Lauren Kata and Rachel Telford 2014-02-11 10:59:11
For SAA component groups, it can be challenging to create meaningful connections and conversations outside the Annual Meeting. Many members are unable to travel to the conference every year, and relevant, time-sensitive topics may arise that aren’t appropriate to the necessarily long timeframe required to propose and plan a conference session. Discussing the Belfast Case The Oral History Section recently faced this issue. Litigation surrounding a restricted collection of oral history interviews held at Boston College—known as the Belfast Case—has presented a number of legal and ethical issues of interest to our members.However, due to the complex, ongoing nature of the case—and the absence of sufficient legal expertise to advise us—section leadership agreed it wasn’t appropriate to make an official statement on the case itself or promote a call to action. We focused instead on providing members with selected information about the case and issues, and sought out a forum for dialogue about the implications of legal problems in archives (not just at Boston College), as well as best practices. We decided to host a live web chat, “Lessons Learned from Boston College and the Belfast Case.” A web chat achieved multiple goals at once: it engaged the whole section in between and away from the Annual Meeting; productively addressed issues surrounding the Belfast Case; and fostered dialogue about issues relevant to archivists who work with oral history projects and collections. The Chat The premise of a moderated chat is simple and straightforward. It is the virtual equivalent of opening the floor for (moderated) questions and comments around a topic.It follows a basic outline and question-andanswer format. The steering committee invited two leaders in the oral history and archival communities to serve as panelists, and after researching several options, selected a chat platform called Blyve, which allows for up to five hundred participants at no cost. In an attempt to ensure that our first web chat ran smoothly, we conducted several tests, first among the steering committee and then with our panelists. Multiple tests ensured that we were all comfortable in our roles, familiar with the technology, and able to focus on the content of the chat. For sixty minutes, our panelists answered questions posed by chat participants, as well as several questions that had been prepared in advance by the moderators. Participantsubmitted questions were moderated by steering committee leaders to ensure a steady pace and to prevent duplication and off-topic comments. In one case, several similar queries were distilled by the moderator into a single question. The complete transcript of the chat can be found on the Oral History Section microsite.While the Blyve platform does not record the number of hits on the transcript, we know that more than 140 people joined us for the live event. Based on the results of the web chat poll, participants included not only Oral History Section members, but also other SAA members and nonmembers. And while many participants asked questions, a majority of those surveyed after the event indicated that they participated to learn more about legal and ethical issues. Lessons Learned Though we view the chat as a success, we did learn a few lessons that we hope other sections and roundtables can use. First, communication is key. Although our chat was well advertised via listservs and blogs, we realized later that more details about the event would have prevented confusion and ensured that the chat met expectations. For example, some users were expecting audio or video components, while others anticipated an open, unmoderated discussion forum. As web chats are not yet common among SAA groups, this was a good takeaway lesson for us. Second, careful moderation is necessary to ensure a steady flow of information.Without moderation, our panelists would have been overwhelmed by questions, and a few off-topic comments could have derailed a discussion that was meant to cover more than just the Belfast Case. By moderating the questions, we were able to manage the pace of the chat, and ensure that a variety of relevant questions and comments were addressed. Though we weren’t able to answer every question, we covered as much as was possible within the sixty-minute timeframe. A final lesson: archivists want and need these types of forums to connect outside the SAA Annual Meeting. Other professional associations and SAA component groups are exploring live web chats; the Oral History Section is interested in hosting another chat in the future. Nothing can replace in-person networking and information-sharing opportunities, but leaders within SAA can and should pursue innovative approaches to keeping members engaged and informed.Current and free web-based hosting platforms such as Blyve, online spaces like Google Hangout, and social media events like Tweet chats offer groups opportunities to virtually meet and engage in nontraditional ways, thus broadening one of SAA’s stated benefits of membership: participation in a professional community. Visit the Oral History Section’s Belfast Case information page at http://www2.archivists.org/groups/oral-history-section/the-belfast- case-information-for-saa-members.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.