Garrett Boos reflects on his experience at the “Inreach and Outreach for Digital Archives” workshop

Contributed by Garrett Boos

On June 18th, I attended the SAA DAS (Digital Archives Specialist) workshop, “Inreach and Outreach for Digital Archives,” at Drexel University. This was the third workshop in the DAS curriculum I have attended, and it fits into the Tactical and Strategic category of courses.  This category is intended to provide archivists with the skills to enact meaningful changes in their institution to develop a digital archives program. Most of the courses in the tier are intended for managers of other information professionals. Because I do not manage others at this point in my career, the workshop was not as helpful or informative for me, but I can see how these skills will come into play later in my career.

The workshop was taught by Fynnette Eaton. She worked with digital records at both NARA and the Smithsonian Institute throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and played a large part in establishing their digital archives. The workshop focused on reaching out to people inside and outside your institution who can help you achieve your intended goals. It was primarily concerned with digital archives, so many of the examples focused on digital preservation or digital records management, but the basic information could relate to any situation. The point she stressed over and over during the workshop was collaboration with stakeholders. For the majority of the workshop we discussed the process of identifying stakeholders and how to effectively communicate with them. According to Eaton, communication with stakeholders includes being aware of terminology used by the different parties, how to phrase your needs in a way that everyone benefits, and how to identify an issue and how you can help fix it. She also pointed out, that these are all basic inreach and outreach principles that are always good to review, just with a digital twist.

Aside from the discussions led by the instructor, the participants spent a lot of time in groups talking about real issues. This was the first workshop I attended that had a substantial group component. The group component was both a strength and a weakness of the workshop. I felt that the group component was a great benefit to those participants already facing these problems, but a challenge to those not in the same position. The first exercise was quickly outlining a long presentation, a short presentation, and an elevator speech related to what you are doing in digital archives. This exercise was meant to force us to refine our message. Some people volunteered to read theirs and get feedback on it. Another exercise focused on how a donor, supervisor or colleague could misinterpret the message created in the earlier exercise, and how to develop a response to that misinterpretation. This was a challenging exercise because it involved thinking about an issue from multiple points of view, but a clever way to analyze your message and get ready for discussions.

As I said, the workshop was very different than the others I have attended. There was a lot of group work and talking among the participants about real world problems. The workshop was great for people already dealing with these problems, who had a chance to collaborate with colleagues to solve them, but slightly awkward and less fulfilling for others who are not yet in a position to face those issues in practice. I would recommend this workshop to anyone currently facing these challenges in their institution, but I can not highly recommend it to someone who is not. I hope with this understanding anyone taking it in the future will be prepared and get as much out of the workshop as possible.

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