For nearly a year I’ve been blogging almost exclusively as a “mom blogger” and during this time I’ve learned a lot about social media, branding and networking that can benefit archives and libraries.  Archives and libraries, like many mom bloggers, tend to view themselves as “just moms” who blog for free products, a few links and the promise of traffic.  However, more and more mom bloggers are beginning to see the value in what they do and how their words can either help or hurt a company.  If you pay attention to social media, you’ll see how many companies are starting to court mom bloggers and hire them as brand ambassadors, consultants and social media professionals. Anyway, back to the topic at hand ~ did you notice the keywords here?  They are:  value, hurt and help.

Archives and libraries need to take cues from mom bloggers and put themselves “out there.”  So how do mom bloggers do it?  They:

1.  Know their worth – Some mom bloggers have started to profit from their services.  They know that their voices carry weight and companies are starting to recognize their power.  And like mom bloggers, archives and libraries need to recognize the power of their voice.  We offer free services and in this economy, people love free.

2.  Market their services – use Twitter and Facebook, create a blog, etc and keep it current.  Mom bloggers post on average three times a week (some post once a day, some several times a day)  Too many times I see blogs, Twitter accounts, etc started by libraries and archives but not maintained.  Use these FREE services to promote your services.

3.  Engage the community – If you look at some of the mom blogs, they actively engage their readers.  They ask them questions and they respond in the comments (often times following up with email).  Some moms have even created communities around their blogs so they can get to know their readers.  Similarly archives and libraries need to talk to the people in their communities and find out what they want from the library and then supply it.

4.  Brand themselves – I recently had a travel mug made with my image and the name of my blog on it and I use it everywhere (I’m a BIG coffee drinker).  People are always asking me about my mug and my blog.  If you promote your services and engage your community, people will come.  Every library and archives has a mission statement, use that mission statement to create a tagline and then promote, promote, promote.  Put your tagline on t~shirts and offer them as prizes for kids in summer reading programs.  Or sell travel mugs or flash drives with your logo on them.  People will be proud to carry your products if you are serving them well.

5.  Have fun – One thing mom bloggers seem to do a lot of is laugh.  Even when their kids are ripping off dirty diapers or eating dog food, they’re laughing about it.  When patrons walk into your library or archives make sure your staff looks friendly, there’s nothing more intimidating than having to ask for help from someone with a frown on their face.

Archives OfficeFor academics, summer is the time to clean their offices and send the stuff they’ve collected throughout the year over to the archives.  How do I know this?  Because for the last few weeks I’ve had to stumble over people’s “stuff” to get into my office.  As in I keep finding random boxes of material without any sort of identification sitting in front of my door when I arrive in the morning.  I don’t know who the little fairies are that keep leaving this “stuff” for me but I have a couple of things to say to them:  1.  I sincerely appreciate your efforts to contribute to the history of the University but (and this is big) 2. if you don’t ID the material I can’t give you proper credit (and if you’re embarrassed to admit the material is yours then, um, you probably shouldn’t send it to the archives  :-)).

Oddly enough, I had read this post a while back and thought, oh you poor thing, I am so glad I don’t have to deal with that.  *sigh*  I spoke too soon.  Anyway, this random dumping of material caused me to throw out a question to my friends in the Twitterverse about how they deal with unidentified material being left at their office and there seemed to be a lot of differing opinions.  First of all, let me clarify that I am talking about records transfers from an office on campus to the archives, not donations from community members or alumni. 

The prevailing answer seemed to be that I should do nothing and allow people to continue sending material to the archives because to do otherwise might discourage them from sending anything at all.  While I do understand this argument (and, believe it or not, I do consider it to be a legitimate argument as I have been accused of living by the “all or nothing code” on way too many occasions), I don’t think it’s acceptable to just leave stuff at the door of the archives either. 

