Sunday, August 30, 2009

RAO Section internship available

The Reference, Access, and Outreach Section (RAO) of the Society of American Archivists seeks volunteers for at least one unpaid section internship for 2009-2010. The intent of the intern pilot project is to provide an opportunity for a current graduate student or archivist with less than three years experience in the profession to be actively involved in and observe the activities of a section. The intern's primary responsibilities will be in the area of communications, but may include other section initiatives based on the interests and needs of the intern and section. The intern will serve from the time of selection through the 2010 SAA Annual Meeting (attendance at the 2010 Annual Meeting is not required).

Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in archives (such as work, volunteering, internships, and/or coursework). Also important are attention to detail, good organizational and communication skills, flexibility, and a sense of humor. The intern will be required to submit at least two news or other items to the RAO News blog, which may then be published in the RAO Newsletter and other venues.

Other responsibilities may include:

* Monitor the RAO blog and Facebook group for potential improvements, revisions and/or corrections, posts or comments requiring responses.
* Assist Webmaster as needed, particularly as SAA transitions to Drupal to support its online presence.
* Communicate with Steering Committee members regarding ongoing business, projects, concerns, etc.
* Participate in section projects, working groups, sub-committees, etc. as appropriate. Topics may include: needs identified in the RAO meeting discussion groups; ongoing projects of the section such as National History Day, impact of MPLP upon users and reference archivists, 2.0/social media education for archivists; or other identified priorities of the section.

To apply for the RAO Section internship, submit resume and cover letter detailing your reasons for interest in the internship, including potential topics of interest, to RAO Chair Amy Schindler ( by September 11, 2009.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Advocacy break out session notes

Here now for your reading pleasure are notes from the last, but certainly not least, break out session during the RAO meeting at SAA in Austin. The topics for the other break out groups were National History Day, Web 2.0, MPLP, metrics & user studies, and the mission of RAO. We hope you'll take a look and share your comments either here on the blog, via the RAO listserv, or with the Steering Committee privately if you prefer.

Advocacy: things RAO can do, things RAO should be involved in, areas we can contribute.

Notetaker: Arlene Schmuland

Suggestion of another topic of potential interest to RAO: Archivists as educators engaged in instructional activities. Provide training which includes learning theories, pedagogy, etc. Maybe a Toolkit. Teach people presentation skills, marketing, how to conduct workshops. (Noted that the Train the Trainer workshop offered by SAA is good, but would have been better if been archives-specific).

Regarding SAA’s request for feedback on Strategic priorities.

Some thoughts about feedback to GAWG. They’re collecting stories, but they need to turn around and provide those back: provide administrators with those stories. Provide a way to get past the basic statistical reporting to the stories behind. Maybe a YouTube page with video recorded stories? Feeds into GAWG and provides wide accessibility.

Create some sort of a webring to highlight organizations or projects.

Identify potential public awareness opportunities. e.g. the Jameson award. In need of greater PR or perhaps we shouldn’t be doing it. Need to push, not wait passively for people to come to us.

SAA is getting better about using Facebook (wonderful).

Develop some sort of RSS feed for changes to website?

Would it be possible to get volunteers for Brian who can help do the tech work? He’s doing huge amounts on his own and is there any of the work that could be handed off to others in order to speed up the project (conversion to Drupal content management system) as a whole? Can Brian come to us and ask us for help? Is there something RAO can do specifically to assist Brian with this or SAA with this?

RAO: blog/newsletter. Come up with a story about what the section is doing & working on? Highlight success stories! Seek them out. Our access portion of our work is important. What people do because of our work is the important part—not the work we do itself. We can sell what we do by what use is being made of it.

Promote repository diversity in the membership: deliberately seek out leadership opportunities for non-academics, and their stories.

We like the 3a task force charge. Yes!

RAO has front line people who know those stories better than anybody else. Let’s build a repository of those stories. And non-archivists talking about archives focusing on the product, the outcome.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

National History Day break out session notes

Notes From RAO Discussion on National History Day

Notetaker: Danna Bell-Russel

Determine best ways to contact teachers for example locating the social studies coordinators in a school district.

Determine if there is a system for National History Day and work through that system. Also determine which states do not have a National History Day system and help them to develop that system.

We should see if we can work with the National Council for the Social Studies on the state and national level to determine ways to provide information on how to access primary sources in archives. Also get the regional archives groups involved.

Suggest that state and regional organizations provide prizes and get that information on the RAO website.

