Tuesday, December 30, 2014

RAO Hot Topics Blog Series: Reaching Out to Undergrads at UNCG

RAO Hot Topics Blog Series:

Reaching Out to Undergrads at UNCG

Erin Lawrimore, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, SAA RAO Steering Committee Member

Current SAA President Kathleen Roe kicked off her "Year of Living Dangerously with Archives" initiative at the 2014 annual meeting in Washington, D.C., by strongly encouraging all archivists to take bold actions in promoting the significance of archives and archivists to society. She stated that "if we are going to get beyond the point where archives and archival records are used in modest amounts, for a modest number of purposes by a modest range of users, then we also have to raise awareness of their value and importance."[1]

At the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's Special Collections and University Archives, we've taken Kathleen's challenge to heart. While we do have projects that are aimed at increasing awareness of our resources to University faculty, staff, and administrators, we're purposefully trying to increase awareness among our student body population (particularly undergraduates). While we certainly aren't the first archives to do any of these outreach activities, we are in all likelihood the first (and probably only) who will reach our student population. Some examples of our activities aimed at raising awareness among the undergraduate population include:

·         Pop Up Archives.  Like popular "pop up" restaurants, our "pop up" archives exhibits are well focused in terms of content and strategically planned in terms of location. We want to be where the foot traffic is. The university center, the student recreation center, and even the sidewalk outside of the library building are great locations for engaging students. Each exhibit is tailored for the location (history of athletics at the student recreation center), is up for only 90 minutes or so (timed to coincide with lunch or a change in classes to increase foot traffic), and is small enough to fit on a card table (making planning and transportation simpler).

·         Campus Tours for First-Year Classes. While many first-year students might not make use of the archives as a research resource, many are quite interested in learning about the history of the place that will betheir home for the next four years. To engage these students, we work with instructors teaching the University's Foundations for Learning (FFL) courses, which are required of all incoming students, to schedulea historic walking tour of campus during one of their class sessions. During the tour, we provide the standard facts about the University's history - but the piece that most students love most is that we also incorporate our three campus ghost stories into the general tour. In Fall 2014, we conducted tours for 18 FFL courses (approximately 250 students).

In addition to these types of targeted activities, we're taking an approach of "archives everywhere." We want our records and knowledge of our department's work to be spread across campus. We are using exhibit cases and bulletin boards in the library as well as in the university center to display reproductions of selections from our holdings. Our social media accounts are followed and retweeted/reblogged by the main University accounts as well as other accounts that reach large numbers of students (Admissions, Student Government Association, student newspaper, etc.). Our digital signage in the library building includes frequent references to University Archives and our current exhibits. And our promotional postcards, which include a historic photograph as well as links to our social media and digital collections, are available at all of the library's service points.

These approaches don't require a significant change to the work we've done in the past, but they do extend our reach far beyond the small percentage of students who physically come into the archives for a class. While we may have some students who graduate and remember only the "awesome ghost story the lady from the library told me," we've made an impression and, for many more, hopefully sown a seed of awareness for archives and the work of archivists.

[1] Kathleen Roe, "The Year of Living Dangerously with Archives" (speech, Washington, D.C., August 16, 2014), Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting, http://www2.archivists.org/history/leaders/kathleen-roe/incoming-presidential-remarks-the-year-of-living-dangerously-for-archives. For more information on the "Year of Living Dangerously with Archives" initiative, see http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

RAO Hot Topics Blog Series:

What's the Risk? Helping users understand real-life archives-and-copyright concerns

Matt Herbison, Drexel University College of Medicine, SAA RAO Steering Committee Member

As archivists, how can we truly help users address copyright considerations when they are using material from our collections?  Most of us have Title 17 warnings (aka, "photocopy signs") prominently displayed in reading rooms, on research/request forms, our websites, etc.  While this might be the most common mention of copyright that our users see, this is more for covering ourselves than for the benefit of users -- and its language generates more questions than answers.

The most effective moment to educate users is when they come to us with specific questions about specific items in our collections, at other repositories, found online, etc.  These are the teachable moments when copyright stops being abstract and starts being applied, with real ramifications.  Effective education for users comes from a combination of (1) helping them understand the specifics of their situation and (2) discussing tools that can help them carry out the work themselves.  Understanding the application of pertinent tools is a precept of many educational situations, certainly not just copyright issues.  There are some great tools out there that work well during conversations with users (see some below).

