Saturday, August 28, 2010

Annual Meeting - DC2010

Wow, where does the time go? It’s been two weeks since we wrapped things up at the DC2010 meeting, so it’s about time to share with everyone what happened at the annual section meeting.
First, a big thank you to all the members who attended the section meeting on Friday afternoon. The true value of the section comes from everyone adding their voice and participating. Because of that spirit of involvement, we had some great discussions, and we look forward to a productive year.

Following a warm welcome from our outgoing chair Amy Schindler, we were visited by Christie Peterson, a member of the program committee for the 2011 annual meeting in Chicago. Christie shared with the group the plans for the coming year and how to craft and submit your proposals for sessions. Please see the SAA website for the most up-to-date details. The deadline for submissions to the 2011 program committee is October 1; all those interested in submitting proposals to the RAO Steering Committee for possible endorsement should forward a copy of their proposals along to RAO chair Jim Gerencser by October 1 as well.

Next, Doris Malkmus shared information about the ongoing efforts of the National History Day Committee. This topic generated a healthy discussion about valuable resources, possible collaborators and other stakeholders, and personal experiences. The report of the committee is available at the SAA RAO website, and those interested in sharing their knowledge and ideas with the group are encouraged to contact Doris or co-chair Shawn Hayes.

Shannon Bowen-Maier then took the stage to update everyone on the work of the Reference and Processing Collaboration working group, which was created in response to the results of work done by the 2007 MPLP Task Force. The report of the working group is available at the SAA RAO website, and again, all those interested in sharing their ideas with the group are encouraged to contact Shannon or co-chair Dan Santamaria.

Information about the RAO Internship Program was next conveyed by Amy Schindler. Two RAO interns - Benjamin Bromley and Jessica Miller - were selected among the pool of candidates who applied last year. Receiving positive feedback from both Ben and Jessica on their experiences, as well as from the RAO Steering Committee about the value of the interns’ contributions, RAO will again be advertising for interns to participate in activities of the section this year. Expect an announcement on September 1.

Kate Theimer offered a report about the pilot 23 Things for Archivists project, which took place during the winter and early spring. A copy of the report can be found at the SAA RAO website. Comments from participants in the project were generally quite positive, and plans are underway for how best to offer this or a similar program in the future.

Jill Severn provided a quick update on the Skills Survey and encouraged everyone to take the time to fill out this survey in the coming weeks. She and Jessica Miller will be assessing the information they’ve gathered through the survey beginning in the fall.

Following brief remarks by Jim Gerencser, the section then split up into five discussion groups on the following topics: a) How do the R, the A, and the O relate to one another, as well as to other functions like description and acquisition?; b) What should the RAO Section be doing in the short and long term?; c) RAO: Headed for divorce, or stronger than ever?; d) How do we define “citizen archivist,” what is the role of the “citizen archivist,” and how do we work with them?; and, e) How can we develop skills for teaching undergraduates and other audiences about primary sources? After about 30 minutes of lively discussion, brief reports were shared regarding each group’s ideas. These reports will be shared on the RAO Blog in the coming days and weeks.

SAA Council Liaison Brenda Lawson shared information about the current activities of Council, particularly with regard to the proposed dues increase and other items that are up for vote at the annual business meeting.

Todd Kosmerick made an announcement about the availability of ARL SPEC Kit 317 on Special Collections Engagement.

Jennifer Schaffner shared some interesting initial findings from a survey conducted by RLG/OCLC Research. More detailed information about this survey will be forthcoming.

Nancy Melley made a pitch for everyone to have a look at the grants being offered by NHPRC and encouraged anyone interested to contact her or her NHPRC colleagues with questions about these programs.

The meeting ended with Amy Schindler passing the mantle of leadership – in this case, an 8-track tape of REO Speedwagon – to incoming chair Jim Gerencser, and Jim thanked Amy for her very active and successful year as chair of RAO.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Agenda for 2010 RAO Meeting

The almost surely final agenda for the Reference, Access, and Outreach Section's (RAO) annual meeting on Friday, August 13th at 1pm is available on the section's SAA page. The major change is the addition of the small-group discussion topics and a call for suggestions either in advance in the comments section or at the meeting.

Discussion topics will include:

1. How do reference, access, and outreach relate? Further, how do they relate to their archival neighbors such as description and collection development?

2. What would you like to see the section doing in the short and long-term? Are there new initiatives, projects, or deliverables you believe the section should undertake?

3. RAO: Headed for divorce or stronger than ever? They've been together over 30 years! The Gore's have ended their relationship, should R, A, and O move on as well "following a process of long and careful consideration"?