Find a way to funnel funds to provide support to students who want to travel to visit other repositories or need assistance to travel to the national competition.

Use research funds (funds to support researchers) for National History Day when available.

Advocacy to support funding for National History Day.

Show how National History Day helps students.

Show National History Day as part of a larger activity to help support teachers.

Approach teachers and students separately – use a two pronged approach. But need to approach both teachers and students.

Getting people who were involved in National History Day who are now archivists to talk about their experience and how it may have helped them to become archivists.

Link to the National History Day website and have a reciprocal link with resources on training to use archives and information on archives.

Develop a synonym list for users.

Should we develop an NHD wiki.

Bringing in students. For example in Mississippi they are working with high school students and are beginning to bring in middle school students with teachers helping out.

Set up hours when school is closed such as evenings and weekends. Open on certain Saturdays and coordinate with teachers at schools in area to get the word out.

Develop liaisons between archives and state National History Day programs. Minnesota did this. Can help with having someone who can go out and do programs.

Need to show teachers that learning does take place in National History Day. Directly focus on testing and how we can have a presence while also supporting standards.

Advocacy and cooperation are important.

Determine list of small steps, medium steps and large steps repositories and SAA can take to get involved. These might include putting articles in Archival Outlook, developing brochures, serving as a judge, waving fees for archives use for students participating in National History Day, developing workshops.

Determine what needs to be added to RAO page.

Website where students and teachers learn about archives and archivists. Perhaps career information on becoming an archivist.

Create a website for teachers. Perhaps set up a separate website with resources for teachers. Possible that teachers would not come to the SAA website for assistance because they don’t think information of interest would be there.

Use SAA glossary as a springboard to provide information on archival terminology.

Crosslink between SAA/NHD/NCSS.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Web 2.0 break out session discussion notes

Notes from Web 2.0 breakout session, RAO section meeting, Friday, August 14, 2009
Matt Pierce, Utah Valley Real Estate, Kathy Marquis, Albany County Public Library (WY)

Attendees ranged from archivists curious about the applications of Web 2.0, but unfamiliar with how to use or create them, to Kate Theimer, who is writing a book on the topic. Many of us used Facebook, Twitter, personal and work blogs, and other social networking sites in our personal lives, but fewer had yet implemented them on behalf of our workplaces. Some members had been encouraged to explore these venues by their administrations. However, others worked in shops (many were government archvists) where access to all social networking sites was blocked.

We each spoke about an aspect of Web 2.0 which we are currently using – and also one which we’d like to explore further. In the latter category, members said they would like to know how to use Web 2.0 to communicate between departments in their institution, mount sound recordings online, keep up with freshmen at their university who are already engaged in this technology, and determine if creating a blog would be worth staff time to keep updated.

Kathy Marquis began by posing a question of the group. She asked Shelley Sweeney, Archivist at the University of Manitoba to recount her experiences when the University Archives mounted a video, created from historic still photographs of séances in the UA, on YouTube ( She found a local film student who was willing to write music for the film, and the video went viral. Ultimately, they have had 94,000 hits. We asked: would you consider these people users of your archives? The answers in the group of about ten people were varied. Some said yes, they would mention this user group in their annual report. Others wouldn’t consider them users, strictly speaking, but would mention the whole phenomenon as outreach.

We talked about the website 23 Things for Libraries ( which is a self-paced set of lessons about 23 applications of Web 2.0. You learn about one, such as blogging, and then you start your own blog. Then you move on to another Thing, like Flickr for sharing photographs, and you create an account – and go back and blog about your experience. Kate mentioned that this program was meant to be a group experience, so you learn from others as you try out new Things. We all agreed that this would be a wonderful way for RAO to help its members: a subgroup of RAO is working on “23 Things for Archivists,” using archival sites as examples. When it is ready, it would be helpful to members if we attempted to try the Things together and contribute to the RAO blog about our experiences and questions.