When it comes to real users' real copyright concerns, we can help users understand that copyright is about the law, but applying copyright is about gauging risk and deciding what a particular user might want to do based on that risk.  For items that are obviously still in copyright, unauthorized use of such items without permission is clearly illegal, so most -- but not all -- people perceive this as "high risk" and don't do it.  For items in the public domain, copyright is (by definition) "no risk" -- yet it's strangely common for publishers who should know better to ask unnecessary permission for public domain items.  In these two "easy" cases, the focus on risk is usually comprehensible even for users who haven't had to worry about copyright before.  But what about those messy orphan works that make up such a large part of so many archival collections?  Now for the gray-area discussion...
Orphan Works: For archives and users, this is a huge area of hard-to-determine risk -- items of uncertain copyright status or where rights owners are unknown or hard to locate.  If it takes you more than three minutes to figure out which Hirtle/Cornell Copyright Table category something falls into, there's a decent chance that it's an orphan work and will require further research simply to try to identify the copyright status or holder.  What can a user do to minimize the risk for use of orphan works?  I recommend the SAA: Orphan Works, Statement of Best Practices -- check it out.  One recommendation is to document one's diligent searches in order to show a good-faith effort that a copyright holder was identified (or not) and contacted (or the hunt failed).

As archivists, two big motivations we try to balance are (1) advocating for easy and wide use and (2) respecting the rights of copyright owners.  For orphan works, this balance is indeterminate and shifts shakily depending on the user and their level of risk-aversion.  How worthwhile is it for a user to spend unsuccessful hours trying to find a copyright holder who wouldn't give a rat-rump that they're using something?  I feel completely morally bankrupt saying this -- damn you Catholic upbringing -- but with copyright, I don't think it's worth "doing the right thing by someone" when that someone in all likelihood couldn't care less.  Is it defensible that I feel I'm trying to do right by the user rather than by an unknown, non-existent, or disinterested copyright holder?

So while working with users, I recommend best practices for orphan works.  But I don't presume that more than a handful of users will follow these guidelines even to the "minimum search" level.  With this in mind, I do my best to try to advise users, case by case, based on my professional experience and opinion.

What is our responsibility as archivists in these situations?  I often find myself talking with users, saying something like, "Understand that the burden is on you as the end-user to either verify the image's public domain status or take on the risk in using the image -- the risk that it is still under copyright and the owner will come after you for using it without permission.  I can recommend these tools to help you identify and gauge the risk.  My own gut feeling is that the risk of using the image is [low,high,etc]."  Am I opening myself up to liability just by sharing my gut feeling?  I am to some degree, so in a sense I'm also implicitly staking my job on my professional opinion.  I haven't always done this, but after too many cases where I felt like I was not truly helping a user, I started doing it a couple years ago.  Since then, I've received a number of comments thanking me, for example, for "making my work that much easier."  I could be pessimistic and say that this user was thanking me for giving her license to infringe, but I don't think that's what she meant.
Note: This discussion ignores big issues like fair use, copyfraud, contractual agreements with users, unenforceable click-through licenses, best orphan works practices for repositories (not users), and several others.


Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States
Peter Hirtle, Cornell University Library
{100% indispensable in my day-to-day work}

Copyright and Fair Use Tools
Stanford University Libraries

SAA Orphan Works: Statement of Best Practices

Book: Complete copyright : an everyday guide for librarians, Carrie Russell, 2005

{As copyright guru Peter Hirtle says, "the single best overview of the copyright policy issues facing libraries and archives today."  Granted, "today" was 2005, but I've continually found it to be the comprehensive resource with the most clarity.}

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

RAO Hot Topics Blog Series: Effective Press Releases and Media Relations

RAO Hot Topics Blog Series:

Effective Press Releases and Media Relations

Erin Lawrimore, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, SAA RAO Steering Committee Member

A key to gaining media attention for your archival work is effective media relations. Inviting local reporters who cover education, cultural heritage, or history-related topics for a meet-up or tour of the archives is a great way to establish a relationship. With a relationship in place, press releases will carry a bit more clout.

Even with an established relationship, however, you need to make sure that your press release is a good one. Here are a few tips for ensuring your press release will catch the attention of a busy journalist:

·         Be sure that what you have to say is really newsworthy and impactful. Don’t flood reporters’ inboxes with notes about every event, activity, or acquisition.
·         Keep your release short and factual. Aim for 500 words or less (definitely keep it to one page!), and include links to your website for additional information.
·         Focus on your opening sentence - your sales pitch. It needs to contain all of your critical information (who, what, when, where), and it needs to convince the busy reporter to read on.
·         Don’t forget to include contact information (name, email, and telephone number)!

