Thursday Is #AskAnArchivist Day!

Posted by Sami Norling, Archivist, Indianapolis Museum of Art and SAA Committee on Public Awareness


It’s the final week of American Archives Month and archivists and archival repositories around the country are getting ready to take part in SAA’s newest initiative, #AskAnArchivist Day. For 24 hours this Thursday, October 30, archivists representing every type of archives imaginable are encouraged to head to Twitter to answer questions sent with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist. Questions of all kinds are bound to be asked, ranging from the practical—What can I do to be sure that my electronic documents and images will be accessible in the future?—to the fun—How many archivists does it take to screw in a light bulb? But regardless of where on this spectrum a question may fall, each will give us a valuable opportunity to connect directly with the public. Not only will this give archivists another venue in which to promote our collections, but it will also give us a chance to pull back the curtain and talk more about who we are, what being an archivist entails, and the why and how of what we do on a daily basis.

The idea for #AskAnArchivist Day comes directly from the highly successful #AskACurator Day held on September 17 and now in its fifth year. This year’s event was the largest yet and the stats are nothing short of amazing: 721 galleries/libraries/archives/museums (members of the GLAM community) representing 43 countries took part and 47,546 Tweets were contributed with the hashtag by more than 13,000 unique Twitterers!

As the archivist at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, I had the opportunity to take part in this year’s #AskACurator Day, joining multiple curators at my institution in providing answers to dozens of questions sent to and from our institutional Twitter account. My participation as an archivist was in no way unique—dozens (if not hundreds) of archivists took part in Ask a Curator Day as integral members of the curatorial staff in their institutions.

But this Thursday, October 30, is our day—Ask An Archivist Day. And while this first SAA-initiated #AskAnArchivist Day is not likely to match the impressive figures mentioned above, it is already shaping up to be an exciting day of archival outreach. As a member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness, I can tell you that the initial response of the archival community to Ask an Archivist Day has been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. More than twenty repositories already have signed up as participants and are listed on the main #AskAnArchivist Day page, while twenty-seven individual archivists and institutional Twitter participants have been identified on the AskAnArchivist Twitter list.

These lists will continue to grow as we approach October 30. To make sure that you and your repository are accounted for, simply e-mail SAA to let them know that you plan to take part. For archivists who haven’t had the chance to participate in American Archives Month yet, #AskAnArchivist Day is an easy way to get your repository and/or yourself involved! For those who have observed American Archives Month over the past 27 days by hosting events and workshops, writing blog posts about your work, sharing collection items via social media, and a variety of other outreach activities, what better way to end the month-long celebration of archives and archivists than with #AskAnArchivist Day?

For more information about Ask an Archivist Day, detailed instructions on how to participate, and ideas for promoting the event, check out the main #AskAnArchivist Day page on SAA’s website. Still have questions or need more information? Contact SAA HQ or share in the comments below.

Looking Forward to the Archival Fundamentals Series III

Posted by Christopher J. Prom, SAA Publications Editor  Chris Prom

During the fifteen years in which I’ve been a member of the Society of American Archivists, I’ve come to believe that the most important thing SAA does is to connect people and ideas to each other. We may not often think about where those connections lead us, but one of their most tangible fruits is the literature we publish. Many of us have used that literature to lay the foundations of our professional understanding, growth, and development.

For this reason, it gives me great pleasure to announce that SAA will be producing the Archival Fundamental Series III, which will provide the core knowledge needed by archivists to work effectively with records/archives and papers/manuscripts—both analog and digital—in the twenty-first century.

Continue reading

The Year of Living Dangerously for Archives Challenge #2: Archives and the Human Face of War

We’re in the midst of American Archives Month, and I hope many of you are involved in activities that you’ll share with us so we can keep track of your efforts to raise awareness of the importance of archival records. (check out Challenge #1 and the submission forms at While that’s underway, it’s time to plan for Challenge #2, focusing on ways to connect to the commemorations of Veterans Day on November 11th and Pearl Harbor Day on December 7th.

The experience of war has a compelling interest for many people in the United States.  In fact, the Library of Congress Subject Headings categorize American history largely based on war (as opposed to the British, who use the reigns of monarchs!).  Our elected officials often draw attention to their war service, and their detractors point to those who did not serve.   Film, television, videogames, literature and history are only a few ways our society follows the many perspectives on war.  From the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, two World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of us have collections that reflect the stories and experiences of soldiers, nurses, and those “at home.”  These letters, diaries, photographs, songs, and oral histories provide very real connections and insights for many people.

These events provide us with another opportunity to raise awareness of our holdings and the value of archives.  So check out our next challenge: Please be sure to let us know what steps you have taken and what went well or what challenges were involved. We look forward to hearing from you!

Bits, Bytes, and Buzz: Electronic Records Day, 10-10-14

Let the cheering begin for the Council of State Archivists and its Electronic Records Day campaign on October 10, 2014 (10-10-14), and congratulations to all those who did their part in supporting this wonderful event. CoSA initiated this effort as part of American Archives Month four years ago, on the appropriately dated 10-10-10.  SAA and other professional organizations have joined CoSA in the effort, and this year Electronic Records Day has really shown what archivists can do to raise awareness.