We talked about the time implications for keeping blogs and other sites updated, to maintain user interest. Blogging, depending on technique, may be hard to catch on. A good idea is to seed it with interesting content from our collections. One example is “A View to Hugh” (, the Hugh Morton archive in North Carolina which uses his writing in a way that draws an audience. Another famous example is a blog showcasing the letters of a World War I soldier ( This was done by a private individual, using his grandfather’s letters home. He released them over time, corresponding to the current month and day, as the letters were dated. Readers were on the edge of their seats, wondering if the young soldier lived through the war. Kate mentioned that Cornell University recently published an update of Peter Hirtle’s very useful chart for determining if you are in copyright compliance when allowing publication, or mounting items on the Internet, from your collections (

Some archival blogs are about processing decisions, what it’s like to work in an archives. The Polar Bear collection at the Bentley Historical Society ( is interactive and encourages researcher questions. This led to comments about the value of wikis for capturing commonly asked questions and their answers, for the public to search. Other wikis are for internal use and make policies and internal finding aids accessible to all staff via the web. Montana State Historical Society maintains a very useful wiki ( on state history. There is the option to restrict access to these applications, even though they are on the web, so that they can be used internally.

We discussed installing a chat widget from - - (a free device.) There is an option to leave a message when the staffer is offline, but it’s hard to remember to turn it off. Nova Scotia archives sends out “tweets” about the province on Twitter, reminding them of the value of their archives.

The group also requested that the RAO section consider placing something on our website which clarifies that we believe that exploring Web 2.0 applications is a valuable way to communicate with our researchers – as well as keeping us current on the newer technology updates. They would also like to see lists of good examples (don’t have to be the absolute best, just helpful, creative, unique, etc.), again to encourage resistant administrators not to be afraid of these techniques and to let archivists explore them outreach purposes.

Monday, August 24, 2009

MPLP Group Discussion Notes

Here are the notes from the MPLP group discussion at the Reference, Access, and Outreach Section's annual meeting. The notes from the RAO mission discussion and metrics and user studies groups are available with more yet to come. We hope those in attendance as well as those who could not attend will share further thoughts, suggestions, and reflections on topics of interest in the comments or by contacting a member of the RAO Steering Committee directly.

Notes from MPLP Discussion, Notetaker: Gregory Kocken

During the Summer of 2008 the MPLP Task Force, created by the RAO section of SAA, queried members of the RAO section about their concerns regarding the impact on public services by MPLP processing techniques. Many of the respondents to this survey suggested they would appreciate more guidance from the RAO section concerning MPLP. Based upon the survey’s findings, the RAO empowered the MPLP task force to devise an MPLP Best Practices Guide. The proposal for such a guide was presented at this meeting, and the ensuing discussion focused on how such a guide should be prepared and what content RAO section members would appreciate finding in the guide.

  • Several group attendees suggested they would need the guide to be endorsed by SAA in order to legitimize these practices and approaches with their directors/managers.
  • Other sections and voices from within SAA need to be represented in the guide.
  • In order to make the guide available to the largest number of people, the guide should be made available in a free, online format.
  • The guide should recommend transparency in our processing techniques with the public. In other words, when MPLP techniques are used the public should be notified in the finding aid.
  • The guide should be compliant with what has already been written in DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard).
  • The guide should recommend a procedure (or procedures) for public services staff to communicate processing issues with technical services/processing staff.
  • The guide should recommend a way for technical services/processing staff to note private/sensitive materials in the creation of finding aids.
  • The guide should recommend ways in which public services staff can communicate collection information with technical services/processing staff so this can be incorporated into finding aids.
  • The guide should establish how public services staff (or another archivist) can identify what collections require further processing

Several group members also expressed concern about the theory behind MPLP. If MPLP is designed to facilitate access by making more collections available to researchers, but public services staff ultimately spends more time working with researchers, are we then depriving other researchers access to collections?

Finally, it was recommended that any guide be honest about identifying perceived problems with MPLP.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Metrics and User Studies Group Discussion Notes

The Reference, Access, and Outreach Section's annual meeting included breakout sessions for members to discuss issues of interest or concern to them. This is the second post sharing notes from those discussions. The notes from the RAO mission discussion are available with the others to follow.We hope those in attendance as well as those who could not attend will share further thoughts, suggestions, and reflections on topics of interest in the comments or by contacting a member of the RAO Steering Committee directly. This feedback will then be used by the Steering Committee in formulating the section's agenda and priorities as we move forward. If you have any thoughts on the small group discussion format or the annual meeting, feel free to share your thoughts here or with a member of RAO's Steering Committee.

