebook and Tumblr you can pick the time and date of posts and schedule them in advance.  I find this a huge help, it lets me put together posts when I have the time and have them appear later on at appropriate intervals. For twitter I tend to use TweetDeck to manage content, and that platform also has a scheduling feature.
  • Hashtags are your friends.  Hashtags connect new audiences to your content. Andrea Eidinger recently wrote a great summary of hashtags for Canadian historians if you’re interested in learning more.
  • Theme days are also your friends. #MinitureMonday, #TinyTuesday, #WordlessWednesday, #InternationalBookDay, #Caturday etc are all easy ways to promote existing content on a regular basis while attaching your organization to a larger social media movement.
  • Take photographs of what you’re doing and share them.  Photographs of events, new donations, processing, and photographs of all that day-today work GLAM professionals do can be a way to provide a behind the scenes look at your organization and also explain to people what work actually goes on in an archive.
  • Start collecting content for future posts.  Most GLAM organizations have a lot of existing digitized content that is great for sharing on social media.  If you come across interesting photographs, letters, books etc make a reference of them or save a copy for future use on social media.  This is an easy way to build up a backlog of ideas that you can pull from for future posts.
  • Don’t be afraid to try different things.  Experiment with what days and times you post different types of content.  Try new hashtags or new approaches to presenting content.
  • Use some type of analytics.  Many social media platforms come with basic stats built in.  But it’s sometimes helpful to add Google Analytics or something similar to the content you’re creating so you can measure how your content is being accessed and used.

Documenting Archival Process

Unprocessed archival donation.

Unprocessed archival donation.

One of the things I’ve been experimenting with adding into my workflow recently is documenting donations as the arrive at the archive.  Normally the contextual information, dates, extent etc are captured in a donor form and this information is further expanded on when the material is accessioned.  This is fairly standard.

What I’ve been trying to document is what donations physically look like when they arrive at the archive.  This partially came from a desire to promote new donations on social media and from an archival instruction perspective.  When I provide introduction to archives sessions I always try to include information on the role archivists play in appraisal and the challenges of arrangement.  Having photographs of what collections look like when they arrive helps provide a visual example of what unprocessed material looks like and what archivists do to get collections ready for public access.

A lot of the work archivists do happens behind the scenes and there’s a general lack of awareness around the amount of work that goes into making archival material accessible.  As a profession advocacy and raising awareness of our role is something we could definitely do a better job of.  For me one of the ways to do this is to talk about how materials come to us and outline to students the archival process and steps required to get fonds into those neat little labeled boxes.

How do you explain all the work that happens before an archival donation is made accessible to the public?

Friday Reading: Gender and Outreach

A weeks end look back at some of the archives, public history, and library world readings that I’ve been pondering on this week.

Gender in Libraries:

  • “If You Give a Librarian A Cookie” a great post by Dani Brecher Cook on the gendered work, the challenges of letting gender expectations control actions, and the need to find balance between doing traditionally gendered work you enjoy and being seen as a professional.
  • “Knausgaard Writes Like a Women” An interesting piece on gendered writing and the idea that you can tell if someone is male or female based on their style of prose. Link found via Allana Mayer (@alanaaaaaaa) and her thoughtful twitter discussion of gender in LIS

Outreach in Academic Libraries and Archives

I’ve been thinking about different ways to promote university archives in engaging, informal, and low costs ways.

  • An older post on the Mr Library Dude Blog on general outreach initiatives at the UW-Green Bay Library  is about general outreach at the UW-Green Bay library.
    • The slideshow is worth looking at, particularly for the linked videos within it.  I particularly enjoyed the video of the edible books contest they held as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations.
  • I’ve also started looking at institutional twitter and Instagram accounts.  Do you have a favourite archives or special collections social media account?  Is there an institution that does a particularly good job of promoting their collections through social media?  Is it worth the effort?

Virtual Tourism and Audience Engagement

A recent issue of The Public Historian contained an interesting article, “#VirtualTourist: Embracing Our Audience through Public History Web Experience” by Anne Lindsay.  The article highlighted the ongoing challenges that cultural heritage sites in engage new and diverse audiences.  Lindsay focused on the potential of institutional web presence in the development of audience and donor relationships. 

On a basic level the article highlights the fact that digital content has become an essential and expected part of any guest interface.  Lindsay also argues that websites have the potential to create spaces of engagement and promote different types of educational interaction. 

However, Lindsay does indicate the online tools should be used as “a gateway to a more encompassing educational environment” [1].  Essentially the narratives of online content and physical content should be interconnected.  Historical narratives of particular groups (eg. women, slaves, farmers etc) should not be relegated to purely online content.  Rather, traditional interpretation should be expanded on online and there should be clear linkages between digital and physical experiences. The two platforms can have different content but the essential mission of the heritage site should be reflected in both the online and physical presence.

Lindsay’s focus on virtual narrative and the potential of virtual spaces for education and outreach is reflexive of a general feeling in the cultural heritage field.  Many smaller organizations are struggling to develop digital content and platforms that appeal to changing audience needs.  The technical knowledge and staff time commitment to create a changing web presence (something more than a digital version of a brochure) can be daunting.  The cost vs benefit of any new initiative is always in the forefront of heritage institutions who are facing an uncertain fiscal future, especially when it includes venturing into uncharted territory.

However, increasingly cultural heritage organizations are realizing the importance of digital content and digital engagement.  Countless number of articles, professionals, and organizations are talking up the potential of digital engagement.  There is a whole realm of potential donors and potential “virtual tourists” for organizations to engage on a purely digital platform.  Additionally, digital content has the potential to enrich visitor experience, provide additional educational material, and create learning opportunities that sometimes aren’t feasible onsite.  For example, a seasonal site that closes during the winter can still interact with potential visitors and donors online during the off-season, opening up expanded programming and outreach possibilities.

The path to digital engagement doesn’t happen over night. But low cost options and documentation surrounding planning are becoming  increasingly accessible to organizations of all shapes and sizes.

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[1] Anne Lindsay, “#VirtualTourist: Embracing Our Audience through Public History Web Experience” The Public Historian 35, no.1 (Winter, 2013) , 77.

Speaking Up for Heritage

Earlier this week someone asked me why I first became interested in archives and what I like about my job.  I responded with my fairly standard response about my background in public history and how I really like that my place of employment focuses on engaging communities through archival material and placing an emphasis on sharing and education.

The follow-up question to this initial probe is what got me thinking.  The person asked how my personal emphasis on public engagement might influence by views on the recent Library and Archives Canada (LAC) code of conduct fiasco (see here and here for some background on the recent controversy) and the general perception that archives operate as gatekeepers.  My response was predictably focused on the need for balance of accessibility, protection of personal/organization privacy and free speech. 

I use twitter and this blog to talk about a variety of  public history focused topics.  Many of these topics are inspired by or indirectly related to work I’m doing.  Similarly, a lot of my more formal writing and conference presentations have been based on the projects I’ve been fortunate enough to work on as an employee or volunteer. I can’t imagine not being able use these digital and physical spaces of collaboration, sharing, and  expression. 

Countless groups of people have been marginalized by official histories, their stories left out of archival records, and their voices silenced in historical narratives.  History projects of all shapes and sizes have the potential to help marginalized groups have their stories told.  New historical narratives can be created that include a myriad of voices and perspectives.  Silencing the caretakers of historical records can have the impact of silencing the historical records themselves.  Education, outreach, and promotion of new scholarship are essential to making history accessible.

If you haven’t already heard it last week Jian Ghomehi’s opening essay on Q focused on the LAC code of conduct and he hit the nail right on the head, “…the management of information and memory and artifact is a vocation and maybe a passion that extends naturally beyond their confines of their work day to their communities, their families, to schools…”  History isn’t confined to neat little boxes and discussions of history shouldn’t be limited to what is arbitrarily deemed acceptable.

Community Archives and Sharing Information

Bates Hall, reading room

Morning North recently featured a segment on the facebook page “Sudbury’s Fine Past & Future Let’s Reminisce.”  The page aims to share photographs and memories of Sudbury.  The page has over two thousand likes and over 50 photo albums focusing on all aspects of Sudbury history including theaters, hospitals, streetcars, and neighborhoods. The success of this historically focused initiative surprised me, I expected to see a page with lots of content added by a small handful of contributors and little discussion.  Fine Past & Future seems to have an active and dedicated community of users and contributors who actively contribute and comment on photographs. 

What intrigued me about the Morning North Interview of the page founder, was the comparison of the page to an archive.  When asked if she thought the page was like an archive Church-Beaudoin indicated that she thought it was something different and that archives were really only for research and not designed for sharing photographs for those with just a casual interest in the past.   [Full disclosure: I almost started telling my car radio the many virtues of archives at this point.] 

