Advocating for Archives: Tips for Archivists

Margot Note

Margot Note

November 07, 2022

To advocate for the archives appropriately, archivists should have deep knowledge of their repository. 

Although other staff members may be familiar with archival materials, those working daily with archival materials should be familiar with the specific challenges of their repository and, most importantly, how these issues affect archival policies and procedures. The perception of resources, services, and users should also be well understood. 

Understanding current practices in the field is essential to keep archivists updated on their knowledge. The world of information moves quickly, and the archives should keep pace with how the repository is run. In addition, archivists should evaluate their work to ensure they are doing what they should to preserve materials—and what practices they may consider reducing or removing altogether. Taking time quarterly to review progress allows archivists to decide what activities need to be prioritized and what benefits they provide for the organization. 

Messaging as Branding

Archival workers should consider the messaging the repository promotes on its website and during virtual and in-person situations. The archival team can identify advocacy content that fits into customer service interactions, represents the archives’ perspective, and articulates its needs. Even the most seasoned user may not understand the fundamentals of how the archives operates, so archivists should use opportunities to educate the public about the value they create with their work. 

Archives can often be viewed as intimidating to users. Consider how users first encounter the archives through its website, online materials, and in-person interactions. What can be changed to lower barriers to entry for users and create a positive experience that also works within the organization’s culture? 

Reference Staff as Allies

Reference archivists have the most experience with users. They can pick the appropriate moments to deliver archival advocacy talking points. The best advocates learn to identify moments for advocating by reading users to gauge their interests. They can also use opportunities to get to know their users. Good archival planning includes environmental scanning that provides profiles of users that assist in planning for resources, services, and programs. Profiles aid in identifying advocates as well as exchanges that might be more successful between archivists and users. Archivists can use follow-up protocols to promote positive experiences. Even better, archivists can consider how all user interactions can be enhanced to provide a welcome experience.

Working with the Public

Archivists should pass along user comments, both good and bad. They should track comments and inform their supervisors about user complaints and compliments. In addition, they should pass along user questions. Finally, archivists can track comments and let their supervisors know questions regarding advocacy issues and initiatives.

Archivists keep advocacy at the top of their minds by discussing issues during staff meetings. Organizations should ask colleagues how to distribute messaging to help raise the archives’ profiles. In addition, they can distribute advocacy content to assist in creating an advanced network of advocates. To accompany verbal interactions, archivists should provide up-to-date, specific issues content and follow-up information for interested users. Raising user awareness of archive issues can be done during conversations during the course of business. Building an extensive network of advocates also needs written communications, instructions, and management follow-up. 

When promoting their archival services, organizations may wish to:

  • Create brochures explaining archival values
  • Speak at community forums
  • Present workshops with broad public appeal
  • Write articles about the collections 
  • Develop information packages to distribute or present at community events and venues. 

As budgets become tighter, archivists seek ways to broaden the use of their materials, bringing their services and story to the broader public. They need to be proactive in articulating their value. Advocacy is an integral part of archival management and aids archivists in informing users’ responses to and perceptions of their work. 

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and Lucidea Press author is a regular blogger, and popular webinar presenter for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts here. And stay tuned for the release of her upcoming book, The Digital Decisive Moment: Transformative Digitization Practicesthe next title in our Lucidea’s Lens series. 

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