4-5. Attendee choice(s). Taking inspiration from the THATCamp movement, and since we won't have another THATCamp Austin 2009 organized to coincide with this year's meeting, we're taking suggestions for small-group discussion topics. How this will work: To propose a topic in advance, suggest a discussion topic in the comments here by 11pm on Thursday, August 12th. Discussion topic suggestions will also be accepted at the meeting when anyone who has an area or topic of interest will have 1 minute to suggest a topic for discussion. After all suggestions are shared, the room will vote and the 1-2 discussion topics with the most support will break out for discussion groups of their own (along with #1-3 above). The only topical requirement is that your suggestion should relate to reference, access, and/or outreach in some way. Want to talk further about an interesting session from earlier in the meeting or begin brainstorming for a future session proposal? This is another place to have those conversations. We're looking forward to your suggestions!

Visit the RAO News blog for background on the 2010 discussion groups or to get a sense of the discussions at RAO's 2009 meeting when the topics were mission, MPLP, NHD, metrics/user studies, Web 2.0, and advocacy. Each discussion group will briefly report to the larger group and fuller notes will be shared after the meeting.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Reference/Processing Collaboration Group Reports

You may have read about the work of the Reference/Processing Collaboration Group in recent section newsletters and discussion list posts. As co-chair of the group, I thought I would provide some context for why we exist and what we want to accomplish. The group was formed in 2007 as the MPLP Task Force and charged itself with exploring the impacts of basic/lite/customized/minimal processing, or MPLP, on public services in archives and special collections. We wanted to know if archivists whose repositories who were engaged in these practices had seen their reference traffic change in volume or character. We began by searching for online resources and by conducting a small survey of RAO members in 2008. The results were quite enlightening and encouraged us to continue to explore the topic. One of the main action items that emerged from the survey was the creation of a best practices guide for MPLP.

After much administrative wrangling and the exploration of a variety of publication options, the group emerged last winter in the form in which it currently exists. Our final goal is to produce an interactive, web-based resource that will help archivists understand not just the "nuts and bolts" of how to apply MPLP, but its theoretical principles and implications as well. We want to provide a forum for discussion as well as a source for a range of ideas about the application of MPLP to a variety of archival functions, its utility in various repository types, and the contributions that MPLP has made to archivists and archivy.

To hear more detailed reports about what we've been up to, attend the section meetings for Manuscript Repositories, College and University Archives, Description, or RAO at SAA's annual meeting in Washington, DC. A representative from our group, Jill Severn, will also be presenting a report during the Congressional Papers Roundtable meeting. If you aren't able to make it to Washington, check the RAO web site here for online version of the report. We look forward to hearing your perspectives and feedback about the direction of the project.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Do-It-Yourself Book Scanning

One of the biggest expenses that archival repositories and libraries have to deal with is the expense of digitization. Options include renting a Scribe from the Internet Archive or partnering with Google to digitize books in your library. For archival repositories, high-quality planetary scanners cost just as much. All of these options have their problems and so a community has arisen to try and develop do-it-yourself replacements for these scanners.

The primary community for this is the aptly named DIY Book Scanner community. Their goal is to create book scanners out of parts that can either be scavenged or easily purchased. The County of Brant Public Library in Ontario, Canada, has created a book scanner out of a dSLR camera and three-panel presentation boards (like the ones used by science fair projects). They are currently using the scanner to digitize, among other things, large ledgers. The quality that they get out of their scans, which you can see through the previous link, is impressive. On the DIY Book Scanner site, there are a plethora of designs, ranging from the cheap and easy to build all the way up to impressive and professional looking scanners.

Other members of the community are trying to build portable scanners to take into archival repositories and use them to quickly take pictures of materials that they need for their research. This is more problematic, for a variety of preservation and copyright reasons. But what do you think of users trying to democraticize the digitization process? Are there any circumstances under which you would allow visitors to set up a portable digitization stand at your repository? And would you consider building your own DIY Book Scanner for use at your own repository?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Election Results

Hello all. The RAO election votes (106) have been tallied and the results are:

Bylaw amendments passed (86 yes, 3 no, 18 abstentions)


Kathryn Otto, University of Wisconsin-River Falls

The two new steering committee members are:

Terry Baxter, Multnomah County

Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Iowa State University

We had a really terrific slate this year and I’d like to add my personal thanks to all those of you who agreed to run. Please consider doing so again next year. Amy Schindler, whose term as chair ends this year, will be chair of the nominating committee next year and so she’s the one to contact. In the meantime, if anybody would like to get more involved in RAO, please do let someone on the Steering Committee know. Lots going on, so lots of volunteer opportunities.

