Celia Caust-Ellenbogen, Hillary S. Kativa, and Bayard L. Miller 2016-05-12 11:09:37
Join us at the local bar to grab a beer and talk about iron gall ink and inherent vice. Follow us to a Victorian-era lecture hall for an old-fashioned magic lantern show. Let’s swing by City Hall to check out a community-curated exhibit on the history of transgender activism. Shall we chat with Terry Gross after enjoying a behind-the-scenes tour of NPR’s Fresh Air Archives? Or take the opportunity to get our online lives in order with a workshop on personal digital archiving? All of this was part of Archives Month Philly 2015—and we have more in store for 2016. It’s our way of celebrating American Archives Month each October. Revitalizing the Celebration Local Archives Month efforts were first initiated in Philadelphia during the 1990s as a week-long celebration known as Archives Week. In 2013, members of the Delaware Valley Archivists Group (DVAG) decided to revitalize this once popular but long defunct celebration, and Archives Month Philly (AMP) was born. Now heading into its fourth year, the month-long festival in October is made up of independent events celebrating all things archives, libraries, and special collections. Operating with a modest budget provided by DVAG, Archives Month Philly is a volunteer-led effort, from event planning and website maintenance to social media and promotion. Over the past three years, the AMP Planning Team has built up Archives Month from relative obscurity into a recognized brand that we hope will have a lasting impact on Philadelphia. Since 2013, more than seventy-five events and exhibitions at over fifty institutions, ranging from open houses and behind-the-scenes tours to screenings, workshops, and lectures, have been held. Each year attendance, along with recognition from the local press, has steadily increased, with close to 800 people attending twenty-six AMP events and exhibitions in 2015. In the process, Archives Month has become a fixture of the Philadelphia archives community, generating excitement and enthusiasm among archivists each year as they conceive of innovative programming for their institutions. AMP events fit into two general categories: centerpiece events and coordinated, independent events and exhibitions. Centerpiece events are intended to stand out as highlights of the month-long festival, generally involve multiple institutions, and are developed collaboratively. AMP volunteers play a strong role in shaping the three to five centerpiece events per season, which in the past have included film screenings, trivia nights, and informal presentations at a local bar. Coordinated events and exhibitions are developed independently at local institutions and round out the Archives Month Philly calendar. Common event types include behind-the-scenes tours, workshops, lectures, and document displays. Our Philly-osophy As the AMP brand has developed, several guiding principles have emerged, which we call our “Archives Month Philly-osophy.” October is the time for outreach. AMP’s sponsoring organization, the Delaware Valley Archivists Group, spends eleven months of the year focused on professional development and community-building for archivists. In October, our efforts are faced outwards, welcoming the public into our institutions and inviting people to discover what archives are all about. We also reach out to experienced archival users to show them a side they’ve never seen before. We encourage programming that is accessible, fun, and creative. In October, Philadelphia archivists open up their doors and let down their hair! Location matters. For security and preservation purposes, archives are usually protected by physical and symbolic barriers to entry, including intimidatingly complex check-in procedures, imposingly grand facades, and other elements that discourage the casual visitor. Every year, we plan a few AMP events at neutral locations, like bars or multi-purpose arts spaces, in order to find people where they are and where they feel comfortable. However, it’s important that the greater proportion of events take place in archives and we emphasize getting people to walk through the door. After breaking that initial barrier by crossing the threshold for a special event, new visitors are more likely to feel welcome to return again. Also, for institutions that typically cater to professional researchers, a successful outreach event geared toward the general public can help change perceptions of an institution and its collections. Event planning = skill building. Prior to participating in AMP, many local archivists report that they had little or no event-planning experience—even if they work at a cultural heritage institution that regularly offers public events. There’s great value in going through the steps to plan an event, such as learning your institution’s resources and limitations, getting to know the public programming staff, and putting the archives on the communications team’s radar. Even if not a single person attends your event, you will have learned a great deal from the planning process. Just as important, by making staff contacts and raising the visibility of the archives within your institution, you have performed important inreach. People personalize the festival. Each event in the festival calendar is assigned an AMP Planning Team liaison who attends the event and serves as the point of contact among the team, the repository, and the public. Prior to the event, the liaison makes contact with the institution’s staff and is available to answer any questions. At the event, the liaison makes an announcement to attendees explaining what Archives Month Philly is and highlighting upcoming events of potential interest. After the event, the liaison posts photos and recaps the event on social media. The liaison serves a critical role in making the festival feel cohesive and in putting a personal face on the AMP Planning Team, both to the public and participating repositories. Tips for Success Interested in kick starting an Archives Month festival in your region? October will be here before you know it. Here are a few helpful tips. Start planning early. Keep in mind that many archives are part of large institutions where long response times and complicated bureaucratic processes are common. Put a bug in archival peers’ ears early, giving them lots of time to plan for October. As for the planning team, start even earlier. We begin consolidating our volunteer force and recruiting institutional participants in late winter. In the early summer, we put out a formal call for event submissions. And be sure to set the submission deadline early enough to allow sufficient time for effective event promotion. You’re only as strong as your planning team. Because Archives Month Philly is an all-volunteer effort, we face the common challenges of keeping volunteers motivated and productive throughout the season. Over the past three years, we’ve continually worked to develop clearer communication channels, divide our work into concrete tasks and hold individual volunteers accountable for that work, and organize our activities in such a way as to make our volunteers feel empowered and directed. We also keep our meetings fun and informal, thus creating an environment that benefits volunteers by building camaraderie and networking opportunities. Mobilize your community. Outreach is key. Institutions aren’t going to plan an Archives Month event if they haven’t heard about Archives Month or the benefits of participating. Get the word out through social media and listservs. If possible, capitalize on your community’s existing infrastructure by reaching out to local consortia and professional organizations. By all means, be sure to work your institutional contacts and do not hesitate to encourage your peers to host and attend Archives Month events. Also, in your promotional efforts, don’t forget to reach out to local event calendars and blogs. This is a great resource for reaching a much broader public. Lastly, and this should be emphasized, encourage host institutions to spread the word by reaching out to their existing networks. For many institutions, a userbase or community already exists. Tapping into this is a surefire way to get people through the door. Keep it fun. Planning a month-long celebration is inevitably stressful, but don’t forget to make it a fun experience. AMP is a labor of love for many of us who dedicate our precious time to volunteering—the more fun you have, the more your passion for archives and the local community will shine through. Remember, Archives Month is not just about awareness, but also about celebrating our work as archivists. Take time to attend some of the events and enjoy the fruits of your labor—you never know where you’ll find inspiration for next year! Learn more about Archives Month Philly at our website (http://archivesmonthphilly.com) and follow us on Facebook or @ArchMonthPhilly on Twitter. The Archives Month Philly Planning Team welcomes your feedback about our approach—email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.