Strategies for Archival Advocacy

Margot Note

Margot Note

June 21, 2021

Archives and archivists must promote themselves, their institutions, and their missions to the larger world. Successful advocacy efforts go hand in hand with solid programs that are viewed as assets by others.

The archives world contains a diverse group of individuals and institutions who share a joint mission to procure, preserve, and present records of enduring value. The overall goal of advocacy is to raise the profile of archives. There are several ways that archivists can strengthen the infrastructure of their programs. 

Tips and Proven Practices

Archivists can enhance the perception of the quality of their programs. They should highlight their achievements, focus their communications on specific audiences, and raise expectations. They should also find influential allies and secure their involvement on behalf of the program. One way to do this is to find ways to attract people with power to create opportunities.

One way to do so is to establish and maintain awareness and understanding at the highest level of management and governance. Archivists must maintain regular communication channels with senior-level individuals with credibility. Another way is to use external professional expertise for evaluation and ideas. Consultants, subject matter experts, and archivists at similar institutions can provide opinions and advice. Often, people in leadership positions are more likely to understand information from objective outsiders than receive the same message from their staff members. 

Seek external funding support from sources beyond the institution of which the archives is a part and internal sources through means beyond the established budgeting system. When seeking outside financial resources, look first for opportunities for program development rather than maximum dollars for basic program support. The goal is to build new initiatives and not just make do; granting agencies may not fund ongoing programs they think the institution should fund, although they will fund startup projects if the institution commits to maintaining them after the granting program is over.

Archivists must advocate for their programs and the issues that influence their programs with knowledge and forethought. They should develop an attractive case statement to articulate the program’s value. They should try to avoid tangential projects, no matter how enticing, unless they believe they will strengthen the program eventually. Unfortunately, it is often hard to say “no” to those in power while also maintaining good relationships with decision-makers within an institution. However, articulating healthy boundaries of what the archives should do is necessary for a successful archives program. 

Asking Questions

To develop a case for advocacy, archivists should ask themselves the following questions:

  • What is the goal of advocating for archives? What is to be accomplished?
  • What are the objectives? Why are they important?
  • What are the strategies and activities needed do to accomplish the goal?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • Why should they care?
  • In a sentence or two, what is the message? 
  • What data or stories support this message?

Making the Case

It seems that archivists must continually explain who they are, what they do, and why their work is important. Archivists should not wait until events require advocacy efforts but should instead implement simple advocacy goals and activities into their mission and activities.

Archives witness the past. Records provide evidence and explanation for past actions and present decisions. Archives allow civilized communities to take root and flourish, from promoting education and research to protecting human rights and confirming identity. Archives are unique records and, so, once lost, cannot be replaced. Only through proper identification, care, and comprehensive access can archives’ vital role be fully realized to the benefit of humanity.

Archivists are aware of the societal, institutional, and individual construction of memory and understand the implications of how memory is transmitted over time. This awareness becomes even more critical as collections are represented online. It is also vital for retaining evidence in time and over time, especially through digital preservation processes. Now, more than ever, archives are important to advocate for and protect. 

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.

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