What’s the best way to preserve photos?
What’s the strangest thing in your archives?
What should I do to make sure my email messages don’t get lost?
These are all questions that are suitable for Ask an Archivist Day, which is Wednesday, October 5.
Ask an Archivist Day is sponsored by the Society of American Archivists and is intended to be a day when we ask archivists all the burning questions we have. This can be in general on Twitter, with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist, or on Twitter directed to a particular archivist or collection.
It is typically scheduled for the first business day of October, which is American Archives Month (Yes, usually Ask an Archivist Day would be October 3, and some older announcements of the day in 2016 did say it was today. It was moved to October 5 to accommodate the Rosh Hashanah holiday.)
Archivists know how to locate records in the most unexpected subject areas, so have fun and ask away. Have questions about records related to knitting? An archivist will find them in places you’d never expect. “The most obvious sources are patterns and other printed sources, but references to knitting can turn up in financial and legal records and all kinds of interesting places, but these aren’t sources that most people interested in the history of knitting might ever think to look for,” writes Anna McNally, an assistant archivist for the University of Westminster.
Other institutions that have participated in Ask an Archivist Day, and have records of questions asked in previous years, include the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, the state of Pennsylvania, and Loyola University.
Ask an Archivist Day can also be useful for discovering all the archives out there for those times when you do have such a question. The Bowling Green State University Pop Culture Library claims to be able to answer all sorts of Star Trek questions. That information might come in handy to settle some late-night arguments.
And even if you aren’t interested in learning new facts or solving squabbles, it can still be instructive to keep an eye on Ask an Archivist Day, because it’s a great example of how to use social media to promote an event. Archivists often have really interesting ways of presenting their information. In the knitting example, the archivist who fielded the question used Storify to incorporate all the various answers she received.
Having trouble getting staff to read the FAQs at your company? Perhaps implementing “Ask a Sysadmin Day” and using Storify to curate the responses might be a more informative and entertaining way for users to get the information. The same approach could also be used for standard questions your customers might have.
Also, Ask an Archivist Day provides great practice in how to monitor and respond to user and customer interactions via Twitter and other forms of social media. “TALK to your staff and colleagues to develop a plan for responding to tweets throughout the day,” notes the event’s blog. “Will one person respond to all tweets? Will you share the task? Will individuals sign up for time slots and let the public know who will be available when?” These are useful questions to address for any social media campaign.
A big part of what makes Ask an Archivist Day successful are all the efforts that records administrators are making to digitize their collections and learning to deal with born-digital documents. “I have a great document about that, come over and look at it” doesn’t have nearly the impact that “Here’s a link to a great document about that!”
Take the knitting example. “The question really showed how important digitization is for finding ‘niche’ areas of history,” writes McNally. “This search on the North Carolina digital collections turns up 1446 results across magazines, industrial reports, legal records—documents you probably wouldn’t have thought to look through if you were researching knitting,” writes McNally. And documents that, needless to say, you’d have trouble looking through if they weren’t digitized.
Don’t fret if you miss Ask an Archivist Day—American Archives Month will be going on for the rest of October, and chances are that archivists will be just as happy to answer your questions on any other day. In addition, Electronic Records Day is October 10; International Ask Archivists Day for 2016 was June 9, and is scheduled to be held on June 9 in 2017, while Ask a Curator Day—intended for people who manage collections other than records—was September 14 and is scheduled for September 13 in 2017. Mark your calendars!
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