SAA 2015: Session 303, You Do What? Nontraditional Outreach That Works

In advance of the 2015 Annual Meeting, we invited SNAP members to contribute summaries of panels, roundtable and section meetings, forums, and pop-up sessions. Summaries represent the opinions of their individual authors; they are not necessarily endorsed by SNAP, members of the SNAP Steering Committee, or SAA.

Guest author: Kelly Kietur, archivist at a private archive

Troy Historic Village

Caitlin Brennecke is an archivist at Troy Historic Village in Troy, Michigan. Troy Historic Village already hosts field trips, lectures, and community events, but they wanted to do a tour for their members to show them the value of the Village’s collections – a 2014 member survey indicated that 70% of members thought that preservation was a priority, but only a small number wanted money to go to collections and the archive. The Village’s director thought a tour was the best way to bridge the gap for visitors.

Tickets for the tour were available to the public, board members, and volunteers. There were two tours showing off three specific areas – the parsonage basement, the archive, and the mobile storage/main building. In the parsonage basement there were trunks containing non-accessioned items from their education collection that were normally used with children. in order to learn about donations and accessioning the visitors were asked to select an item to accept as a donation and explain why they chose to accept that item. Later visitors were told about factors that would affect the decision to accept donations.

The activity in the mobile storage unit was to illustrate how objects were used. The area was staged with items that could possibly be used in the 1950s-era house on the property. Visitors were then asked to pick what items they would use and then were told the criteria that the Troy Historic Village uses – they select items that are appropriate for the time period and that elicit feelings from visitors. The archive housed an activity about reference and the value of archives. Visitors were given a reference question and were told to look at specially-marked folders in the archive and choose what items they felt best answered the reference question.

The tour was very successful for the Troy Historic Village – it resulted in improved relationships with board members and volunteers and resulted in visitors becoming supporters and advocates for the Village. The Village was also inspired to try other immersive activities for visitors.

Davidson College

Caitlin Christian-Lamb is the Associate Archivist at Davidson College, a small college near Charlotte, North Carolina. Their approach to outreach is curricular- and partnership-based. It is also flexible and experimental, with a focus on digital creation and preservation. Davidson College strives toward community visibility and constant outreach and they use projects as learning tools for staff and partners. There are digital course collaborations with the archives, such as the Davidson Encyclopedia, College Letters, and courses in mathematics and digital art. Davidson also employs embedded archivists in courses like a capstone Environmental Studies course, where archivists assisted in creating a crowdsourced map of the community before Lake Norman was created. Davidson partnered with Duke Energy for this project, which was responsible for the intentional flooding of the area fifty years ago.

Davidson College also has partnerships and outreach activities with other area organizations. Examples of these include Piedmont Triad Movie Day, the DPLA digital Charlotte showcase, and campus tours.

Thomas Jefferson University

Kelsey Duinkerken is the Special Collections and Digitization Librarian at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson University didn’t have formal archives until the 1980s, and its collections focus on medicine in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As part of its outreach Thomas Jefferson University partnered with the Franklin Institute for its Science After Hours program, which is a monthly event for adults 21 and older that features experiments, demonstrations, and games. Each event night showcases something different and there are usually 2,000 to 3,000 attendees per event.

Preparing for a Science After Hours event means identifying relevant topics in the program, searching the collections and finding low-risk items that can be displayed and making facsimiles of the items if needed, and promoting the event on social media. Some of the Science After Hours programs that Thomas Jefferson University has participated in include a Roaring ‘20s -themed event, which had displays on fad drugs and the medical quackery of the time. The Science Festival event used models of forceps and vacuum extractors in a medical birthing activity, and a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure-themed night showcased Civil War-era  medical tools, manuals, catalogs, and newspapers. The outcome of partnering with the Franklin Institute was that the events promoted greater awareness of the archives and iit educated the general public about the history of medicine.

Mass. Memories Roadshow

Jessica Holden is the Archival Reference and Processing Librarian for University Archives and Special Collections at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The Mass. Memories Roadshow is a public event that travels to town across Massachusetts. People can bring up to three family photos to the event, which are then digitized and then placed in the digital collections of the University of Massachusetts Boston. So far the Mass Memories Roadshow has visited 28 communities, held eight thematic shows, and digitized over 7,000 images.

Collaboration for the Roadshow occurs between the University of Massachusetts Boston, the community, and local organizations. The community applies for the Roadshow to come to them, and then they work together for for to six months with a local team, and the local team them reaches out to the members of the community. The members of the local team must be reflective of the local community.

The photos that Roadshow participants bring are varied  – photos of immigrant ancestors, family reunions, portraits, and snapshots have all appeared. The Roadshow has several stations for participants to go through besides a digitization station. One is a video station where the participant talks about the significance of the photo, and at another the participant can have their photo taken with the photos that they brought. There is a photo printer on site so that the participant can have their photos right away.

All the things gathered at a Roadshow event end up in the digital collections of the University of Massachusetts Boston. The digital collections uses modified Dublin Core for metadata, and the description field is created by the contributor – it is added as a quote in order for the contributor to provide their own voice to the record.

Imperial Valley Desert Museum

Anne Morgan is the Archivist/Curator at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum in Ocotillo, California. The museum highlights the archaeology, geology, and the flora and fauna of the area. One of the questions asked when beginning their outreach program was how do you get a traditionally non-museum visiting population of to go museums?

The IVDM started hands-on art programs, where participants make clay pots based on their olla collection – the museum has over 200 of these in their collection. Their goal was to get every single student in the county to participate in the program at least four times before graduating. The museum goes to local schools with modern ollas and explain why ceramics are important and how they are made. The museum also sets up displays at local art fairs and community rodeos. Children making their own ollas often ask about why they have to make them in a certain way, while the adults ask about the museum in general.

The IVDM has accidentally become the art program for schools – the county schools have no art programs. Because of this they tailor their programs to state curriculum standards so that students can visit every year and learn something new at every grade level. Tips for starting an outreach program include to start small, to learn from your mistakes, and to not be afraid to experiment. Never underestimate the value of “osmosis” – just because you think that someone is not listening doesn’t mean that they’re not learning. Finally, it’s important to celebrate your results.


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