A facebook page is definitely not an archive in the traditional sense.  I suppose one could argue that this particular collection of photographs represents a snippet of a personal collection or a personal archive.  Regardless, the comparison of a collection of photos to an archive isn’t what bothered me.  The relegating of archives to serving only professional researchers is what didn’t sit well in my mind. 

Archives do a lot more than merely serve academic researchers. Archives help preserve the heritage of communities and aim to share that preserved heritage with the community.  Many archives have started using social media in a way similar to the Fine Past & Future page–to share photographs and gain user generated metadata about unknown images.  

 Archives also undertake the preservation of physical and digital content.  That user generated metadata is being preserved by archives and not merely left up to facebook to keep safe.  Those physical photographs of community landmarks, historical buildings and community gatherings are being preserved  in acid-free sleeves and environmental conditions that are designed to limit deterioration. 

Yes, archives have traditionally been the domain of academic researchers.  But genealogists, casual researchers and community historians are all welcome in many community archives.  Many archives have created finding aids specifically to help with genealogy research or have reading rooms focused on local history.  The users of archives are just as diverse as the content held by the archive.  Archives need to continue to promote themselves, their services and their collections to the general public. 

Photo Credit: Boston Public Library

Authorship in an Online World.

Overwhelmed by search results? Struggling to keep up with Tweets? Buried under your RSS feeds? The amount of digital content and digital authorship is constantly growing. Today anyone can digitally publish content. Blogs, personal websites, twitter, and other social media have made it easy for individuals to create an online presence and produce “published” material.

Academics are picking up on the importance of creating an online presence. Granted, many Universities currently do not place the same weight on digital content as traditionally published works. However, this hanging onto traditional journal publishing may fade in nears to come.

The mass amount of online content raises the question of tracking changes in authorship, and the eventual movement towards a universal authorship. Currently, “authorship, including books and new media, is growing nearly tenfold each year…Authors, once a select minority, will soon be a majority.” [1]

What does this increased sense of authorship mean? Diversified and increased content for one. Additionally, the much used adage of “quality over quantity” becomes increasingly important in a world in which everyone can publish. However, it also opens a lot of opportunities to intelligent individuals who may not be able to publish in more traditional mediums. I see the growth of authorship as a benefit, but something which requires efficient means of gathering, organizing, and storing information

[1] Denis G. Pelli and Charles Bigelow, “Nearly Universal Literacy is a Defining Characteristic of Today’s Modern Civilization; Nearly Universal Authorship Will Shape Tomorrows”, SeedMagazine.

Collaborative Photo Encyclopedia

Fotopedia is a collaborative open source photo encyclopedia. The site is an interesting blend of the knowledge of Wikipedia combined with the expansive array of image of flickr. The emphasis is more on the side of the photos, however each collection of photos is accompanied by a brief encyclopedia article. The number of photos and quality of photos for each entry is all dependent on what has been uploaded.

One the more valuable features of Fotopedia is that the site is easily searchable by categories. These categories allow users who are interested in a particular type of photo to easily find the images they desire. The category feature can be particular useful for anyone researching a specific topic. The site is also keyword searchable. However, the keyword search results are not always as neatly organized as the rest of the site.

Fotopedia also hosts a “Fotopedia Community” designed to allow interaction between users. This social media feature allows photos to be commented on, voted on, highlights best contributors, and a variety of other interactive features. This site has great potential for sharing photos, geocaching, and providing context to photos that may otherwise be merely a picture.

Online Resource: Our Ontario

I recently stumbled across an interesting digitization project. OurOntario.ca is a division of Knowledge Ontario. The project aims to make various cultural collections in Ontario more accessible through digitization. Our Ontario works with community organizations throughout Ontario to establish effective and efficient digitization plans. Additionally, the site is geared toward researchers of all ages and the digitized documents from all across Ontario are easily searchable. The site also features a number of social media initiatives including social tagging.

One of the downfalls of this site however, is that not all documents which appear in the search results are viewable online. In some cases copyright restrictions have limited access to material. Despite this, adequate information is proved to describe material to researchers, and to assist in locating potentially useful sources.

The variety of material available on OurOntario is one of the site’s greatest features. The site features sources of a variety of facets including: audio, text, photo, video, and object. The site is also searchable by collection. Additionally, the site features collections from a variety of institutions including: libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, community groups, and government organizations. The variety of content makes this site an increasingly centralized place to conduct a variety of research.