 Think about reporters’ deadlines and schedules before emailing a press release. For instance, many print and television reporters will appreciate releases early in the morning as opposed to the afternoon. Print magazine journalists typically plan out feature stories months in advance of publication. Be sure to send your press release at the optimal time for the particular media and event.

Finally, if a reporter does report on your event or activity, follow up with a “thank you.” Let him know how the event went or what the lasting impact of the activity has been. This will give the reporter a sense of how you fit in to the greater community – your impact and influence. Also, this can be an incentive to report again when the next big story pops up!

Friday, October 10, 2014

RAO Hot Topics Blog Series Special:

Happy Electronic Records Day!

Rachael Dreyer, SAA RAO Vice-Chair
RAO wishes you a very happy Electronic Records Day!  This year, October 10th marks the third year that this “holiday” has been observed; it emerged as a way to raise awareness of the critical role that electronic records occupy in daily life, as well as for archival professionals. 
As RAO archivists, you’re well aware of electronic records’ importance, we know.  In addition to pondering how you’ll provide access to the digital media among your collection—something that contributes to many sleepless nights!—your mind instantly tunes into those stories in the news about electronic records’ failings or successes; your brain lights up with pleasure when your doctor or dentist pulls up your electronic health record; and you’re happiest when discussing the finer (stickier?) points of born-digital preservation with your colleagues.  Congratulations, you’re already celebrating electronic records on a daily basis!
What are some other ways to further embrace the digital revolution in the archives profession?  Please share your strategies, methods, techniques, and even questions you are exploring in the comments section—we’d love to hear how and what you are doing to promote and preserve electronic records as archival materials at your institutions!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

RAO Hot Topics Blog Series:

The Value of Teaching with Primary Sources

Lisa Sjoberg, SAA RAO Chair

In their 2008 book titled iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, authors Small and Vorgan discuss how technology alters brain synapses because of the multitasking the electronic age demands.[1] These authors and countless others suggest that while people are connecting through numerous tools, they are losing the ability to engage deeply with information, ideas, and, most importantly, people. Small and Vorgan for example state, “Our laptops, fax machines, and instant messages pressure us into quick responses that force us to sacrifice detail and accuracy. Many people are replacing depth and subtlety…with quick mental facts that may only skim the surface.”[2] Kathleen Parker discusses this idea in a July 2012 opinions piece she wrote for The Washington Post where she questions: “What about rising generations who have spent a frightening percentage of their lives consuming data in a random world of tweets, blogs and food-fight commentators, for whom fame is a goal and reality a show? Once accustomed to such high-velocity infotainment, how does one develop tolerance for the harder reads and the deeper conversations?”[3]

The nature of archival collections are the antithesis to the speedy answers, quick mental facts, and surface skimming that Small and Vorgan suggest the electronic age endorses. Our users cannot simply Google an abridged version of the Franklin D. Roosevelt papers.  Our collections require reading, examination, and thought. I liken these differences in information seeking to the slow food movement. Rather than stopping by McGoogle to consume over processed, microwaved information, archival research (with both physical and digital primary sources) promotes starting with the raw ingredients, sautéing them, and letting them simmer. Rather than slow food, however, it is slow research. Parker states, “Learning to read critically is no less important than reading itself.”[4] What an amazing way to defy a frenzied lifestyle.

Teaching with primary sources is one way I find myself living dangerously for archives as SAA President Kathleen Roe has recently called our profession to do. With so many competing demands on students’ time, it is challenging to teach students the value of reading carefully and critically. Julia Hendry offers a quotation in her 2007 American Archivist article that I come back to on a regular basis in my daily work of teaching with primary sources: “What better way to ensure that the policy makers and voters of tomorrow are both critical thinkers and sensitive to archival concerns than to introduce them at an early age to the usefulness of archives?”[5] I couldn’t agree more. What are you doing to live dangerously for archives?

