Archives and the Community- Building a Tighter Identity

Archives don’t typically advertise their collections, they simply collect and preserve.  However, those resources represent the communities they collect from and they provide a valuable resource to those communities.  More community involvement can also increase the collections and more resources reach the archives.

Partnering with the community takes a bit more creativity, as archives inherently have that prison-like feel where information goes in, but rarely comes out.  Partnering with community centers, schools and local museums can raise awareness to what the archives has to offer.  However, since a lot of archives are connected with universities, there is a lot that the universities can do to help too.

Creating events or exhibitions that will promote the collections at the archives is one way that archives can get involved in the community. The BYU Museum of Art’s exhibition in 2011-2012 on the three American painters from the Weir family showed a partnership between the special collections archives and the museum (BYU Museum of Art, 2012).  The bulk of the exhibition was part of the museum’s permanent collection and the artists’ papers were located in the archives.  While collaborating to research the exhibition, both the special collections archives and the museum of art increased awareness about the others collections.  The museum especially highlighted the special collection’s digital project as the special collections pushed the Weir papers digitization up to meet the exhibition timeframe (BYU HBLL Digital Collections, 2013).  While this shows a partnership from within a university setting, these principles can be applied to a community setting as well.

Similar events can promote community unity when the archive and other entities are more directly related to the community.  UCLA partnered with a LA archive called AFAMILA (Archiving Filipino American Music in Los Angeles) and a local Philippine Folk-Arts project called Kayamanan Ng Lahi (KNL) giving the archive a $40,000 grant to partner with the KNL to improve the AFAMILA’s collections and spread awareness.  This gave the community a chance to get involved, hiring community members and students to record Filipino music and performances.  This improved the collection, got the community involved, and increased awareness in the campus community as well.  Most importantly, the Filipino community knew that the archive was theirs and the archive became part of the community (Vallier, 2010).

Utah State University did something similar working with other universities in the state, as well as the American Folklore Society, to expand and promote the Fife Folklore Archives on USU campus.  Working within the school’s folklore program, the archives got other state universities involved, and eventually the American Folklore society and government agencies, including the Library of Congress (Williams, 2004).  This started out on a smaller scale, and still has effects on the local community.  The Fife Folklore Archives’ Cowboy Poetry Collection helps the large cowboy poetry movement in the local community, greatly benefitting the annual cowboy poetry gatherings across the western states.  Archives involvement in events and festivals, such as the cowboy poetry gatherings, is a great way to spread awareness and community involvement, as the archives become personal to members of the community.

With archives being repositories for information, outreach is less common, but through a creative partnering, such as seen by these earlier examples, both the archives and the community can be improved and developed; especially in creating community identity and unity, such as recognizing and supporting the large Filipino population of LA, or the cowboy heritage of the western states.  Locally this could be implemented through promoting the local history of a community through the schools or museums, using the archives to supplement any events or exhibitions.

What partnerships between archives and community organizations could help with trending issues today?  Are there possibilities outside a university setting?

BYU Museum of Art. (2013, November 14). The Weir Family, 1820-1920: Expanding the Traditions of American Art. Retrieved from

BYU HBLL Digital Collections. (2013, November 14). Weir Family Papers & Photographs.  Retrieved from

Vallier, John (2010, September).  Sound Archiving Close to Home: Why Community Partnerships Matter. Notes,  67(1), 39-49.

Williams, Randy. (2004, January 1). Extending the Archives: Partnering and Outreach at the Fife Folklore Archives. Folklore Forum, 24(1/2), 51-65.


7 responses to “Archives and the Community- Building a Tighter Identity

  1. I think it’s extremely unfortunate that you feel archives are “prison-like,” though I do understand why you might feel that way. It’s the nature of an archives that information doesn’t physically leave the archive, though it is constantly leaving in terms of research, genealogy, student use (papers, etc), and manuscripts written by those who use the archive.

    I think a lot of community involvement can be found in the area of user-generated content. Some archives have done oral history projects, along the lines of StoryCorps, UGC can work really well in museums and I think that can be extended to the archive environment. I’d recommend looking at the book Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World (Adair, Filene, and Koloski) as well as the MN150 project:

  2. The MN150 project is great! And as far as the “prison-like” aspect, I think it’s clear that that’s really not the goal or mindset of those running archives, and the internet and digitization have provided the opportunity to let more people access the archive contents. I believe it was one of the librarians Kris interviewed for her library comparison that said they were really excited about how the internet allowed them to improve access to their materials. The artifacts can’t circulate for practical concerns of damage or loss, but that doesn’t mean they’re being kept from people. It seems like archivists are aware of the barriers of convenience they have to put up, and are excited that the internet can help them overcome those.

  3. I also find it unfortunate that you see archives as a “prison-like” atmosphere and agree very much with Devin and Rebecca that it is just the nature of archives to not allow materials to leave, but rather to allow ideas to leave.

    Over the next few years, we’ll see more archives begin to digitize; the National Archives and Records Administration has put out a plan for digitization:

    Now, while their plan only goes until 2016, I’m sure they will learn from what they’re doing currently in order to build a better plan for 2017 and beyond. When I spoke with archivists at the Eisenhower Presidential Library, they sounded unsure of HOW to digitize their materials and maintain the character and integrity of the materials. I.e. It is difficult to get the same sense of excitement at holding a remade copy of DDE’s “In Case of Failure” message than it it to hold the real one. And the presidential libraries for e-mail using presidents are having problems digitizing e-mails and other non-print created materials. So, I do think they are trying to adapt, but are still in the phases of figuring out what the best plans are.

    Bailey, K. and C. Millner. (2013 1 November). Personal Interview.

  4. I enjoyed reading your section on Archives and the Community. One project that I am personally involved with is the Veterans History Project at Central CT State University which is part of the Library of Congress initiative. The Veterans History Project reaches out to the local community in many ways in order to draw attention to the project and also to solicit new materials from the community. There are many events that the VHP supports and there are always tables with information and documentation, along with volunteers from the project speaking with the public and seeking their participation. Volunteers from the VHP also spend time in the local High Schools explaining the program and recruiting research volunteers. The outreach in the community that these digital and archiving projects such as the VHP do create an awareness and support that it otherwise would not have. It is a valuable partnership between an important Library of Congress initiative and the local community to have the State of CT veterans represented.

  5. I don’t personally feel that archives feel prison-like, that was the impression others gave me. I was trying to see the mindset of an average person who might not see the usefulness of an archive. But it really does depend on the archive, as some are less inviting than others. I have been in some that are very comfortable and some that are more minimalist. However, I believe the actual building and set up, while important, are less important when it comes to just giving people a reason to come by letting them know what is there so that they recognize the resource that is available to them in the community.

  6. Sadly, I do think the average person sees archives as a foreign land, intended for academics or recluses, and not really relevant to them or their daily lives. As you mention, the actual building is far less important than letting people know that an archive isn’t intended to be a prison– like all libraries and information agencies, they are there specifically so that people *can* access information.
    I think I’ve mentioned this before on one of our discussion boards, but I currently hold a part time position at The Henry Ford in Dearborn. Until last summer, when I started employment there, I had no idea that they had archives open to the public, The Benson Ford Research Center. It’s absolutely amazing, and the museum is trying to make patrons aware by offering Digital Collections, where people can create their own personal electronic archives online and through kiosks placed throughout the museum. It’s a very cool tool and really helps the average person see the value in archival work. If any of you live in the area, I strongly suggest you check it out sometime.

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