Learning from Archivists 2.0

“Social media are not just tools for getting out a message”

On June 14th, the Association of Canadian Archivists held its annual conference last week. This year’s meeting was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where some 250 delegates from across the country and around the world gathered for four days. Social media played an important role in the proceedings, and came up as a theme regularly throughout the conference. In the introduction to every session we were asked to use the #ACA2010 tag should any of the participants be sending out tweets about the conference activities.

Heralding the importance of social media at the conference was a pre-conference workshop entitled “New Tools for Old Things.” This full-day event examined the use of social media tools in archives today, and provided guidelines for best practice and strategies for implementation in the archives setting. At the conference, many archivists spoke of their organisations’ use of social media to promote the archives within their communities. Archives have been able to share their activities much more broadly than they ever have in the past by using such tools as Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook. Most public archives are working to digitize their content, and get it online for public consumption. Not only are the general public becoming increasingly aware of the archival holdings through social media, but they are able to tag photos to help archivist identify the subject matter, and correct or elaborate on the descriptions to build a better understanding of the historic records. Some institutions such as the Libraries and Archives Canada now ask their staff to find Wikipedia articles relating to their archival work, and adding links there to the LAC’s online collections. Others, such as the County of Brant Public Library, have developed their own community wiki, and encourage locals to help build a repository of local history in conjunction with the archives.

Social media are not just tools for getting out a message, but are being used as tools for collaboration as well. Various archives special interests groups held their annual meetings on the opening day of the conference before any of the sessions got under way. The group interested in information technology decided to eschew the traditional meeting in favour of The Archives And Technology Unconference (TAATU) 2010. This day-long event, bringing together almost 40 participants was organised online through a barcamp wiki. Those who were interested in attending merely had to edit the wiki to add their name, and propose topics for discussion or presentation. Participants updated the wiki throughout the event, uploading images from the proceedings, and links to websites mentioned throughout the day.

The archival community has clearly jumped on the idea of social media as outreach tools, and many institutions are beginning to see the benefits of the increased visibility that the tools can provide for their collections. At this time collaboration between archivists and archival organisations tends to happen most through email and listserve groups, but, if TAATU’s barcamp is an indication of things to come, the younger generation of archivists is turning more and more to social media as a way of working together across boundaries and jurisdictions. Archivists primarily deal with old documents and records, but that doesn’t mean that they are not also using new media effectively in their work.