Thanksgiving 2014

Noting major holidays is on social media is a basic outreach strategy. Following is a list of my favorite GLAM Tweets from Thanksgiving 2014:

Outreach Win: Reaching a Target Audience

I recently started listening to Strange Brews, which is a podcast about craft beer. Unexpectedly, it is also evidence of a successful outreach strategy by the Library of Congress: a blog post about beer in colonial America was tweeted to the podcast’s hosts, and they were so excited about the topic that they asked the blog post’s author, librarian Alison Kelly, to be a guest on the podcast.

I was particularly struck by the enthusiasm exhibited during the episode, including this choice quote:

I didn’t even know that there were blogs on the Library of Congress website, but there are and they’re great!

This is a total Outreach Win for Alison Kelly and the Library of Congress. Not only did her research on colonial beer reach (and excite) beer enthusiasts, those enthusiasts rebroadcast that research to their listener base – a highly targeted group of people who are now more aware of American beer history and more able to conduct additional research on the topic.

I love that the hosts of Strange Brews sing the praises of LOC blogs, model excitement about learning, and completely geek out with a librarian. And, obviously, I adore that Kelly gives a shout out to the Archives of the American Philosophical Society as a source of information about something so contemporary and commonplace as beer; her comment can easily help make the connection between archives and modern life for Strange Brews listeners.

Crack a beer and read Kelly’s blog post here, then listen to the Strange Brews podcast here (episode 48; start at 26:00 for the segment discussed above).

Outreach Fail: Using Twitter to “Get Out the Vote”

It was the autumn of 1995. I was in the 7th grade, and due to a growth spurt, I was due for a new winter coat. The new coat was a compromise between my mom’s priorities and my own: affordable, but blue (my favorite color). When the weather cooled, my classmates started to come to school in a variety of coats; my blue coat was unremarkable. Then, one day, someone showed up in a Starter jacket. Over the next few weeks, Starter jackets started popping up all over the classroom until it was the majority jacket. And my coat stood out because it was different. My new blue coat was, in fact, just one more confirmation of my breathtaking lack of coolness.

image of a Starter jacket

A typical Starter jacket

To me, those Starter jackets appeared out of nowhere. As an uncool 13 year old, I did not yet understand how fashion trends spread, and my exposure to clothing was limited (I didn’t go shopping often & had never seen a Starter jacket in a store). So, at the time, I did not understand how everyone else in class knew that these jackets were cool to wear, nor did I understand how they knew where to get one. I saw the trend spread and felt the shame of being on the outside, but did not see any path to participating. By the time I figured it out, my peers had moved on to the next fad.

"I voted" sticker

On Twitter, proud declarations of “I voted!” coupled with criticism of those who have not voted is the equivalent of my 7th grade class jumping on the Starter jacket trend. The tweeting voters in this case are part of the in-crowd, and their vote-related tweets are “cool signifiers.” To these tweeters, there is no excuse for not participating in an election.

The tweeting voters tweet proudly on election day. But, from what I’ve seen, they tweet about voting ONLY on election day. These tweets are a signal to other tweeting voters in the way that Starter jackets were a signal to in-crowd 7th graders. The signal says, “We’re cool; we’re good; we’re in-the-know.” The signal deliberately chastises people who are left out. The message to those says, “You’re not one of us; you’re lesser; you’re other.”

But, to those on the outside, who are facing barriers to voting that are evidently unfathomable to tweeting voters, the proliferation of voting tweets and photos of “I voted” stickers can seem to come out of nowhere. And, on election day, it’s frequently too late for someone on the outside to catch up.

That leads to sentiments like this:

 

And it’s not just on Twitter:

I understand why we play the “cool” card (if you don’t, check out C.S. Lewis’ essay, “The Inner Ring,” which explains it better than I can). And, in terms of fashion trends, nerd-culture references, and whatever other in-group we may be a member of, the cool signifiers can be benign (except, perhaps, when adolescents are involved). But in regards to voting, using “I voted!” as a cool signifier with the corresponding rejection of those who have not voted, is unpardonable and counterproductive.

I understand that many of these tweeting voters are trying to encourage their followers to “get out the vote.” But, on election day, most of the crucial voting activities are already complete (registration, making time to vote, researching the candidates). Admonishing others to vote on election day is only acting as a signal to the in-crowd (those who have already voted/have plans to vote). To those who face barriers to voting, that signal is flipped to the “You’re not one of us; you’re lesser; you’re other” message. It’s demoralizing. It’s negative. It does not advance your cause. It creates another barrier to that person for future election days.

So, what would be a productive way to use Twitter to encourage people to vote? For starters, it requires each of us to identify our Twitter audience and then identify the realistic barriers that members of that specifice audience are likely to face. Only then can we develop a communications plan that addresses these barriers and provides timely and helpful information and encouragement to our specific audiences. If this sounds time-consuming, that’s because it is. But if you’re sincerely passionate about “getting out the vote,” that’s what it takes.

Empathy & Respect

Alexis Wiggins, a high school teacher, shadowed high school students for two days and gained a world of insight into her profession. Her essay (online here) describes the experience and critical lessons learned. One of these lessons is particularly relevant to everyone in a service profession:

[T]here was a good deal of sarcasm and snark directed at students and I recognized, uncomfortably, how much I myself have engaged in this kind of communication…Of course it feels ridiculous to have to explain the same thing five times, but suddenly, when I was the one taking the tests, I was stressed. I was anxious. I had questions. And if the person teaching answered those questions by rolling their eyes at me, I would never want to ask another question again. I feel a great deal more empathy for students after shadowing, and I realize that sarcasm, impatience, and annoyance are a way of creating a barrier between me and them. They do not help learning.

Sarcasm and snark are easy traps when you’re answering the same questions over and over again. It’s a tedious task, and snarkiness is an easy way for the brain to keep itself entertained.  But, in the context of service, this is rude behavior that will drive our patrons away. Wiggins’ shadowing exercise helped her to find the antidote:

I have a lot more respect and empathy for students after just one day of being one again.

Shadowing patrons (or finding a reasonable facsimile) may help us all to develop more empathy and respect for those whom we serve.

H/T to @LibGirl09 for tweeting about the article!

Ask An Archivist

Below are some of my favorite questions & answers from the Ask an Archivist tweeting event (tweet up?) that took place on October 30, 2014:

I was happy to see that #AskAnArchivist drew questions from a range of users, including people who had little knowledge of what archivists do; the conversation on Twitter seemed to make it “safe” for many people to ask nuts and bolts questions. I also noted that archivists used the opportunity to ask each other questions – some new professional connections were made!

Archives in Pop Culture: World War Z

“But isn’t the human factor what connects us so deeply to our past? Will future generations care as much for chronologies and casualty statistics as they would for the personal accounts of individuals not so different from themselves? By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from a history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it?” -World War Z