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.

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