The link to the current steering committee member names is on the RAO site and if you log in, you’ll see their email addresses to contact them.

Thanks to all of you who participated in the election by running for office and/or voting!


Arlene Schmuland, MA, CA

RAO 2010 Nominating Committee chair

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guest Blogger: Questions Not Answers

Guest blogger Susan McElrath answered the call (well, an email message) and agreed to share her thoughts on the discussion of RAO's mission in advance of the section's annual meeting. Susan is the Team Leader, Special Collections and University Archivist at American University and a past-chair of RAO.

The Reference, Access, and Outreach Section encourages you to attend the upcoming section meeting at the 2010 annual meeting. We will be breaking into discussion groups to discuss our mission. How do we define reference, access, and outreach? How do they interconnect? What do we want to do?

I have been asked to share some initial thoughts to get the dialog started. As I am not a member of RAO’s Steering Committee, my comments and questions should not be taken as the “official” opinion of our leadership. In thinking through what to write, I realized that questions not answers would be most beneficial. Some of these questions might be worth discussing during the section meeting.

Of the three, reference seems the most straight forward. But is the concept of reference changing? What is the role of the reading room and archivist? Is it possible for Archives to do reference via chat? Is there a role for text messaging? What web 2.0 tools should we be adopting? How many of you are already blogging, tweeting, and creating wikis? There have been numerous sessions at SAA on this topic. Are there recommendations/standards that RAO can share with its members? Should we be evaluating these tools – are they worth the time spent?

In Jan Blodgett’s February 19 posting to the RAO blog, she asked the question “A is for???” Are we talking about physical and/or intellectual access? Is our emphasis on addressing barriers to access (legal, ethical, descriptive)? Are we more interested in access policies – how we make collections available? How does this overlap with the work of the Description section? What about digitization? Are we more interested in the search interface, the selection criteria, the determination of what metadata to share, or all of the above?

Outreach potentially covers a broad territory including exhibits, education, and public relations. SAA is now an active partner on this front with the Archives Week PR kit, its elevator speech contest, and its support of NHD. Should we be doing more? Do we need to redefine RAO’s role in light of this positive change? SAA’s focus is on external audiences but what about internal audiences? Does this form of outreach require a different approach? Is this something we want to explore? Do we consider advocacy a part of outreach? Would we want to work with the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable?

In recent memory, RAO has emphasized outreach with projects relating to Archives Week and National History Day. Do we want to continue this trend? Are there new issues that we should address?

Would it be worthwhile to look at SAA’s publications and workshops to see what additional topics might be of interest? Several years ago RAO proposed a workshop on exhibits which was accepted and continues to be extremely popular.

My apologies for the somewhat disjointed posting. I hope that this provides some food for thought. I look forward to talking through these issues with many of you in DC in August.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Latest RAO Newsletter Now Available

The latest issue of SAA's Reference, Access, and Outreach Section's newsletter is now available.

Issue highlights include:

* an update from the Reference and Processing Collaboration Group

* the University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections' new exhibit "For All Workers: The Legacy of the Texas Labor Movement, 1838-2010"

* slate for the 2010 section elections

* a preview of the annual meeting at DC2010.

And remember that you can send submissions – announcements, press releases, articles - for the blog and the newsletter to the Communications Liaison at

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Archives as Crossroads: Establishing Deliberative Dialogue with the Past, Present, and the Future

As an outreach archivist, I spend a great deal of time working to encourage the communities my archives serves to keep their past and the pasts of others on their present day radar. Sometimes archives get a bad rap as places with lots of old dusty obscure materials and lots of rules and regulations about getting access to these materials. Digitization and the Web in general have helped archivists tremendously in changing this perception of forbidding irrelevance, but don’t expand the general notion of what archives are among most people. Civic engagement and specifically, National Issues Forums Institute's deliberative forums provide an avenue for strengthening connections between archives and those they serve/could serve by expanding the notion of what archives do.

At the Russell Library where I lead access and outreach work, we see archives as a crossroads where the widest range of people can connect with each other and the past, for present purposes and future possibilities. To support this vision, the Russell collaborates with community representatives to offer deliberative dialogues on a range of tough public issues on a regular basis. These forums offer Russell staff a chance to bring together donors, students, faculty, staff, community leaders, and the general public to thresh tough matters of policy that matter to them in a civil environment. For the Russell, an archives of modern Georgia politics and public policy, these forums yield grassroots perspectives on the issues and policy that the Library collects or will collect. The forums also give Russell staff a chance to highlight the connections between past policy and politics in its holdings with the issues that matter to forum participants today.

