Jennifer Hecker 2015-03-28 05:07:35
The Archivists of Central Texas (ACT) debuted the Austin Archives Bazaar on October 19, 2014—in conjunction with American Archives Month—and it was a resounding success. Twenty area archives participated in the Bazaar, and more than four hundred members of the elusive “general public” attended. Participating repositories showed off materials from their collections, the Austin History Center hosted a Preservation Station and gave attendees free preservation advice, an Oral History Storytelling Booth recorded visitors’ stories (which are now archived at the Austin History Center), and attendees dressed up and had their pictures taken in the Briscoe Center’s Photo Studio. Films of the Austin area played while folks enjoyed cocktails made from recipes inspired by the archives and heard authors, professors, filmmakers, and members of the historical community describe how they use archives in their work. Responses to the Bazaar have been overwhelmingly positive, with attendees commenting that the Bazaar made archives relatable and that it was a much more exciting and festive experience than they anticipated. One attendee commented that “[The Austin Archives Bazaar] made me feel connected to the history/archives community in a fun, engaging way” and another commented that he did not previously realize how many archival resources there are in Central Texas. Mission accomplished! Another aspect of the Bazaar’s success was that it turned out to be an excellent morale-boosting experience for ACT and the local information professional community. This article summarizes more than a year of collaborative decision making. I hope that it will help other communities hold their own archives bazaars. I want to emphasize that the Bazaar would have been impossible without the tireless labor of many dedicated archivists and students, and the generosity of our sponsors. Relatedly, we are happy to talk your ear off answer any questions you might have about the Bazaar. In the Beginning . . . A couple of years ago, I heard about the Portland Archives Crawl and the L.A. Archives Bazaar and was inspired to organize a similar collaborative outreach event here in Austin. I mentioned the idea to my colleagues in ACT, and they loved it. But how could we pull it off here? Here’s how we did it. Your mileage will most certainly vary. Step One: Brainstorming We had a couple of preliminary brainstorming meetings. We invited all the ACT members and tossed around ideas until the outlines of the event came into focus. A lot of the discussion focused on possible Programming and on debating the format of the event (bazaar vs. crawl). Nothing was decided, but we leaned toward a bazaar model, hosted in a public space with lots of repositories representing their holdings and work however they saw fit. Step Two: Form Committees Once we’d brainstormed a bit and decided to move forward, we formed committees and selected our leadership. We needed a chair and program, fundraising, logistics, and publicity committees, as well as chairs for each committee. Volunteers were solicited and selected informally at the last brainstorming meeting. Subsequent meetings involved only this group (the steering committee). Committee leaders recruited committee members and volunteers as needed. Step Three: Nail Down Date and Venue Austin is an event-laden city, and finding a suitable weekend was a challenge. We wanted to align with American Archives Month, of course, so we had to work around both the college football calendar and the two-weekend-long Austin City Limits Music Festival. Luckily, we found a Sunday afternoon in October with few conflicts. The next step was to find a venue and lock in our reservation. We visited a number of venues, including a couple that were offered to us at no charge. We decided on the Spider House Ballroom based on its size, location, parking, price, and feel. We wanted a laid-back venue that would have fun vibe, and not feel stuffy. In retrospect, we should have made sure the bathrooms were accessible (they really weren’t). While it didn’t end up being a big issue, it certainly could have been. Step Four: Invite Repositories Since our organization is the Archivists of Central Texas, we decided to invite repositories in San Marcos, Waco, College Station, and San Antonio. We also included the Portal to Texas History, which is based at the University of North Texas, but hosts materials from Central Texas collections. Our invitation didn’t make a lot of promises, but there was an outline of the event so folks had some idea of what they were getting mixed up in: Howdy! We are delighted to formally invite your organization to join in a new archives-focused community outreach event, the Austin Archives Bazaar. The Bazaar will kick off the local Archives Week festivities ... With the iSchool’s UT-SAA student chapter sponsoring its usual week of scholarly activities....The Bazaar will bring together, for one afternoon in one large space, as many local archivists, repositories, and archival organizations as possible for a fun, interactive experience for the general public. We are still in the early planning stages, but the general vision for the Bazaar includes repository booths for archival “show and tell,” as well as archives-themed entertainments, refreshments, and prizes! It is our hope to offer our community an opportunity to experience archives in a welcoming and entertaining way—and give our local archives a lightweight outreach opportunity. If you are interested in participating—and who wouldn’t be?— please reply to this email...And let us know whom you would like to be the main point of contact for your repository. Step Five: Solicit Sponsorships Fundraising for the Bazaar went extremely well. The keys to success were good marketing, excellent communication, and leveraging personal/professional relationships. Vendors, local archives and businesses, and our professional organizations all found the idea compelling. We offered levels of sponsorship that earned rewards, including the opportunity to display a logo on our website or on onsite signage. Out of the forty-six potential sponsors we approached, twenty-two of them made either financial or in-kind (beer!) Donations, or contributed door prizes. Step Six: Plan the Program There were three facets to the Bazaar program: repository tables/booths, infotainment, and wow factor. We chose not to have an overall theme or dictate what repositories would do in their spaces, but we encouraged interactivity, a focus on archives, and participation of archivists (rather than, say, marketing staff). Additionally, we coordinated several archives-related happenings that took place throughout the afternoon. The equipment for the Oral History Storytelling Booth was purchased with donated funds, and now belongs collectively to the Archivists of Central Texas. Finally, we wanted to be sure folks walked away talking about some aspect of the Bazaar. We hoped the discussion would center on the archives and archivists, of course, but it was important to us that we made an impression, so we arranged a few “wow factor” features: goodie bags for the first 150 attendees, door prize drawings every half hour, onsite screen printing of T-shirts and tote bags, and a menu of specialty cocktails inspired by local history. Step Seven: Figure Out Logistics Once everything else was decided, we had to figure out how to make it all work. The venue was a tight squeeze, but we managed to fit everything in. Repositories had less space than they would have liked, and some attendees felt crowded, but overall we were happy with the vibrant atmosphere that resulted. The logistics committee was also in charge of the onsite signage and the day-of volunteers. In addition to the steering committee, we had thirty-four professional and student volunteers. Step Eight: Publicize Publicity was the key to attracting more than four hundred people to come to the Bazaar. Our publicity committee sent press releases, put up posters all over town, placed ads in the local paper, pushed out content via Facebook and Twitter, and even put up signs with arrows at nearby intersections to attract passersby. Lessons Learned We knew from the start that we wouldn’t be able to please everyone, and approaching the project with this laid-back mindset really helped the event go smoothly. Well, that and the fact that a lot of people did a lot of work, and a few people did a whole lot of work. To read more about the event and to see more photographs from the day, visit www.austinarchivesbazaar.org. We hope to see you at the next Austin Archives Bazaar in 2016!
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