Community ConnectionsInreach and Outreach as Archival Advocacy Activities

Conor Casey
Conor Casey is the founding labor archivist of the Labor Archives of Washington at the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections. Previously, he has worked at the Labor Archives & Research Center at San Francisco State University (SFSU).
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Advocacy activities articulating the value of archives can be an important component of inreach and outreach activities. Effective advocacy requires that archivists make consistent and explicit arguments for the value of our collections. This article employs the case example of the Labor Archives of Washington (LAW) at the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections and draws from my experience as the founding archivist and director of LAW to demonstrate how archivists can use inreach and outreach opportunities to advocate for the social value of archives, the usefulness of the professional skills of archivists and librarians, and promote use of topical collections beyond their core user groups. In my experience, the results of such advocacy activities include securing institutional and external resources, help with marketing, community assistance and buy-in, political capital to accomplish projects, and the broader use of archival collections.

Inreach and outreach are central parts of the archival domain. By “inreach,” I mean promoting collections within a department or institution; by “outreach,” I mean promoting collections in broader communities of interest. However, these activities alone are not advocacy, though there is an implicit message in most of our inreach and outreach activities that is arguing “these things are valuable.” Inreach and outreach only take on and aspect of advocacy when archivists make explicit arguments about the value of their collections. These are more effective when we also ask for resources to preserve and promote the collections.

  • Archivists have been writing about the necessity of this sort of direct advocacy for some time; David Gracy contends that advocacy is a constant process that involves arguing for the value of archives to those “above” us; resource providers, managers, and politicians, and characterizes this as “issue oriented—talking up. [An] act of persuasion, demonstrating the value of archives.” [Emphasis added]
  • In his book Many Happy Returns, Larry Hackman argues that advocacy is “an investment that we make when we intentionally and strategically educate and engage individuals and organizations so that they in turn will support our archival work.” Similarly, David Gracy reasons that advocacy is “the work done (by archivists individually, by associations of archivists, and/or by others) to cultivate the environment for accomplishing the archival mission.” Gracy further elaborates on the value of inreach in relation to advocacy, arguing that inreach advocacy is “reaching out for resources to the person a level or two above you.”

I, too, believe that outreach and inreach activities offer a constant opportunity to demonstrate the value of our collections and (more broadly) the value of archives to our organizations and to society, and represent a chance to explain the value of primary source materials to researchers of all levels. These activities represent an opportunity to present records associated with our particular scholarly or topical domain to researchers with different perspectives or from different disciplines than our typical users, or introduce collections to audiences unfamiliar with archives.