Notes from Metrics and User Studies Discussion, Notetaker: Amy Schindler

The group began by introducing ourselves, sharing our interests in the area as well as what our repositories are currently doing in the area of metrics and/or user studies. Responses included:
  • collecting stats, not doing anything with them
  • collecting basic reference stats, particularly interested in web stats
  • collect lots of statistics, but really to justify their existence, haven't used to answer questions about doing better
  • do collect stats, but not happy with how and what they're collecting. Would like better metrics; have begun doing usability testing on home page directed at most likely users and hope to expand
  • just implemented a circulation system and can now assemble stats, don't have good website info; using statistics for security purposes
  • have been developing projects for researchers, consortium study report on subject-based access; wondering how to do valid statistical research as an information professional

Participants discussed how time and money often drive the process and that there is a need to justify and produce for activities.

Discussion of what kind of statistics repositories collect - has there been a recent survey?

Mention was made that Paul Conway's article included a form that has provided some guidance.

The Archival Metrics website was brought up - no one in the group is using the user survey toolkits available from AM at this time. The profession is in need of an update from the research team.

The fear by resource allocators that knowing numbers may cause allocation questions was discussed.

Question: How are we tracking email?
  • Central email account, by hand, access db tracking
  • any staff may receive & handle email inquiry, track via paper printout
  • stats based on hashmarks
  • in spreadsheets with other reference statistics

Question: What tools are there to track reference interactions and other statistics?
  • Questionpoint
  • We need to tools to track "traditional" and online, including 2.0/social media, interactions
  • Aeon from Atlas (some attendees were not familiar with this product and no one had seen it demonstrated)

Some of the needs and further questions for RAO to work on from the group:
  • Need for consistency in statistics: people day & people hours, etc.
  • Knowing what is out there as far as products, databases, tools, etc. for collecting data and
  • What numbers are we keeping?
  • What are we doing with those numbers (and other information)? Sending to boss only? Do they make it further up the chain? And then using them in more interesting ways.
  • Impacts of collection-level surveys on determining what will be processed further
  • A clearinghouse of user studies should be better shared including not just the studies, but also further follow-up
  • Training for post-grad archivists on user studies, research statistics; How to do qualitative & quantitative research? Research methodology courses available/appropriate for archivists?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

RAO Mission Discussion Group

The Reference, Access, and Outreach Section's annual meeting included breakout sessions for members to discuss issues of interest or concern to them. This is the first post sharing notes from those discussions. We hope those in attendance as well as those who could not attend will share further thoughts, suggestions, and reflections on these topics in the comments. This feedback will then be used by the Steering Committee in formulating the section's agenda and priorities as we move forward. If you have any thoughts on the small group discussion format or the annual meeting, feel free to share your thoughts here or with a member of RAO's Steering Committee.

Notes from RAO Mission Discussion, Notetaker: Jan Blodgett

Members of the discussion group made the following suggestions

General issues and concerns

RAO should broaden its focus to encompass all three aspects - Reference, Access and Outreach.- we need to find ways to support and explore both practice and philosophy for all.

Current activities around National History Day and MPLP are good but limited- don=t interest all members.

There is an interest in more focus on the theoretical underpinnings and philosophies of reference and outreach (a recognition of a dearth of new writings on archival reference)

Concern was expressed around the trend in libraries, particularly academic libraries, to eliminate reference departments . Archives were seen as still very much needing traditional reference services, user education - a need for staff presence and meditation for users.

2.0 - we need to be able to step back and look at Web 2.0 activities to evaluate - thinking in terms of research questions such as why are we doing this, what are the rationales, how do people learn best, etc.

Dealing with old perception as reference being objective - of not doing any interpretation - that anyone familiar with finding aids can do reference. There is a tendency within the archival profession to see working with materials as core and with users as ancillary - how can we change that and highlight core skills for reference? Can we find ways to help processing archivists right better finding aids/more meaningful descriptions based on reference experiences? Can we educate our colleagues on how the role of interacting with endusers is now critical?

How can we identify and define a training process for reference that shows that there is a body of knowledge that undergirds reference work?

What do we know about intergenerational learning?

One task of access work is keeping content within a context

Need more discussion and sessions on exhibits - why we do them, how to do them

There is a concern about the vagueness of RAO meetings -are we too broad - should we divide the group or retain a general public services pervue

Outreach and Advocacy are different - we need to be clearer about the distinctions (promoting institutions vs profession).

What is Access - how does it fit with descriptive practices

Is there a conflation of access and outreach with online finding aids?