Recently, the Russell Library has begun to explore using the deliberative dialogue approach employed to great effect with the National Issues Forums to reconsider and re-explore historical issues represented in its collections. The New England Center for Civic Life based at Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire has pioneered historical framing with its issue guide, “Slavery or Freedom Forever.” The guide takes up the challenging historical problem of American slavery. Looking specifically at the Kansas-Nebraska proposal that repealed the Missouri Compromise and gave local settlers the right to determine whether or not slavery would be permitted, this issue guide raises three approaches considered by people in 1854 for contending with the problem of slavery and its future in the United States. At the same time, the values underlying these historical approaches--morality, individualism, economic prosperity-- continue to frame discussions, debates, and deliberations on tough public issues that Americans face today. This historical forum then is both an opportunity to travel back in time to troubled times before the Civil War when people were grappling with slavery and a chance to consider how the values that animated 19th century Americans continue to do so today. The Russell Library plans to develop similar forums around critical historical moments represented in its collections such as Prohibition, the Great Depression, and the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education Decision, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and the Equal Rights Amendment, among others. The Library has also begun incorporating deliberative dialogues into exhibits to engage visitors and this fall outreach staff collaborate with University teaching faculty to explore possibilities for introducing deliberative dialogue approaches to students in the classroom.

Ultimately, bringing deliberation and dialogue into the archives fits into a larger trend among cultural resource managers to forge new connections with the communities they serve. Museums have long pursued innovative strategies for connecting with visitors. The Japanese American National Museum’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy is a great space where the museum helps kids to create video projects to talk about what democracy & citizenship mean to them. You can watch clips on their Web site. The civic engagement impulse is also strong among librarians. Recently, the American Library Association established the Center for Public Life to train librarians from different types of libraries to convene and moderate deliberative forums and frame issues of local and national concern, using National Issues Forum materials and processes. This year librarians will convene forums on privacy issues with communities around the country. Finally, the Russell Library is not the only archives bringing civic engagement tools into their outreach and collection development work. All of the Presidential Libraries have participated at one time or another in a joint initiative with the National Issues Forums Institute to host community forums on tough public issues such as energy resources, health care, and most recently, America’s role in the world. Similarly, several congressional archival centers are joining in the fun and may begin hosting forums in the near future. And of course, there are likely many projects out there I haven’t discovered yet.

If you are using deliberative dialogue in some aspect(s) of your archival work, please share your work here so we can begin to connect with one another.

If your curiosity is piqued and you are interested in learning more about deliberative dialogue and its potential in archives, check out these links for more information:

National Issues Forums

Center for Public Life, American Library Association

National Association for Dialogue and Deliberation

Texas Forums, an initiative of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library & Museum

Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia, a civic engagement program at the Russell Library for Political Research and Studies at the University of Georgia

Key Contacts:

Jill Severn and Jan Levinson (manage and coordinate the work of the Russell Forum) and

Taylor Willingham (works with the Texas Forums associated with the LBJ Library and also works closely on the ALA initiative)

Nancy Kranich (leading the work on the ALA initiative on deliberative dialogue)

Patty Dineen (manages the National Issues Forums Institute Web site)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

RAO's Involvement in SAA's Annual Meeting

I have been asked a few times about the section's role in the Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists, so I thought it might be helpful to share this for anyone else out there who is wondering just how much (or little, as the case may be) the RAO Section as an entity has to do with SAA's Annual Meeting.

I'll begin the year at the end of SAA's annual meeting. The deadline for session and workshop proposals for the following year's annual meeting is usually several weeks to a couple months after the end of the annual meeting and one component of the session and workshop consideration by that year's program committee is endorsements by sections and roundtables.
All sections and roundtables are given the opportunity to endorse a couple session and workshop proposals by the program committee. The endorsement does not guarantee that the proposal will be accepted and appear in the program you should have received from SAA by now, but it generally means that the proposal will receive consideration by the program committee (i.e. it won't be rejected in the first round). So while RAO may think a session proposal should be in the program, ultimately that decision is up to the program committee. Proposals are forwarded to sections and roundtables for endorsement not by the program committee, but by the individuals organizing the sessions. The Steering Committee rates and votes on their favorite proposals. RAO sends in their endorsed sessions to the program committee (usually in October) and that's the last we hear of sessions until the preliminary program comes out to members in the spring.

Some section and roundtable steering committees will propose and endorse their own proposal(s) "from the section/roundtable" in addition to endorsing sessions from other members of SAA. This has not been the recent tradition for RAO. In recent years, RAO has left a bit of time for members to discussion possible session topics and specific proposals during the section meeting and/or encouraged such discussion on the section's listserv.

