What do people mean they say our profession (or SAA) needs to do more advocacy? This came up pretty often, as I recall, in the discussion about SAA, but what do you mean by it? Advocating for the importance of archives in general (and so for better funding)? Advocating for the importance (and so more compensation for) “professional” archivists? Getting involved in specific current issues that are relevant to archivists (as ALA does on a regular basis)? I’d really like to hear what kind of advocacy you think is needed, and please be as specific as you want. What do you want to see done?
I’ve got my own bias about how I think advocacy for archives can be achieved. I think a key (not the only one) to raising the level of public awareness about archives (which then can contribute to increased funding and appreciation) is embracing the use of web technologies to get information about what we have out into the places where people will find it. And after they find some piece of information that interests them about something in your holdings–through a podcast or Flickr or a blog or a Google search or whatever–once they get back to your site, you need to make it easy for them to interact with you and find out more. I admit to being somewhat disappointed by the attitude I heard in some sessions in Chicago about our audiences (or users, or customers, or researchers). The attitude was that our audiences came to us with unrealistic expectations about the speed and ease with which they could expect to get access to information, and that it was our job to “educate” them about what their expectations should be. I think we should be trying to figure out how to meet their expectations, not change them.
Museums and libraries over the past 20 years or so have done this, more or less successfully. They’ve looked at what kinds of services and experiences people want to have and they’ve made adjustments. They’ve broadened their customer bases by giving the people what they want. Are archives doing that? If we don’t demonstrate that we are relevant to people on their terms (not ours), then why should we expect them to care about archives? I went to a session at ALA about using web technologies for outreach, and one of the messages was “it’s not about us, it’s about them.” In other words, the message shouldn’t be about how great librarians are or libraries are, it should be about how successful people can be by using the library. It’s about their stories of success. I’d like to see every archives do a short video for YouTube that doesn’t show a single document or archivist–just people talking about how using the archives helped them or enriched their life. (Actually, I think ALA had a contest like that last year.) How about that for advocacy?
But, again, what do you mean by advocacy in general, and what do you want done, specifically?