From scattering seeds to planting rows: bringing in new academic researchers to university archives

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Mockford, Jeanette Lynn
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Archivists have made considerable efforts in recent decades to address the challenge of making archival records more useful. They have attracted new researchers by using various methods: from launching books and exhibits, handing out brochures, and sending press releases, to hosting lectures and, more recently in the digital age, launching websites and blogs, digitizing records, and posting archival records on websites like Flickr. However, these methods amount to a scattered approach that seeks out a variety of new users -- often in the wider society -- while the majority of potential users, often connected to an archives’ own sponsoring institution, still too rarely take advantage of the archives at their doorstep. These people may have never used an archives and likely think they do not need to do so. This thesis addresses the issue of how, in effect, to create users of archives among this group by a more direct approach to them than the typically scattered and more general one. The study of such efforts by archives is the study of archival public programming. Although current public programming efforts at university archives do bring in new users from the campus community, a more targeted approach might address this concern by attracting far more of them. Particularly on university campuses most students, faculty, support staff, retired professors, and administration do not make use of and may even be unaware of the campus archives. Archives on university campuses are repeatedly challenged to prove their usefulness in order to warrant continued funding from campus administration. I argue that this thesis offers university archivists (and other archivists) a tool with which to work to raise statistics of new users in order to satisfy university administrative metrics for sustainability. This thesis will test this approach through a case study of eleven University of Manitoba Faculty of Arts professors who have not used archives much or at all. Academics are often looking for new sources for their research. By understanding the usefulness of archives to their work, they may discover a vast new source of information in a variety of local, national, and foreign repositories and become more comfortable in navigating archives. The thesis will also discuss any weaknesses discovered in the testing of the approach and suggest improvements. In addition, it will discuss how such an approach might be phased in to archival work at a university archives such as the University of Manitoba's Archives & Special Collections as a feature of day-to-day work, rather than a one-time exercise.
archives, outreach, public programming, case study, qualitative method, university, faculty