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.