Blog 14: Archivists of the Houston Area and the Houston Archives Bazaar: Reflection on a Public Relations Success for Area Archivists

Last week’s blog post, a reflection on unprofessional conduct occurring and the soon-to-be closed SAA Archives and Archivst’s Listserv, inspired me to seek out a more positive story reflecting the best of the archival profession. I found this story on the google group page Archives in the News which linked to the ArchivesAWARE blog—a site hosted by the Society of American Archivists and its Committee on Public Awareness. It is ironic that within one organization, the best and the worst aspects of the field can be found.

The hyperlinked article posted is entitled “The Huston Archives Bazaar: An Interview with Emily Vinson, President of Archivists of the Huston Area”. This interview of  Huston Area President Emily Vinson, published on November 3, 2017, deals with the planning of implementation of the Houston Archives Bazaar, a free public event where archives in the Houston area advertise their institutions, oral histories are recorded, archival workshops are conducted and guest speakers discuss local history. The idea came from the Austin Archives Bazaar events in 2014 and 2016, which likely had seen some form of success for that community. According to the article, over 20 archives participated with over 200 members of the public in attendance at the Houston Bazaar. This is an impressive showing for the archival community in terms of cooperation; while the number of participants may seem less impressive, the fact that it was held two weeks after Hurricane Harvey speaks volumes. However, further information on the participants would be valuable. Did this event reach people who were not already patrons of participating archives? Has it inspired people to use area archives since?

Perhaps the most fruitful question posed to the president was “Did you get media attention? How did that happen?”  Vinson explains that a multi-faceted process was used to get the word out about the event that included: press-releases in secondary languages of the Houston area to all news outlets in the region (an excellent effort to bring diversity), social media, (including paid promotions on Facebook), postcards and finally, posters displayed in prominent gathering places. I would be curious to see what the objective of the event had been and how the objective was evaluated. If such a metric for efficiency was used, what are the measurable goals for the next Houston Bazaar in terms of event attendance, archival awareness, and patron growth?

From this article, I can gather the event is worth being praised for several reasons. First, it attempted to reach a diverse community of potential archive users by advertising for the event in Spanish and Vietnamese; archives need to accessible to a larger audience of users and be in tune to their needs. Second, it brought together a large section of area archives together by pooling resources; the archival community is best when it works together and is hurt when archivists at institutions act selfishly. Finally, and most importantly, the event brought the archives into public space; it is Important that archivists interact with communities and that sometimes means leaving the archive to meet your future patrons.

My short introduction to the world of archives has not only informed me about the institutions and archivists themselves, but has given me a clear sign that overall professionalism in the field remains strong. Like any field, there are elements which need to improve, such as the policing of professionalism amongst members and the need to reach more diverse audiences. However, outreach such as the Houston Area Bazar shows that a new generation is shaping the field to meet the demands of the 21st century patron. I hope to play a part in bringing archives into my future classrooms.

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