[1] Gary Small & Gigi Vorgan, IBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. (NewYork: Collins Living, 2008).
[2] Small & Vorgan, IBrain, 67.
[3] Kathleen Parker, “How to Get Smart: News Literacy Programs Train Readers to Look Beyond Infotainment,” Washington Post, July 17, 2012. http://www.washingtongpost.com.
[4] Parker, “How to Get Smart,” http://www.washingtonpost.com.
[5] Julia Hendry, “Primary Sources in K-12 Education: Opportunities for Archives,” The American Archivist 70, no. 1 (2007): 129.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reference, Access, and Outreach Section Announces Internships

The Reference, Access, and Outreach Section of the Society of American Archivists invites applications for two unpaid internship positions for 2014-2015 (October - August).  The intent of the internship program is to provide new members of RAO, or those interested in becoming more active with the Section, an opportunity to participate in the organization’s ongoing and special initiatives.  

Description of RAO Internships

RAO Communications Intern
  • Will work with RAO Communications Liaison to create, edit and disseminate information about RAO and/or to solicit information from RAO members.
  • Intern for the position will:
    • Work with the Communications Liaison to solicit content for the summer and winter issues of the RAO Newsletter and edit the content received.
    • Work with both the Communications Liaison to disseminate information via the RAO website, Facebook page, listserv, etc.
  • Intern for this position may:
    • Take a leadership role in managing the RAO Facebook page and Twitter account.
  • Requirements:
    • Willingness to learn new software
    • Motivation and initiative to complete work independently

RAO “23 Things”  Intern
  • Will work with the 23 Things for Archivists Committee on the management of its Web 2.0 learning resource and outreach efforts for it to RAO members and the archival community.
  • Intern for the position will:  
    • Assist in the management of the 23 Things for Archivists wiki site, with the primary responsibility of reviewing the existing entries on Web 2.0 tools and performing any necessary cleanup and updates on them.
    • Work along with 23 Things Committee members to write RAO Facebook and blog posts publicizing existing "Things" and promoting the use of the 23 Things site as a learning resource.
    • Develop and share new “Thing” content via the 23 Things wiki. The intern will propose new Web 2.0 tools to add to the project and will write clear explanatory descriptions for these tools.
    • Participate in email discussion and other meetings of the 23 Things for Archivists Committee.
  • Intern for the position may: 
    • Contribute ideas for the successful implementation of the committee's 2014-2015 goals, particularly its outreach goals. 
  • Requirements: 
    • Fluency with social media
    • Interest in technology
    • Good written communication skills 
    •  Attention to detail
To apply for these RAO internship opportunities, submit via email a brief resume and cover letter to the RAO Chair Lisa Sjoberg (sjoberg@cord.edu). 

Applications are due October 1, 2014.  Candidates will be notified by October 15, 2014. Thank you in advance for your applications and your involvement with RAO!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Don't forget, voting for next year's RAO leadership team will close in one week. Election information was distributed to members earlier this month via e-mail. To learn more about the candidates, and discover what's new with RAO, check out our Summer 2014 Newsletter (available online from our webpage):


Included in this issue is information about the wonderful program in store for you at the Marketplace of Ideas III during our annual business meeting at SAA.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Wanted:Hot Topics and Cool Demos

The 2014 RAO Program Committee seeks Hot Topics and Cool Demonstrations for provocative conversation and deep thinking at the SAA Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.   On Thursday, August 14, 2014 from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm, RAO will host its third annual Marketplace of Ideas and seeks purveyors of hot topics and cool demonstrations to sell their wares to a savvy audience of RAO archivists.

What is an RAO Hot Topic?
An RAO hot topic is an issue, a concern, an idea that has sparked recent attention in RAO circles.  It can be something that seems novel or cutting-edge; it can be an enduring issue that is garnering new attention or approaches. 

What Makes an RAO Hot Topic HOT?
An RAO hot topic can be provocative and even fractious; it can also be surprising and funny. Above all else, a hot topic should engender passion, engagement and excitement.   

What is an RAO Cool Demo?
An RAO Cool Demonstration is a presentation of an approach or technique that has enhanced services, simplified processes, or transformed workflows and approaches. It could be a simple fix or adaptation, or a reinvention of the wheel.

What Makes an RAO Cool Demo COOL?
An RAO Cool Demo should be widely applicable to RAO archivists and simple enough to explain in a low-tech manner in a short period of time.  Think of it as an app that works without a mobile device.

Make a Proposal…
Applying to purvey hotness and coolness is simple and easy:

1.       Draft a brief description of the demonstration or hot topic and explain how and/or why it relates to reference, access, or outreach archivists and their work. 
2.       Come up with a working title.
3.       Determine who will lead the demo or moderate the discussion (this may be you, so talk to yourself).
4.       Please go to this Google form [link] to complete the online proposal application.
5.    Deadline to apply is May 15, 2014.