MARAC Erie – Part II – Advancing the Front Line: Innovative Outreach

Contributed by Laurie Rizzo

Examples of institutional projects that push the boundaries of outreach and creative exhibition.

Rachel Jirka from the Society of the Cincinnati (http://www.societyofthecincinnati.org/) spoke about a new outreach program designed for teachers to enhance the practical application of primary sources in the classroom. The Society created a week-long “Master Teachers Seminar,” which includes research sessions, show and tells, and discussion sessions. Teachers apply for the program and come prepared with lesson plans.  Jirka and her colleagues discovered what worked best was free-time in the library and the show and tells, which gave teachers new ideas and increased understanding in student researcher needs.  Additionally, Jirka learned what did not work and how to improve the seminar for future.  They felt teachers needed a more robust library orientation, access to personal reference librarians, and that teacher lesson plans should be supplied in advance.

Kenton Jaehnig from the Hagley Museum and Library (http://www.hagley.org/library/) talked about three types of outreach activities that coincided with the processing of a 700 cubic feet collection of automobile/transportation literature and memorabilia.  First, outreach included on-site “Information Days” where the public was invited to come and learn about archival methods for printed materials and receive a sneak peek of the collection.  Another on-site outreach event coincided with Hagley’s annual Car Show, where Jaehnig set up a booth and talked to automobile enthusiasts. The second type of outreach consisted of off-site presentations at conferences and seminars. The third type was online outreach, which included a digital archive of selected items of the collection and a blog devoted to the collection (http://vinson.hagleyblogs.org/).  Jaehnig discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each type of outreach, concluding that although all three types have benefits, the online outreach touches the most people.

Sierra Green from the Heinz History Center (http://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/) talked about their grant project to digitize 300 oral histories and supporting materials. Using Omeka they created Paesani di Pittsburgh (http://paesanidipittsburgh.omeka.net/), a dynamic site about the Italian American culture and experience in Pittsburgh. In addition to the site they engaged with a reporter who wrote a newspaper article about “The Lost Art of the Love Letter,” which included information about the Center’s collection.  Social media was employed with success, and the Center offered a genealogy workshop to educate about oral histories.

All three speakers recommended including outreach/marketing and assessment in grant proposals! In terms of assessment, Green said that you have to define what success looks like for you. Assessment techniques included quantitative data (e.g. analytics, statistics) coupled with evaluation forms, as well as allowing for other opportunities to receive feedback (e.g. blog comments, in-person discussions).  Causal and impromptu conversations also afforded the opportunity for assessment.  Jirka reflected on a conversation that developed between the teachers when a session ran short. They talked about teaching strategies, which allowed the library staff to gain important insight and feedback about ways to make improvements on the seminar for next time. Jaehnig added that educating patrons about what processing entails through blog posts and in conversation can create more understanding and patient researchers.  In terms of online outreach, the speakers acknowledged that it can be a struggle to keep the momentum going, but it is an important and worthwhile advocacy opportunity.


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