Electronic records are challenging in so many ways—they don’t have the warmth of a document or photograph and they involve many technical complexities, so making an awareness campaign “user friendly” is a real challenge.  Still, virtually every state and territorial archives did something, as did many university archives, library special collections, and many other organizations. Check out a few of the “not archives” groups who got involved in promoting Electronic Records Day: the National Association of Secretaries of State; the National Association of State Chief Information Officers; the UN Archives and Records Management Section, the National Genealogical Society, the Marshall County Public Library, the Princeton Seminary Library, Iron Mountain and Laser Fiche.

That’s an impressive range demonstrating the energy that can be created around archives and archival issues. Huge applause to everyone who was involved—The wonderful distribution of information and the number and ways people and organizations got involved is clear evidence that “Yes we can” generate interest and energy around archival records.  It takes time, it takes tenacity, it takes creativity, but it can be done!

There’s plenty of time left in American Archives Month to join in and raise awareness of the importance and value of archives. Visit the SAA website for ideas, and let us know what you’ve done: We look forward to hearing from you!

Interested in more about what went on?  On twitter, do a search on #ERecsDay and you’ll see quite a range of links to blogs, Instagram, websites and more. Here are some links to a very random sample of the range of information and activities that took place 10-10-14:
For the core information on eRecords Day check out the CoSA website:

For a sample of blogposts (including some video and humor along the way):

An archivist’s neighborhood….

It’s the first day of American Archives Month, and a time to celebrate both archivists and the archival record that exists in so many archives, libraries, museums, corporations, historical societies and organizations around the country. There are many things I value about being an archivist—yes, I chose this profession intentionally, yes it has both challenges and amazing moments, and yes, after 30+ years, I still find things to astound, inspire, perplex and energize me.

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed over the years is “getting to know” people whom I will never encounter in real life—not because they are on the Internet, a blog, or twitter, but because, well, they are no longer alive. They are the voices that come from the records with which I’ve worked. Those letters, census pages, photographs, wills, and even maps provide the glimpses of a life lived in my “neighborhood” (in this case the state of New York), and sometimes tell compelling stories that intrigue and engage me.

One of my archival neighbors of whom I think periodically is Genevieve Hankins-Hawke. I got to know Genevieve through the records of New York State’s World War II War Council. Genevieve was a 30-something African-American nurse, widow and mother during the war. She saw a job posting for a nursing position at a hospital in Salamanca (that’s in western NY). Continue reading

Archives, Archivists and Data gathering

Dennis MeissnerIn a recent OTR post Kathleen Roe emphasized the need to start gathering baseline data about ourselves, our repositories, and our collections.  Not for their own sake, but to buttress our advocacy arguments. I am especially interested in collecting such information, and I would like to devote some serious energy towards compiling and evaluating the data we need to define, value, and promote our work.

It’s been over more than ten years since the A*CENSUS snapshot and we are in serious need of a refresh of those data.  But at the same time I’m starting to wonder whether a repeat of that effort is the right way to proceed.  If we simply gather a compendium of data about ourselves, who’s going to care?  I’m concerned that a data set like that simply extends a self-referential conversation that has always gone on among ourselves and our closest allies.

But what if we were to turn the lens in another direction?  What if, instead, we were to start asking questions about our users and their needs; how they use archives and for what purposes; and what changes in our public service model would help them achieve success?  If we could make a data-informed case for public investment in archives based on expanding user success, then perhaps we will see people – funders, legislators, researchers, and employers — start to care.  Funders, legislators, researchers, and employers.

I’m thinking we need to marry the the information that’s purely about us, with a very large helping of information that which is about use and users. It is those data that will ultimately define our public value and, therefore, substantiate our advocacy arguments.

So how do we start to gather this other data set?  Who do we ask?  What do we ask? How do we ask it?  What existing data can we chew on?   I believe we need to head in this direction, but I’m unsure how we turn the ship.  I would greatly appreciate hearing your ideas.

Dennis Meissner, Vice-President/President Elect

Archives: the gift that keeps on giving

Sometimes it takes a long time for information in archives to become accessible for a range of reasons. It may simply not have been examined, in other cases, age and condition have prevented our ability to literally see or hear the information. A sparkling New York colleague, Jean Green from Binghamton University, recently posted a link on her Facebook page to the following article about work at Yale University to reveal text on a map that is believed to have been used by Columbus in exploration leading to what are now called the Americas:

And that reminded me of another set of revelations thanks to technology lending insight on a question that those of you in my generation struggled with, what triggered the Ohio National Guard to shoot at Kent State students (a subject still raw for many of us). In 2010 technology brought forward more information:

More information on both of these stories, and countless others, will emerge as technology and work by archivists and researchers continues. If you know of examples of information finally emerging as archival records are treated or used, feel free to share it here. A good reminder after a long week (for me at least) of why we do what we do!