I think it’s perfectly acceptable to lay down some ground rules for a variety of reasons, here are a few:

  1. I am dealing with limited space so storing material until I can get around to processing it is really not an option
  2. If the person leaving the material cannot answer the 4 Ws and the H, how can I?
  3. Leaving material without at least letting me know where it came from destroys provenance

Therefore I’ve proposed that at our next manager’s meeting we discuss instituting a records transfer policy that would include a little bit of paperwork (nothing too time consuming but something that will help me to answer the 4 Ws and the H).  I’ve looked at the records transfer policies for Drexel University and the University of Texas at San Antonio and I think these would be terrific jumping off points.

I also like what Linda Benedict said:

  • If it’s in a picture frame, remove it from the frame before sending it.  I really don’t have a lot of space for frames and things like that
  • Include as much information about who is in the picture, what the event was and the date.  While I realize that sometimes not all of this is known, it would really help if there is a tiny bit of identifying information even if it’s just the office where the material originated from, sometimes that can spark a memory for others.
  • If you have absolutely no information, you can keep it.  I won’t go that far but I would say think like a researcher before you send unidentified material to the archives, is it really relevant?  Does that random picture tell a story?  Is there a connection to the University?  If not, then don’t send it.  If there is, send it and let us determine whether it’s a keeper or not.

*Just a note, italicized words are my own random musings.

Black Power PinThose who know me would be surprised to find out that back in the day I used to be somewhat militant.  I held my fist up high and demanded an end to Nelson Mandela’s incarceration as well as an immediate end to apartheid.  

In fact, I stunned and embarrassed my family by taking a silver magic marker and writing all sorts of anti-apartheid, free Nelson Mandela and anti-racist slogans on my black suitcase when we moved from Italy to Mississippi.  

Skip ahead many years and I have softened my stance somewhat but my blood still boils when I see the injustices in Darfur or the inadequate coverage that missing women and children of color receive as opposed to the media coverage received by missing white women and children.  I have heard the argument that it’s about ratings and sympathy.  Whatever.  Everyone is someone’s loved one and regardless of race, color, creed or sexual orientation they deserve to be acknowledged and found if they are lost.  And they deserve justice if they are injured or, worse, murdered.  But I digress…. 

Recently, I stumbled across the African Activist Archive and was totally thrilled.  The purpose of the archive is to preserve the records and memories of African  activists in the United States from the 1950s through the 1990s.

The project is assembling a wide variety of historical material including pamphlets, newsletters, buttons, t-shirts as well as audio and video recordings.  

They are currently soliciting material from those who were actively involved in the cause of liberation for African people.  As a historian, a librarian, an archivist and a woman of color who was down for the cause I hope that people will contribute to this worthwhile effort.

Move over, Oscar!  Save the drama, Grammys! 

It’s time to submit nominations for the Best Archives on the Web Awards

The categories for this year are: 

  • Best Archives Website
  • Best Institutional Blog
  • Most Whimsical Archives-Related Website

For a full list of rules, please check here.   

The deadline is midnight Sunday, 15 March.

Best of luck to all nominees…..

A while back I mentioned that I was about to embark on a new project for the archives, now that it’s official I can talk about it.  In 2005, Donna Snelson and a group of nurses interested in preserving the history of nursing in Northeastern Pennsylvania founded The Center for Nursing History at Misericordia University.  The collection itself was housed and maintained in the Sister Mary Carmel McGarigle Archives but did not technically belong to the Archives or to the Mary Kintz Bevevino Library, instead it fell under the Nursing Department.  Recently, ownership of the collection was transferred to the Archives.  Transferring ownership of the collection to the Archives allows for greater flexibility and accessibility for the collection.  One of the major projects I will begin working on with Donna Snelson and other members of the nursing department is putting the pictures on flickr

My first “outing” as the archivist for Misericordia University was a reunion for the Wilkes-Barre General Alumni Association’s Class of 1958.  I met many wonderful people at this reunion who had some incredible stories to tell about what nursing was like “back in the day.”  At the reunion, they asked me about putting the pictures on flickr and allowing them the opportunity to see them and share their memories with each other.  I promised them that as soon as I received the go ahead, I would do so. 

