Friday Reading: ArchivesAware

Last most the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) of the Society of American Archivists launched ArchivesAware a site deigned for those engaged in archival work to share experiences and ideas around raising public awareness of archives.

The blog has just started but so far the content has been promising and has showcased a number of interesting outreach projects.  Featured projects so far include a archival instruction videos created using LEGO and stop-motion video, an emerging comic focused on archives, and a look at an archives use of Tumblr to promote their collection and raise awareness about what archives do.  I look forward to see what other projects are showcased in coming months – there are lot of innovative and creative outreach projects out there in archives land and it’s great to see a professional organization taking the initiative to highlight this work.

The site is open to submissions of “Features” or short “Highlights”  and welcomes non-traditional mediums for more details and how to submit click here.

Archives Meet Public History

Earlier this week the Students and New Archives Professional (SNAP) Roundtable of the Society of American Archivists hosted a joint twitter chat with the New Professional and Graduate Student Committee of the National Council on Public History.  The chat focused on the intersection of public history and archives and generated a lot of interesting ideas for collaboration.

The first portion of the chat focused on introducing participants, discussing what interested them in archives and public history, and what they learned about archives in their public history program (or vice versa). The vast majority of responses seemed to indicate that many archival programs didn’t talk about public history and that most public history programs might include a class or two focused on archives.  A number of participants also mentioned gaining exposure to other fields through internships and work study opportunities.

The second section of the chat invited participants to share how they have interacted with public historians or archivists as part of their work.  A number of people (@Sam_Winn, @PubHistPhD, and @jessmknapp) mentioned that reference, outreach, and engagement work often allows them to interact with people from a variety of fields.

This was followed by a discussion of why archives, public historians, and museums don’t work together more frequently on advocacy issues. Holly Croft suggested that this disconnect might be rooted in the fact that archives only recently began to advocate for themselves.  Croft’s comment garnered a lot of discussion and highlighted the issue of similar fields committing for the same funding sources and lack of engagement between professional groups. 

The chat closed with practical suggestions of how these two related fields can work together.  A number of participants suggested holding more tweet chats or similar discussions which invite people from different backgrounds to engage.  Using digital and local history projects as points of collaboration was also suggested, as was the idea of holding joint professional meetings.

As someone who holds an MA in Public History and works in an archive I found the chat very interesting.  While I’ve worked in an archives focused role for the past four years many of the outreach and engagement practices I’ve undertaken are rooted in public history and the idea of a living archive.  There is tremendous potential for collaboration between fields to bring history to the forefront.

Small Scale, Big Impact: NYC Taxi Driver Oral History

The January/February issue of the Society of American Archivists’ Archival Outlook featured an interesting piece on the New York City Taxi Driver Oral History Project.  This oral history project was started in 2010 by Samantha Gibson and Margaret Fraser and aimed to record, document, and archive oral history interviews of NYC cab drivers.

Fraser notes that the opinions, experiences, and outlooks of taxi cab drivers are often missing from traditional historical records.  Currently seven full length oral histories and a collection of participant art are available online.   These collections are complemented by an online exhibit. The interviews look at issues such as discrimination, pay, health, crime, etc.  This project is interesting as its oral histories document an often neglect part of NYC history and efforts have been made to make these oral histories fully accessible.

What are some of your favourite oral history initiatives focusing on neglected areas of history? 

Photo credit: M N O’Donnell

Open Access and Archival Journals

The latest issue of the American Archivist (Volume 75, Issue 2) featured an article by Paul Conway and William E. Landis titled, “Open-Access Publishing and the Transformation of the American Archivist Online.”  This article provides an interesting examination of recent trends within the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and current thoughts regarding open-access and digital publishing.

Conway and Landis maintain that the SAA has adopted a form of open-access publishing that is a middle ground between completely open access and a pay per use model.  This is seen in the assertion that, “all older content is freely available online and represents and unambiguous commitment by SAA to the widest possible dissemination of journal content over time,” while newer (most recent six issues) American Archivist content is restricted to SAA members or those who pay for access.  This seems like a decent compromise, by still providing all other content to the general publish while maintaining an increased level of content for those who purchase an SAA membership.

However, Conway and Landis astutely point out that this membership or pay wall limits access to the newest scholarship and may leave smaller community archives and professionals outside of the archival field behind.   Given, the American Archivist‘s current state of straddling both paper and digital worlds it seems as though there are a number of accessibility concerns that will have to be addressed in the long run.

Additionally, the concern over the lag time of paper journals – eg. the American Archivist only publishes twice a year, making it a poor venue for time sensitive discussions – is well broached in this article.  The SAA’s new online review portal has begun to address this concern and provide information that is available only in digital form.

The examination of the American Archivist by Conway and Landis is one of many recent works focusing on the need to bridge the divide between scholarly publication and open access digital publication.  Initiatives such as Digital Humanities Now, and media-commons projects are excellent examples of scholarly communities attempting new forms of scholarly digital communication.  New alternatives and forms of communication are developing all the time and the archival community has just begun to look into the possibilities offered by digital publication.  

Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research

The Society of American Archivists (SAA) recently released, Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research by Laura Schmidt.  The guide focuses on how researchers utilize archives and outlines the best way to approach archival research.

In addition to provide useful information for researchers the guide includes a number of guidelines and policies that most archival institutions have to develop at one time or another.  For example, the chapter on Typical Usage Guidelines in Archival Repositories outlines a list of common reading room rules and restrictions.  This chapter is a great place to start if your institution is looking to develop a policy on what patrons are allows to bring into a reading room. 

The Guide’s chapter outline is as follows: