S12 – “Sing Out, Louise! Sing Out!”: The Archivist and Effective Communication

Panel speakers Bob Clark (Rockefeller Archive Center), Kerri Anne Burke (Citigroup), Celia Hartmann (Metropolitan Museum of Art), and Nicole Milano (Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs) discussed the importance of communicating effectively about our work as archivists. Surprisingly, the speakers stressed that successful communication has little to do with personality traits (i.e. your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator result) and more to do with thoughtful, learned, and practiced communication. Before attending the panel, I felt that a person’s disposition can positively or negatively impact advocating for themselves and their archives. However, as the panel emphasized, speaking to a large audience or having a one-on-one meeting and advocating for archives is learned and takes strategizing beyond pitching your ‘elevator speech’. Effective communication is not something we are automatically gifted with! Here are the panel’s key takeaways to become a better communicator in our profession and in turn, become better advocates for ourselves and archives.

What’s in it for them? Know your audience.
An archivist speaking with a potential donor is a different conversation from an archivist speaking to a large audience at a MARAC Session, which is different than speaking with a supervisor about securing more project funding. Understanding the audience’s knowledge of archives and archival terms (not by assuming what they know, but by asking them what they know or what they want to accomplish) will help better guide the conversation. By using less archival jargon for those less familiar with archives to speaking frankly with a full room of archivists at a conference, it shifts a conversation’s tone and context.

To ‘break the ice’ in conversation, it’s helpful to be friendly, informative, and to show your authentic self. It not only eases tensions between the audience and archivist, but it eases the speaker’s nerves. When I speak to a large group, I tend to have the physical signs of nervousness like my face turning bright red. Using relaxed breathing, coming to the presentation with confidence in my archival knowledge and ability, and connecting by using my personal communication style, should help my nerves, and allow the audience to open up and respond to the information to create more of a dialogue, and less of a lecture.

“Give the presentation you want to go to.”
Think about your most successful meetings. Why did you feel good about the outcome? Think about the presenters at conferences. What information did you take away and why was that particular presenter so informative or persuasive? Learning from your experiences and taking notes of what catches your attention is crucial and takes self-reflection and practice. By focusing on the needs of the audience and opening up to be your authentic self, any archivist can customize the conversation to be more informative and successful.


Laura Donahue
MARAC Member
University Archivist
American Public University System
twitter: ladonahue89

S8 – At Collaboration’s End, Or, What To Do When Your Risk Management Plan Is Overwhelmed

In 2015, The Mariners’ Museum Library at Christopher Newport University was awarded a three-year Hidden Collections grant from the Council for Library and Information Resources to catalog 48,000 negatives held in cold storage; a supporting project digitized the negatives. Before the start of the project, the staff at The Mariners’ Museum Library performed a risk assessment. The project’s risk assessment included normal risks, such as staff turnover and exceeding digital storage capacity, but it failed to include additional risks that seemed both remote and horrible to contemplate. But per Murphy’s law anything that can go wrong will go wrong and it did. While the risk management plan helped, but was rapidly overwhelmed. Presenters in this session will talked about how they have had to mitigate risks that came to pass without the guidance of forethought normally found in the risk management plan.

The grant required The Mariners’ Museum Library to hire cataloger who would create item-level catalog records, as well as create authorized names for vessels, persons, businesses and places. The project catalogers were also tasked with composing talks, blog posts, presentations and articles about the project along the way.

While their project’s risk assessment included staff turnover, it did not foresee the possibility that two photographers would leave back to back. This is resulted in the unexpected discovery that the digital camera was not working correctly. The camera had to be sent back not once but twice. These two things alone caused a set back the project. But when it rains, it pours. The Mariners’ Library at Christopher Newport University was asked to leave the university and had to move in, so to speak, with the museum. And even after overcoming all these hurdles, then came the issues with the negatives themselves. The negatives were donated in the 1930’s and stored in less than ideal conditions. In the 1990’s the negatives were moved to cold storage but in some cases it wasn’t cold enough. Furthermore, the original count of 48,000 was not accurate. The original inventory done many years prior, counted the number of envelopes but what was inside of the envelopes.

These challenges were seen in a positive light. The Mariners’ Museum Library viewed these as opportunities to find creative solutions to their problems. They went from zero volunteers to fifteen in one year. While there was a lot of time upfront to make this a reality the long term benefits outweigh that. None of the volunteers work directly on the grant but they have been able to take over other duties that have helped the staff focus on the grant.

Having a solid vision of success really helps when you are thrown a curve ball or two or three. That solid vision of success allows you to not get frazzled by the unexpected challenges that will come up. One of the greatest takeaways for me was, bad news only gets worse with age. Deal with it upfront and directly. Otherwise, it’s just gonna get worse.

Karolina Lewandowska, M.A., M.L.I.S.
Processing Archivist
Naval History & Heritage Command

S3 – Archives and Interns: Collaboration Between a University and a Local Historical Society

For over a decade the Kutztown Area Historical Society (KAHS) and the Department of History at Kutztown University have collaborated to help KAHS to process a wealth of documents and artifacts that would otherwise be inaccessible to members and researchers. Since 2001, 14 interns have done a variety of projects, the majority of which have been scanning and digitizing materials and posting them online so that the public has access to these materials. KAHS is completely volunteer run and thus only open to the public a limited number of hours and days. Posting content online allows KAHS’s documents and artifacts to be accessible 24/7.

The speakers for the presentation were representatives from the Kutztown Area Historical Society, and the Department of History at Kutztown University, and several of their former interns, discussed the various parts of their successful collaboration. I enjoyed hearing from the former interns and the positive impact the project had on them. Michael P. Gabriel mentioned a comment from a former intern, who is currently an archivist out of state, that the hands-on experience taught him to preserve the past in the present for the future.

Matthew Harris, Carly Plesic and Sheila Joy all explained their intern experience and the various different projects that they worked on. Harris discussed the different scanners he had to use and the trouble shooting he had to do with technology and how this experience was used on his graduate school application. Plesic discussed the tedious and very detail-oriented transcription project that she worked on but also how much she loved it. Joy, currently an archivist at United Lutheran Seminary, explained how experiencing challenges in her internship prepared her for the real world. Troubleshooting scans, editing scanning, creating naming conventions and folder structures, etc., are all skills she uses in her daily work.

This collaboration allows students get a hands-on experience in a professional setting. In most cases this is their first real life work experience, which can have a life-long impact on potential future historians and archivists. They learn how to summarize a collection, index, use naming conventions, create folder structures on a server, etc. In some cases, the development of these skills have led students to apply to graduate school and eventually become archivists.

Even if interns do not enter the profession, they find a newfound appreciation for local history and many go home and become interested in or involved with their hometown historical society.

In addition to having processed collections, this collaboration also gives KAHS fresh, new ideas from interns.

However, it seems the true success of the collaboration is the vetting process of interns before the internship can happen. The program is very selective in picking their interns and, since 2001, only 14 interns have gone through the program. So, not every year or every semester. During the question portion, an interesting idea / suggestion was mention – the local historical associations should create a state ‘group’ of some sorts so that resources, ideas, a place to share ideas, and possibly connect potential interns with local historical societies.

A thought-provoking question of whether the interns were just scanning or where they scanning for long term preservation was brought up. This lead to an interesting side discussion of history students doing archival work without any archival background. Can historians be archivists when simply upload a file to a website is no longer seen as ‘enough’? Maybe a future MARAC presentation?

Karolina Lewandowska, M.A., M.L.I.S.
Processing Archivist
Naval History & Heritage Command