Professional Outreach and Advocacy
It’s important for archivists to serve as advocates for their profession, especially in the workplace! These are some basic tools for advocating for your position, department and collections.
Create an elevator speech
An elevator speech is a short, to the point statement explaining your job and it’s importance to your organization and community. Reserve these talking points for those moments when you only have minutes or seconds with a new contact.
To get started, write down all of the most essential functions of your job or department. List out who your target audiences are. Are they potential donors? Students? The Board of Directors? You may have all of these groups and more, and each one might need a slightly different approach.
Since most of us work for non-profit organizations (or internal service arms of for-profit organizations), it can be hard to discuss how our organizations make a “profit.” Think about the specific benefits patrons have gotten from you. It’s fine to use really specific examples, and tailor them for run-ins with different target audiences. It’s a good idea to write out these examples as a story and then boil down the most important points.
Once you have your story, try to come up with a clear, but powerful answer to the question “What do I do?”. It can be as simple as “I help people discover their family history,” or as dramatic as “I guard Georgia’s legacies!” Remember, your pitch should encourage people to ask more questions. Make them curious and be prepared to answer their questions or respond to their comments.
Keep your speech short and to the point. It should be no more than 1-2 minutes, and not use any jargon or uncommon words. Practice your speech with family or friends to see if people outside of the profession understand you. Record yourself to cut down on time.
And be sure to introduce yourself! You don’t have to include your job title if it makes your speech clunky, but carry business cards to share your title and contact information.
Create an ongoing outreach program
There are a lot of simple ways to create an ongoing program that will involve community members, and possible donors, in your institution. Even with a small staff, or as a lone arranger, you can plan once-a-year events to increase your profile and spread the message about how important and relevant your collections are. Vital programs are demonstrated value.
As with any program, the first step is to identify your stakeholders. Who are the people who would benefit most from knowing about and using your collections? Make a list and determine ways to make contact. This can be as simple as making a phone call, attending a community meeting, or stopping by an office to say “Hello.”
Once you’ve made contact, invite your stakeholders into the Archives and show them what it is that makes your organization valuable. Plan an Open House to view a new exhibit or show select items from your collections. If you have limited resources for exhibit fabrication, create a reusable “treasures” exhibit that you can add to as your collections grow.
Archives Month (October) is a good time to host an event, since many other organizations are planning similar programs. Exhibits are a good way to bring people in the door, but it’s also a good time to host a community workshop, offering basic instruction on how to care for collections at home. These types of programs spread greater understanding of the kind of knowledge an archivist has, and will encourage attendees to remember you when they decide to donate their materials.
Look for partners outside of your organization. See if there are other local institutions or organizations with which you can coordinate exhibits, programs or publicity. There may be an “expert” at a nearby facility who could join in you in a community program.
Another option for workshops is to teach people how to do research in an archives. This is a good workshop component for an exhibit, or as a follow up to Open House attendees, as sometimes it is hard for people to make the transition from seeing and appreciating an item in a case, to how it can be practically used. Creating new users for your institution creates new advocates for the profession and collections.
If you are able, recruit interns and volunteers from your new contacts. Even working a few hours a week can give someone a deep respect for archives, and it will add to your public profile and create one more citizen aware of the the importance of archives.