RAO's next direct contact with the annual meeting comes in February/March when SAA sets a deadline for the description of the section meeting that appears in the program. We're putting those 50 (or fewer) words together about 6 months before the annual meeting, so we don't have a great deal of space to tell you about what will be happening at the meeting. It is also at this time that the section steering committee learns when our meeting will be and has a chance to try to switch with another section for an alternate time slot if desired.

The RAO Steering Committee sets the agenda for our annual meeting during the larger SAA annual meeting, the business portion of which does not vary a great deal year to year. The program portion of the annual meeting is where the section does have a good bit of freedom. We decide if there will be a panel, paper presentations, small group discussions, or another format on topics of interest to the section's membership.

The section's annual meeting is generally finalized in the summer, so while there is a draft agenda for the section meeting available now, keep in mind that final changes will come in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Friends of Archives Groups: A Preliminary Report

RAO is happy to share here "Friends of Archives Groups: A Preliminary Report" prepared by RAO member George Bain at his request.

The research was conducted during Winter and early Spring 2010. The data were gathered mostly through a Google search using the term “friends of the archives” but a few of the entries in the list below were passed along by colleagues who responded to a posting on the SAA Reference, Access & Outreach section’s discussion group that requested assistance. Although there are friends groups in other countries, the scope of the survey was limited to groups within the boundaries of the USA.

The attempt of the study has been to find and feature groups organized for the purpose of supporting archival repositories. There are, as may be expected, many repositories that may be a beneficiary of “friends of the library” groups, but these were generally excluded because the focus is on the larger entity. As will be seen, however, in instances where a group combines “library” and “archives” in its respective title, the list includes such entries. But the larger number of groups listed have been established to be “friends of the archives”. And in all instances but one, the URL link for the groups listed is included.

As the data being gathered was largely from the Internet, there were two other eliminations as well. First, it was necessary to separate out entries related to the religious group the Society of Friends. Secondly, it was necessary to filter out archival holdings for other “friends” groups, e.g., the holdings of Friends of Georgia Midwives.

In this preliminary report, there are a total of 35 groups on the list. The groups included are separated into three general categories: (1) state archives/historical records agencies groups, (2) college and university groups, and (3) other groups.

There are 13 groups in the first category. These are groups which provide support for the state archives itself or provide assistance for the larger role of the State Historical Records Advisory Boards (SHRABs). The groups stretch from Delaware through Missouri into California but are very much a phenomenon of the states in the southeastern region of the country.

The second category includes groups established to provide support for focused academic centers at both the college and the university level. The category includes the Friends of the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan and the Friends of the University Archives at the University of South Alabama along with the Friends of the United Methodist Archives of the Detroit Conference centered at Adrian College in Michigan, the Friends of the Vietnam Center and Archives at Texas Tech University and two interesting groups at the University of California, Berkley, the Friends of the Environmental Design Archives and the Friends of the Water Resources Center Archives.

The third category is for other groups. It is possible some of these could be placed elsewhere, such as the first category (e.g., friends groups for NARA regional centers) and someday, if the numbers of “friends of the archives” groups grow, entries in this category may separate into more categories. Of particular note here, however, are the groups, especially in southeastern states, organized to provide support for city and county-level archival operations. It will be interesting to see if this type of friends organization grows over time.

This preliminary report is very limited in scope. There is no analysis, for example, of the structure of the organizations, mission statements, or a table created for the years they were established. Suffice it to say that, though small in number, friends of the archives groups have a place in the archival realm. It is to be hoped this cursory exploration will serve as a starting point for archivists, especially those in the organizations, who may be interested in sharing information and perspectives on their respective groups. Perhaps this exploration can also lead to sessions at regional meetings. If this proves at all to be helpful, it will have accomplished its objective.

List of Friends of the Archives Groups:

State Archives/Historical Records Agencies groups:
Friends of the Alabama Archives -
Friends of Arizona Archives -
Friends of California Archives – [no web site]
Friends of the Delaware Public Archives -
Friends of the State Library and Archives of Florida -
Friends of Georgia Archives and History -
Friends of the Indiana State Archives, Inc. – also
Friends of Kentucky Public Archives, Inc. -
Friends of the Maryland State Archives -
Friends of the Missouri State Archives -
Friends of the Archives, Inc., North Carolina State Archives -
South Carolina Archives & History Foundation -
Friends of the Libraries & Archives of Texas -