Potential collaboration with other sections

Privacy and confidentiality & Security - we could be adding user needs to balance their discussions

Electronic Records - how to do reference with electronic records as those collections grow (developing skills with datasets and propriatary data formats, teaching users how to access)

Museum archivists & Congressional Papers roundtable -helping with artifacts, idea of recordness of objects, exhibits, public programming

AASLH and AAM - joint meetings or speakers from or workshop B ask Council for help on being collaborative

Membership - have RAO members willing to answer questions - not necessarily as long term mentors but open to taking questions from newbies

Ideas for Projects to consider

Would like to see more on how reference archivists are dealing with changes in different types of repositories.

Developing or encouraging a reference immersion program similar to ones done by librarians.

Pre-Conference workshop on reference/user instruction

Session or pre-conference workshop on working with diverse users - how to serve and how to attract into profession (include in diversity people with a range of research experience, age groups, etc), consider what barriers we create

Provide a place for examples of online tutorials, case studies (less formal than Interactive Archivist) - a wiki?

Developing tools for assessing new ways of reference - or continuous assessment as we encounter new technologies

Come up with a fun slogan ala Macho Archivists for RAO archivists

Develop a mission statement with goals for the next few years attached to give steering committee guidance, outline to follow.

Guidelines for reproduction & financial issues (publisher contracts)

Have a pre-conference get together for RAO members - visit repositories or have meal together

Annual Meeting Recap: Roll with the Changes

Thank you to everyone who came to the Reference, Access, and Outreach Section meeting in Austin last week. There were a number of interesting competing section meetings and we hope those of you who attended found the meeting informative. A quick recap of the meeting for those who were not able to attend or for those like me for who the annual meeting can be a bit of blur.

The call for proposals for DC2010 was shared with the RAO members in attendance fully participating in the briefing. The only piece of information the crowd did not recall was the page number for more information in the program. Due date for proposals is September 24th and the Steering Committee looks forward to reviewing many for possible endorsement!

The report from SAA Council followed with a review of the advocacy agenda, strategic planning, increased transparency of Council meetings, and other news shared.

George Bain shared a call to compile a list of friends of the archives groups in the U.S. & Canada this year. Feel free to contact George directly or watch for his appeal coming in the near future.

Todd Kosmerick shared that an ARL Spec Kit on outreach has been approved. He and his co-author hope to utilize the section for feedback and other information. Expect announcements, drafts, etc. from the authors in the coming months!

Newsletter Editor Nancy Melley shared the results of the Newsletter Task Force and justification for amending the Section's by-laws (see pages 8-10 of the most recent RAO newsletter). The by-laws revisions were approved by the membership.

Past chair Lynn Eaton shared the slate of candidates with attendees and ran the election. Congratulations and welcome to new members of the RAO Steering Committee!
Vice-chair: Jim Gerencser, Dickinson College
Steering Committee Member (2009-2011): Beth Bensman, NARA
Steering Committee Member (2009-2011): Jill Severn, University of Georgia

Danna Bell-Russel provided an update on the section's National History Day efforts. Visit the RAO website for further updates and recent information.

Shannon Bowen Maier could not attend the meeting, but an update on the MPLP Task Force's continuing work was shared and will be distributed. An MPLP Best Practices Guide has been proposed (2008 report).

The remainder of the section meeting was spent in breakout sessions. Attendees chose from several topics including National History Day, MPLP, 2.0/Social Media, User Studies/Metrics, the Section's Mission, and the SAA Advocacy Agenda to share experiences with and discuss. The notes taken in these small groups will be shared on this blog and the Steering Committee hopes that those in attendance as well as those who could not attend will share further thoughts, suggestions, and reflections on these topics in the comments. This feedback will then be used by the Steering Committee in formulating the section's agenda and priorities as we move forward. If you have any thoughts on the small group discussion format or the annual meeting, feel free to share your thoughts here or with a member of RAO's Steering Committee.

If you were not able to attend the RAO meeting in Austin, we hope to see you in Washington, D.C. in August 2010.

Update: The notes from the discussion group of RAO's mission and metrics and user studies are now available with the others to follow.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Annual Meeting Reminder: This Time We Mean It

The Reference, Access, and Outreach Section's annual business meeting is Friday, August 14th at 1pm in room 400 at the Austin Hilton. The agenda includes:

-Welcome & news from the Chair (including 2010 program committee & Council)
-Update on National History Day (NHD)
-By-laws revision
-Election of new officers
-Breakout sessions on: NHD, MPLP, 2.0/Social Media, User Studies/Metrics, RAO Mission, SAA Advocacy Agenda

Hope to see you there, but if you are not able to make the meeting we will be posting a meeting summary here on the blog after the meeting.