Networking is outreach. And a good networker is going to excel at promoting their archives.

Networking experts agree that the scattershot approach (i.e. attending a conference and handing out your business cards to strangers) is worthless. Networking is effective only if you concentrate on connecting with specific people based on compatible goals and shared interests. Similarly, promoting your collections to the “general public” is a scattershot method (putting information and/or digitized material on your institution’s website doesn’t mean much if nobody knows about that website).

An effective outreach strategy targets specific communities and individuals.

A group of people in Bobba Fett costumes
Can you guess the interests of these conference-goers?

Conferences are a convenient way to access a large group of people with shared interests, so it is well worth your time to identify several conferences that draw the specific kinds of people that are likely to be interested in your archival collections. Being intimidated by attending a conference is no excuse; as archivists, it is part of our mission to “make available” our holdings-and we are all well aware of the barriers that finding aids (even the encoded ones available on the web) pose to potential users.

Either you to go to the audience and get their attention or your collections remain (or become) invisible.

However, attending a conference in person is not always feasible or the best use of your time; daily work demands, limited funds, and geographic limitations are barriers for many of us. But we all know that you don’t necessarily need to be at a conference in person to get a sense of what ideas are getting people excited-all you need is a Twitter account.

I love how Twitter facilitates community-building; through it, I’ve meet archivists and librarians from all over the country, interacted with people whom I admire greatly, and have even met a possible distant cousin. For archival outreach, following the conference on Twitter can be a great way to scope out people that are likely to benefit from your archival holdings and reach out to them.

Below are some resources for getting started. Like all things, how you proceed will depend on your archives’ holdings and mission, but I hope that we can all put our networking skills to work in the service of our collections.

Sample conferences:

Expanding the Circle: Creating an Inclusive Environment in Higher Education for LGBTQ Students and Studies (San Francisco, CA)

Good for: Archivists who have LGBTQ collections

National Association for Multicultural Education Annual Conference (rotating location) 

Good for: Archivists who have & want to promote collections related to a historically underrepresented groups and/or social justice movements

Bonus: This organization publishes a journal, Multicultural Perspectives. This can be a good opportunity to target an article on your collection(s) to this audience.

American Historical Association (rotating location)

Good for: Archivists that are looking to connect with historians in niche fields; this is more of a “safe” conference to attend – guests are more likely to know what an archivist does. This is a good conference to keep an eye on the program; depending on the year’s sessions, an archivist might find a really good targeted outreach opportunity.

Historical Novel Society Conference (London, UK)

Good for: Archivists that are familiar with historical novels. I know that the authors of these novels love to do research and to, as much as possible, get the history right. This could be a good opportunity to connect with some authors who tend to write in areas that coincide with your collections; archival research may be the thing that leads to their next novel idea!

Ready to start targeting your audience? Start here, with the Teaching Conferences Directory.

The author photographed with a Dalek
Me, at the non-archival conference that I regularly attend.

One thought on “Networking is Outreach

  1. It’s become clear to me since leaving New England how much work we as archivists have to do in infiltrating communities that are not already library/special collections users, and how important conferences can be to that. Good idea to use Twitter remotely to engage with new communities!

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