College and University groups:
Adrian College, MI – Friends of the United Methodist Archives of the Detroit Conference -
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI – The Friends of the Bentley Historical Library /
Bethel University, MN – Friends (of the Archives) of the Baptist General Conference History Center -
University of Akron, OH – Friends of the Archives of the History of American Psychology -
University of California, Berkeley, CA – Friends of the Environmental Design Archives –
University of California, Berkeley, CA – Friends of the Water Resources Center Archives -
University of South Alabama – Friends of the University Archives -
Texas Tech University – Friends of the Vietnam Center and Archive -

Other groups:
Limestone County, Athens, AL -
Morrow, GA – Friends of the National Archives-Southeast Region -
Pittsfield, MA – Friends of the National Archives-Pittsfield, Silvio O. Conte National Records Center -
Detroit, MI – Friends of the Library & Archives, Henry Ford Hospital -
Butte, MT – Friends of the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives -
New York, NY – Friends of the Harlem Cultural Archives -
Bethlehem, PA – Friends of the Moravian Church Archives -
Philadelphia, PA – Friends of the Archives, Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center -
City Archives of Kingsport, TN – Friends of the Archives -
Madisonville, TN – Friends of the Archives Historical & Preservation Society -
Nashville, TN - Friends of Metropolitan Archives of Nashville and Davidson County -
Oklahoma City, OK - Friends of the Oklahoma Historical Society Archives -
Winston-Salem, NC – Friends of the Moravian Archives -
Camden, SC – Friends of the Camden Archives & Museum –

George Bain may be contacted at

A Draft Agenda for RAO's 2010 Annual Meeting

This is a draft agenda for the Reference, Access, and Outreach Section's Annual Meeting to be held on Friday, August 13, 2010 from 1-3pm.

I. Welcome and News from the Chair

II. Updates from Council Liaison Brenda Lawson and 2011 Program Committee

III. Reports & Ongoing Projects
C. RAO Internship Pilot Project
D. 23 Things for Archivists Pilot Project
E. Skills Survey
F. Communications Liaison
G. Election Results

IV. Jessica Lacher-Feldman, Keynote

V. Break-out Discussions

VI. Other Business

Be there or...I'll beat you up? (I'm thinking we're archivists, so there's no need to encourage some of us to be more square than we already are.)

This post will be updated in the weeks leading up to DC2010.

Update 7/8/10: Unfortunately, this first update is not better news. Jessica Lacher-Feldman will not be able to give a keynote talk at the RAO annual meeting.

Update 8/5/10: The almost-final agenda, including discussion topics and a call for attendee-generated topics, is now available.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Life As We Know It

Last winter the RAO Steering Committee discussed goals and planning for the section beginning at a draft document. While the conversation included goals that seem to show up in the planning documents for so many organizations - improving and varying communication, increasing member involvement, etc. - one issue that was a sticking point for many of us was the question of the section's mission. We came to a consensus that there is a need to define and relate RAO's three component interests to each other as well as other sections.

At the same time, Steering Committee members had received positive responses from members that the break-out small group discussions during the 2009 annual meeting were worthwhile and an attractive alternative to the usual conference session of presenters talking at the audience and planned a similar opportunity for the 2010 annual meeting. The Steering Committee agreed that at this year's annual meeting a part of the afternoon's agenda will be small group discussions about the R, A, and O. Keynote remarks from Jessica Lacher-Feldman from the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library at The University of Alabama will precede the discussion and we look forward to what she has to say about what reference, access, and outreach mean to archives today to begin our in-person conversation. Update 7/8/10: Unfortunately, Jessica Lacher-Feldman will not be able to give a keynote talk at the RAO annual meeting.

We hope these discussions will give members the opportunity to interact with folks they wouldn't otherwise as well as get us thinking and talking about how the R, A, and O do or should function together within the section's mission and priorities. Frankly, I think a case could be made that the RAO Section might be better as - or simply acknowledge the fact that it has become - the OR Section.

Does an RAO still make sense? Did the archivists who organized the Reference, Access and Photo-Duplication Policies Committee (which makes me think RAO members with a sense of the section's roots may be passionate about RLG's "Capture & Release": Digital Cameras in the Reading Room report) have it right? Can a single section really lay claim to these distinct, yet related functions? Why is it that SAA has an RAO? Is it time to consider the OR (Outreach & Reference) Section? (If a DA (Description & Access) Section came to SAA, would another group step up and form a MA section or roundtable?)

Leading up to the annual meeting on Friday, August 13th at 1pm we hope to share a few posts with thoughts from other archivists on the R, A, and O. These may take the form of what reference, access, and outreach mean to archivists today, the relationships and intersections of the three, the section's mission, and probably more. RAO's webmaster Jan Blodgett shared some of her thoughts back in February and whether you will be in DC in August or not, I encourage you to share your thoughts there or elsewhere on this blog in the weeks ahead.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Call for Content

Hey everybody!

