reading notes: student organizations

As part of a project to re-energize efforts to collect records from student organizations, my colleague, Greta, and I decided a good first step was exploration of case studies and model programs.

The first step was reading the articles noted on this handy Zotero list. The project will also involve exploring our existing student related collections, understanding more about the various (like 500!) student orgs on campus, considering how websites can help us document student orgs and movements, trying different outreach methods, and more.

I’m really excited to be working on this and looking forward to learning more about what kind of digital archiving related advice students might want as well as workflows we might need on our end to work with them on transferring records. For now, I’ll share my reading notes for the three articles I’ve read so far. I hope to share more on the progress of this work over the next several months.

From Classroom to Commons…” by John Straw (1994). This article provides a look into the origins of the University of Illinois Archives of student life and culture. Straw also provides reasons for collecting student records and ideas of outreach. Variations on the reasons and outreach ideas can be found throughout the other articles I’ve read so far. In particular, Straw emphasizes the benefits of working with alums, alumni offices, and student life centers. One unique idea presented was to collect surveys from alumni as an alternative to more intensive oral history creation. This article also points to the internet as a means of identifying and appraising student organizations and other student subcultures. Straw writes:

“At the University of Illinois, the local Gopher system is a means of accessing information on student organizations and events, including the student newspaper index. We also are exploring options for monitoring a group “Chat Line” that is open to students…” (p. 23).

I wonder if they succeeded in capturing anything from their Gopher network!

  • Take-aways: Build relationships with the alumni office and the student life staff. Use the internet to your advantage in understanding student life.

College Student as Archives’ Consultant?…” by Ellen D. Swain (2005). If you’re looking for great ideas for outreach and learning about the landscape of current student organizations, then read this article. The info about student record keeping practices and perceptions of the archives is interesting though a limited sample. What interested me most was the idea of having a student advisory board for the archives. I really love this idea! This probably won’t be part of the first phase here at IASC, but maybe down the line this could be an option. I wonder if Swain and her colleagues still work with a student advisory group. Swain also points out that a two-pronged approach to outreach and collection development can be helpful. She suggests targeted and global approaches – meaning communicate directly with groups already represented in the archives (targeted) and for other groups start by capturing websites (global).

  • Take-aways: Building a program for student life documentation means getting to know students and being open to feedback from students!

Filling in the Gaps…” by Lea’l Hughes-Watkins (2014). This is a great case study for retroactively building or enhancing collections about student organizations and student life. In order to understand how to increase representation of the black campus movement at Kent State, the archivists’ began a layered process to develop the project and outreach efforts. This involved an assessment of current records to identify gaps and strengths. I’m sure this was a time consuming process, but seems worthwhile. Here at IASC, we’re using existing reference guides to help us understand existing student life collections. Next the archivists at Kent State, wrote a documentation plan and evaluated the language of their collection policy. The policy was changed to directly state a commitment to diversity:

“In order to more fully reflect the diversity of people and communities that make up Kent State University history, University Archives seeks to acquire collections that document historically underrepresented groups. …” (pg. 35)

A mission statement was also prepared to provide all potential donors and stakeholders with an understanding of the project’s goals. I think this is really important, especially when it comes to soliciting materials from alumni. The student newspaper was used a resource to identify individuals who might wish to participate and donate materials. With a list of names, the archivists worked with the alumni office to find contact information.

  • Take-aways: assessment of current collections for gaps is important in creating a documentation plan and purposeful outreach activities. Look at collection policy language and consider if a more direct statement could be made about including diverse perspectives and records.

If you know of other resource or programs at other archives, please comment or contact me. I’d appreciate any other suggestions.

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