Peter Gottlieb, Chair, SAA Committee on Public Awareness
This year, SAA President Kathleen Roe dared SAA members to take on a “Year of Living Dangerously for Archives”—to do something to take action to raise awareness of archives. On October 30, at the tail end of American Archives Month, the Committee on Public Awareness challenged members to do just that: We asked archivists to take to Twitter to respond to questions from the public that included the hashtag #AskAnArchivist.
As SAA spread the word about the event, the ever-growing number and variety of participants far surpassed our expectations. Archivists at universities, like the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the Harvard University Archives, and the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Libraries, joined the event. So did corporations, like Herman Miller and McDonalds. Archivists at presidential libraries across the country and at the National Archives helped with the effort, as did SAA component groups, like the Business Archives Section; the Reference, Access, and Outreach Section; and the Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable. Many archivists tweeted from their individual accounts. For a full list of the participants, visit http://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/askanarchivist-day-october-30.
Even in the early hours of October 30, questions came trickling in: “What is the most interesting item that you have seen or worked with?” one participant asked. “My son is in grad school [and] working toward becoming an archivist . . . advice for him?” another Tweeted. The question “How can I get students more interested in using archives for projects?” was a popular one, as was “What are the misconceptions about archivists?”
With each question, archivists stepped in to give their take. Participant Tim Hensley (@geistweg) noted that the biggest misconception about archivists is “that we deal with the past—technically speaking, we’re dealing with the future.”
“It was an incredible event to watch unfold on Twitter—from some early tentative questions and answers to a full-blown, pulsating flow of information and excitement by mid-morning and carrying on through the afternoon,” said Roe.
When the day came to an end, more than 2,000 participants had contributed 6,000-plus tweets. Members of the public signed off Twitter knowing a little more about our profession and about archives and their contents. For more information, SAA has compiled highlights on Storify, available at https://storify.com/archivists_org/askanarchivist-day or you could search Twitter for #AskAnArchivist.
The Committee on Public Awareness congratulates and sincerely thanks all who were involved in this year’s #AskAnArchivist Day. We’re looking forward to making new connections and spreading more awareness on #AskAnArchivist Day next year.