I'm looking for announcements, articles, commentary, comicstrips, or whatever else you might have that would be suitable for the next RAO Newsletter and posting here too.

Send your submissions to by June 11, 2010.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Another introduction and National History Day mentoring

Since this is my first post, I'll start with a quick introduction. My name is Jessica Miller and, along with Ben, I am one of this year's RAO section interns. I graduated from Wayne State University's School of Library and Information Science in December and am currently working in my first professional position as a project archivist in Chicago.

I recently had the opportunity to volunteer as a student mentor for the Chicago Metro History Fair. The program allows Chicago area 6th through 12th grade students to conduct original historical research and enter their final products into a local competition. Students are not required to adhere to the National History Day theme, but winners whose projects do so advance to the state and possibly national levels.

Because I volunteered for the fair as a whole and was not affiliated with a particular repository, my experience was probably a bit different than what many of you may be seeing at your institutions. I was a bit nervous at first since I have no teaching experience and haven’t spent much time with students of that age. I hope my experience can help to alleviate fears anyone may have about working with younger students.

I was assigned to assist students with their research at the Chicago Public Library’s main branch on Sunday afternoons. Over the course of three weekends I worked with about ten students, most of whom were in grades 6 through 10. They were in varying stages of the research process—some needed help formulating their theses, some needed help locating secondary source background material, and others were ready to begin visiting special collections and archives and needed information on how to go about doing so. Unfortunately, CPL’s special collections reading room is closed on Sundays, so I didn’t get to work with any students in that setting. I was able to refer a few students to local repositories and explain a bit about the archival research process, though.

I found that I was amazed at the caliber of work students in this age group were doing, especially since my most vivid memories of 8th grade history are fill-in-the-blank dittos and U.S. map quizzes. History Fair students’ topics included a Civil War prisoner camp near Chicago, the Special Olympics (which originated in Chicago!), feminism in the 1960s, and how the 1893 World’s Fair impacted and included women. The research technique I showed students the most was how to check footnotes, photo captions, and endnotes to find additional sources. A few students found CPL’s newspaper databases to be helpful, especially if PDF images of articles were available.

Although my experience was more library based than archives based, I hope it might help convince folks who are nervous or on the fence about NHD to take the plunge. I think it is also worth noting that few of the students I met were aware of the wealth of archival resources available available in the area, and I wonder whether it is feasible or desirable to reach out to them a bit more.

I’m glad to have had the chance to dip my toes into NHD/History Fair activities and I can say with confidence that I’ll be back next year.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A is for ????

How do you define Access (as in Reference, Access and Outreach)?

During the breakout discussions at SAA, this question came up for the RAO mission discussion and it's come up in several email conversations. Do we have a clear enough definition of access to keep the word in our title?

While I'm writing this in part because all the RAO board members have committed to writing blog entries, I really interested in the question and generating some comments.

A recent opportunity on my campus to be part of a multi-disciplinary panel series around the concept of memory (how different disciplines define and work with it), I was reflecting on the inherent politics of archives - who gets to control information --what is gathered and who has access? Those questions generated a fair amount of interest from historians and psychologists.

But are they of interest to the members of our Section? What is your definition of access? If you were to design a workshop around access, what would the content be?
Is it about who gets to use materials? and what barriers still exist or or being created with digital access?
or addressing physical barriers (ADA compliance issues)?
Is it about description - generating more access points, more subject headings?

How does it relate to or differ from Reference and Outreach - is it already implicit in those activities?

I'll add my reflections in a later post, but I want to start with questions and the conviction that RAO members will want to chime in on these questions - so hit that comment button and share your thoughts and definitions and experiences!

Jan Blodgett

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

National History Day Committee Volunteers: Back on the Road Again

The Reference, Access, and Outreach (RAO) Section of the Society of American Archivists is seeking enthusiastic volunteers to join the section's National History Day Committee. Volunteers are not required to be members of the section and archivists with varying levels of experience with National History Day including as archivists, judges, or participants are encouraged to participate.

Members of RAO have been engaged in National History Day (NHD) for some time (see the RAO website and the most recent issue of the RAO newsletter for more information). The NHD Committee is charged with sharing information about and advocating for NHD amongst archivists and archival repositories, the NHD organization, and NHD participants. Potential activities of the NHD Committee include: disseminating information to the archival community; reviewing resources of potential use to archivists; compiling bibiliography for and from archivists participating in NHD; exploring and fostering collaborations with other groups; and others.

Expressions of interest should be sent to NHD Comittee co-chair Doris Malkmus ( In particular, anyone interested in developing its online presence for archivists and educators is encouraged to join.

