Tumblr: the 24-hour archive

Traditionally, archives and libraries are known for their restrictive hours (no evenings! one Saturday a month!) and quirky conventions (call slips! pencils only!). Lately, however, more and more institutions are using Tumblr to bring their collections out of the vault and make them accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Founded in 2007, Tumblr is a microblogging and social networking website that librarian Kate Tkacik described in a recent webinar as “the best baby Twitter and Word Press didn’t know they had.” In honor of National Library Week, here’s a round-up of some of the cool ways DVAG members are promoting their collections on Tumblr:

Flat Tires and Engine Misfires (AACA Library & Research Center): A special collections research library devoted to automotive history, AACA started their blog in late 2012. Favorite posts include quirky advertisements, such as this one for Ethyl gasoline, and an article about an early stunt driver. Posts about Volkswagens, which have a huge fan base, attract a lot of attention, including this one about a loaf of bread baked in the shape of a Volkswagen Beetle! The library has also used Tumblr to solve mysteries from their collections. For example, they recently sought help identifying the language used in this advertisement for Ford. To the librarians, it looked like Hindi, but two users identified it as Gujarati, one of the languages spoken in India. (Contributed by Matthew Hocker).

Freawaru (Free Library of Philadelphia): Highlighting materials from the Free Library’s Rare Book Department, this blog is a freelance project managed by Reference Librarian Katharine C. Chandler. She started posting about a month ago and already had a post go viral when an user re-tweeted these images of a 1816 weaving pattern book. (Contributed by Katharine Chandler).

The Hagley Vault (Hagley Museum and Library): Hagley started their blog back in November 2011 as a simple avenue to push out interesting content from their Digital Archives. Among their most popular images are this one of computer programmer Grace Hopper, which coincided with a Google Doodle honoring her 107th birthday, and this Women’s History Month post celebrating Stephanie Kwolek, the developer of Kevlar. Interestingly for a library based in Wilmington, Delaware, images of New York attract a lot of attention as well, including these photographs of the Brooklyn Bridge and the “Great White Way.” (Contributed by Kevin Martin).

HSPDigitalLibrary (Historical Society of Pennsylvania): HSP’s Digital Center for Americana started their blog around Fall 2013 in hopes of gaining more visibility for their materials and reaching new audiences. Momentum was slow, but steady until February 2014, when a Valentine’s gif post re-blogged by Tumblr superstar University of Iowa Special Collections went viral. Around the same time, Tumblr also highlighted HSP’s blog in their Books category. Subsequently, the blog rapidly gained new followers and they currently have around 4,000! Since then, a few more posts have gone viral, including this illustrated manuscript re-blogged by Harvard’s Houghton Library, and they’re grateful for the support and camaraderie of special collections institutions on Tumblr. Bloggers have also learned pretty quickly that there’s no telling what will or won’t be liked. Regardless of likes and re-posts, two of their favorites include this gif of a Bartram engraving and drawings of musical frequencies made from a pendulograph. (Contributed by Cathleen Lu).

Ismarchives (Independence Seaport Museum): The Independence Seaport Archives and Library launched their blog in July 2013 to highlight visually striking or otherwise quirky/odd/notable images from their collections. Ultimately, their goal is to use these images as a gateway to other online resources for the library and archives and images are a mix of high-quality scans and informal snapshots from staff smartphones. They also re-post media from other archival and cultural heritage organizations that may be of interest to their followers and consider Tumblr a chance to interact with those institutions as well. Their most popular post is — what else? — a photograph of a puppy and kitten napping together on the deck of the Olympia. All together now: “Awww!” (Contributed by Sarah Newhouse).

New York World’s Fair Collections (Museum of the City of New York and Queens Museum): Started in April 2013, this blog is the collaborative endeavor of two museums, The Museum of the City of New York and The Queens Museum. The blog chronicles the processing of both the 1939 and 1964 New York World’s Fair Collections, a project funded by the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). Posts usually feature items devoted either to weekly or monthly themes, such as fair guides and state exhibits, and there are also posts about the adventures of processing a hidden collection. Bloggers have also noticed that the posts that garner the most attention are food-related, including images of recipes, cookbooks, etc. (Contributed by Hoang Tran).

Othmeralia (Chemical Heritage Foundation): This blog, which launched in January 2014, is a collaborative effort of the librarians and archivists at CHF’s Othmer Library of Chemical History. The blog showcases hidden gems from the library’s wide-ranging collections, which include monographs, journals, microform, rare books, and archival collections. Most posts are image-based and many coincide with significant scientific anniversaries and events, such as Bunsen Burner Day. By far, their most popular posts have featured scientific illustrations, including this post of different versions of the periodic table and this one on botany. In just a three-month span, the blog has amassed nearly 100 followers and had three posts spotlighted on Tumblr’s History and Science pages, including this post on a comic book about the life of Louis Pasteur. (Contributed by Hillary S. Kativa).

Inspired yet? Check out these blogs and join the revolution by sharing your institution’s unique materials on Tumblr!


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