I now have a volunteer who will work strictly with The Center for Nursing History collection and will begin scanning photographs for me next week.  She will begin with the earliest (but least fragile) photographs and move forward.  Some of the photographs that we have date from the mid to late 1800s.  We tried doing a test scan of those today and they simply did not come out very well; the nurses were in all white, so there were contrast issues.  If you have suggestions on how to make adjustments, I would appreciate the tips.

To say I’m excited about the opportunities for the Archives and for the development of our special collections, would be putting it mildly.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy the pictures.

When I was young, I used to write everything down.  I used to write long love letters to the first boy who stole my heart, promising that one day I’d return to him and we would be together forever.  I kept diaries full of anger, love, hate, lust, all the emotions that fill a teenaged girl’s heart.  I don’t know where those things are now and I’m not sure I really want to know.  The one thing I do know is that I don’t want them to enter into public domain.  They were private thoughts and feelings that should remain secreted in the hearts of two young people who will never be able to recapture the innocence or the intensity of their first love.

Why am I bringing this up here?  Because I read this post at the Beaver Archivist and I totally understand what Terry’s grandmother is saying.  The love letters between her husband and herself were for their eyes only, no matter what insight family members may have gleaned from reading them. 

As archivists, we are often charged with going through the personal photographs and papers of people who may or may not be long gone.  So where do we draw the line between what is historically necessary and what is intrusionary?  Often times we cannot work under the assumption that family members have already gone through documents and other memorabilia to remove any potentially embarrassing, harmful or deeply personal belongings.  Sometimes, as was the case when I worked on former Congressman Joseph McDade’s papers, there are just boxes and boxes of documents and photographs.  In those boxes were letters from mothers who lost their sons in Vietnam and fathers who just wanted to congratulate the congressman for being a “good Irish boy.”  However, there were also papers pertaining to divorces and other legal matters and it was up to me to determine whether this material should be kept and whether or not it had any historical value.

As an archivist and a historian, I could see the value in maintaining these documents because they showed the diversity of the congressman’s constituency.  It showed the breadth of issues that the congressman had to wrestle with on a regular basis.  However, the librarian in me who advocates for patron privacy wanted to take the documents and burn them much like Terry’s grandparents did with their love letters.  I’m sure when those people wrote letters to Congressman McDade, they had no idea that their problems would someday become part of the public domain.  Yes, there are privacy constraints on when those documents can be released but still they exist and they are a part of legislative/congressional history.

I say this as I am now in the process of putting pictures from our archives onto flickr.  I’m being careful not to put pictures up that have no historical or cultural relevance to the University.  However, I am trying to include pictures that are representative of the history of our University first as a women’s college and now as a co-ed institution.  And as I go through the letters that sometimes accompany the pictures and I smile at the side notes and the insights into the personalities of the individuals pictured, I wonder if someday, someone will find my letters, smile, gently fold them back up and think those were between us….

A couple of weeks ago, I asked our new library director about putting some of the pictures from the Sister Mary Carmel McGarigle Archives on flickr and she told me to present the idea at the next managers’ meeting.  I put together a little slide presentation to show to the managers and gave a brief speech showing how other institutions (both public and private) are using flickr to promote their libraries and archival collections.  Without much debate, I was given the go ahead pending clearance from the marketing department.

I’m happy to report that the Siser Mary Carmel McGarigle Archives at Misericordia University is now on flickr.  I used  the Library of Congress as the model for setting up our flickr account and setting up the format for the pictures.  Currently, there are only 3 photographs but I plan to start adding more next week.   We’re using free access, with the option of upgrading to pro should we find it necessary.   

My hope is that people will look at the pictures and be able to fill in some of the missing details such as the stories of the people behind the photographs.  Right now, my plan is to use group shots from the mid-1920s when the college was founded to the early 1970s when the college was used as an evacuation point during Agnes Flood.

I’m incredibly happy to have this opportunity to share pictures from the archives with the public.  If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me at archives@misericordia.edu.