Monday, January 25, 2010

An introduction and podcasts

Hi everybody! My name is Ben Bromley and I am one of the RAO interns for this year. I'm a graduate student at the School of Information and Library Science at UNC, and I'll be graduating in May. My goal for writing on this blog is to try and find some of the cool things that archives are doing to promote and provide access to their materials.

Podcasts are audio broadcasts delivered via an RSS feed or through a website. You can listen to them on your computer, or you can listen to them on a digital audio player, such as an iPod or a Zune. There are usually presented in episode format and are published on a regular basis.

There are two primary types of archival podcasts: podcasts that contain digitized audio material from their collections and podcasts of new material that are created by archives in order to promote materials, talk about events, and other similar things. Often, both of these types of podcasts are combined. Here is a short list of archival podcasts that are available online.

  • Presidential Libaries Uncovered: A podcast from the National Archives and Records Administration which takes recorded audio of presidents from Hoover through Clinton talking about major policy initiatives, giving major speeches, or talking informally with friends and advisors. Recent episodes include Nixon talking about his 1972 trip to China, John F. Kennedy creating the Peace Corps, and Lyndon B. Johnson talking about his Great Society.

  • The Virtual Gramophone: A podcast from the Library and Archives of Canada which features digitized recordings of 78-rpm records and wax cylinders from their collections.

  • Podcasts from the Los Alamos Historical Society: A podcast from the Los Alamos Historical Society which primarily focuses on the Manhattan Project, nuclear technology, the Cold War, and (surprisingly enough) ranching.

  • Collections Up Close: A podcast from the Minnesota Historical Society which “tells the stories behind selected items in the Minnesota Historical Society's collections.”

  • Podcasts from the National Archives of the United Kingdom: This podcast “features a mix of lectures from top academics specifically aimed at pupils alongside radio-style investigations of historical topics using primary documents from the National Archives read by actors.”

  • Kansas Memory Podcast: This podcast features the stories of people from Kansas, both famous and not, as told through their letters, diaries, and other documents.

  • What Endures...: This podcast from the LSU Libraries Special Collections T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History features updates on Center projects and activities as well as featuring audio excerpts from their collections.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

RLG draft report on digital cameras in the reading room

Thanks to Kate Theimer and ArchivesNext for this information:

"Capture and Release": Digital Cameras in the Reading Room
Lisa Miller, Steven Galbraith, and members of the RLG Working Group on Streamlining Photography and Scanning [forthcoming in February 2010]

As Kate notes, this report contains an overview of current practice, guidelines concerning use of digital cameras in your reading room, copyright law, and adaptable forms.

It’s a good bet that the working group would be interested in comments on the draft from RAO members. Send ‘em in! (

-- Kathy Marquis

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Top Ten Tips for getting involved in NHD Activities

National History Day may be not be until June but many students are already beginning work on projects. Students and teachers are preparing for the state and local History Day competitions that will start soon. How can you support these students? Here are ten suggestions for you…..

1. Visit the National History Day website <> to learn this year’s theme (Innovation in History), learn more about the contest, see sample topics, see the kinds of projects students and do and the criteria used for judging these projects.

2. Talk to other archivists in your community about their involvement in History Day activities. Consider working together to develop a program to support students and teachers participating in History Day activities.

3. Serve as a mentor. Students may need help locating beneficial resources and may nervous about using archives or other information resources. Help them find the resources they need and be available to review their project and help them prepare for the competition.

4. Add information about History Day to your repository website. Include a list of archival terms and their definitions, provide information on the rules and regulations for your repository and give information on collections or other resources that might support student’s topics.

5. Write an article for your community newspaper or for your school district’s teacher newsletter letting readers know about your repository, your hours and how you can support students and teachers participating in History Day.

6. Provide additional support to History Day students. Offer to wave fees to those students participating in History Day programs. Open on a few Saturdays or evenings to provide students who may not be able to come in during regular business hours an opportunity to use your resources.

7. Offer to speak either at a faculty meeting or a Parent-Teacher Association meeting about your repository and how you can support National History Day or other kinds of educational programming.

8. Serve as an advocate for History Day activities. Encourage community leaders and government representatives on the local, state and national level to support History Day activities and the archival repositories that support these activities.

9. Offer a workshop at your repository for students and teachers working on History Day projects. Provide an opportunity for participants to learn about your repository, how to do research in archives, how to use historical documents and provide time for them do their own research at the end of the repository.

10. Volunteer to be a judge. Even if you can’t get to the national competition in College Park, Maryland, the state and local competitions need judges. Contact your state coordinator to learn more. You can find the list of state coordinators at

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