The first step toward public programming in archives is making connections. I believe a fair amount of archivists and librarians believe making connections consists of establishing a Facebook group page or a Twitter account or a blog for an institution. By no means am I trying to demean these forums, quite the contrary, I believe they serve a useful, worthwhile function. After all archives need to get with the times. Twenty-first century users are on social media and archives need to get with it.
What I advocate for is the low-tech, in your face approach. Yes, actually getting out into the real world and making contacts.
Step 1: Start small
If you work for an archives or a special collection that operates as a department of a larger unit, reach out to other departments. Get to know the others around you and what it is they do. By doing so, they get to know what you do. If other departments offer services that might dovetail with your work or there is something in the collection that could help, suggest a collaboration. Integrate the archives into the larger unit. Meaningful connections do not just materialize. They have to be created and nurtured.
Some of you are thinking, what if I work for a solitary archives or library? The first step is relatively the same. Visit other archivists, librarians, or museum people in your city. Pay them a friendly visit and chat them up. Maybe drop off your business card and express an interest to work with them. Just because you work by yourself does not mean you have to be by yourself. Like you, they understand the needs and demands of the work. Why not work together? If you don’t have the type of material a researcher needs, suggest they visit your colleague who works at another archives or library. As a profession, we’re not working against each other. You never know what creative things can happen from such an exchange.
Step 2: Move outward
If you are an archivist in an academic library at a college or university, reach outside of the circle. Talk to faculty members. I believe the most practical group to make connections with are the history faculty members. Suggest a tour of the archives for their classes or be willing to give a short presentation to their classes about the archives. Show them some of the goodies in the archives. If you pique the professors’ interests and demonstrate a clear willingness to work with them, it will not be long before the students will follow. For example, that professor may give an assignment that requires students to visit the archives.
For my lone arrangers, consider the possibility about talking to professors at the local community college or university in your city or nearby towns.
Step 3: Casting an even wider net
Tap into the power that is the local school system in your city. Step 3, I believe, is the more difficult of the steps because this puts you, the archivist, in unfamiliar territory. But, I think it can be accomplished. My experiences with Teaching American History have shaped this concept. There are teachers out there who will be receptive to what you have to say. The trick is finding them. Some cities have been fortunate to experience the benefits of the Teaching American History federal grants. And, in many ways, the task of reaching out to the school systems has been made easier. As an archivist, I would strongly suggest researching whether or not the local school system has participated in TAH grants. If they have, then contact the local principal. Send them an email or pay them a visit. Sell them on the idea of how you can help history and social studies teachers.
If your local school system has not participated in TAH, the steps can be the same but do not get discouraged if one principal may not be receptive to your idea. You have to keep plugging away because the reward is worth it. When you have a teacher who’s genuinely interested and visits your archives, they’ll definitely encourage their students to do so.
To learn more about the Teaching American History program, click here.
Directions: Click on “Awards,” you will find a list school systems awarded TAH grants by fiscal year.
Please Note: The TAH program was not included in the Congressional budget. As a result, no new grants will be handed out. Current TAH programs throughout the U.S. will end once they use their remaining funds.