Blog Entry 15: Issues and Advocacy Roundtable Surveys Update

We have all thought about advocacy. And at least in one point in your career, you will/have engaged in advocacy efforts, whether at a micro- or macro-level. As we have seen recently, archivists find themselves having to be advocates not only for themselves or their own institutions, but also fellow institutions. But how exactly do archival professionals personally define advocacy? What is advocacy’s relationship to outreach, a concept that is sometimes used interchangeably with advocacy? And in what ways does advocacy, as well as outreach activities, form a part of our professional activities?

Over the past year, the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable has been conducting surveys on archival advocacy in the profession, designed to gauge the advocacy environment, as it exists among today’s archivists and cultural heritage institutions. Under the direction of I&A co-chair, Laura Starratt, Jeremy Brett (also co-chair of I&A) and I developed two consecutive surveys, with the aim of conducting follow-up surveys and presenting the findings to the archival community in the following months. The first survey consisted of questions related to five themes: advocacy resources; education; finances/development; social media and outreach; and performance metrics and planning. Within these five themes, Jeremy and I developed three to four questions based upon our own experience, archival literature, and professional discourse. Some questions that we devised included:

  • What are advocacy resources (websites, articles, books, etc.) that you currently find helpful?
  • Have you taken part in any workshops or seminars on advocacy?
  • Are you, or any of your colleagues, represented in official development activities?
  • In general, do you personally engage in advocacy via social media for the profession?
  • How does advocacy rank on your institution’s strategic plan?

Where the initial survey was extensive, the second survey was more succinct and spoke to the gaps in the initial survey, namely in consideration of the definition of terms. In hindsight, while reviewing the results of the first survey, we realized a significant semantic blockade that would eventually form the basis of our second survey. Like the respondents, we, the survey creators, had not deeply considered the relationship and distinction between outreach and advocacy. We found the interchange of these two terms throughout the initial survey, and felt it necessary to address this in the second survey. Questions in this survey included:

  • How would you define advocacy?
  • How would you define outreach?
  • In your mind, is there a significant difference between advocacy and outreach?
  • Do you have internal (job/institution-related) priorities for advocacy?
  • Do you have external (professional) priorities for advocacy?

This project is still a work in progress. Though we have met to review the initial survey responses, we have yet to do so for the second one, as it just recently closed. Also, in assessing the responses of the second survey, it is likely that we will better comprehend and effectively evaluate the answers in the initial survey.

The goal of this project was to identify what needs to be done in terms of educating the profession about advocacy; learning about the perception of advocacy and its relationship with outreach; and deciphering the role of I&A Roundtable in rectifying gaps in advocacy education. From the outset, we all agreed that this survey project was important in understanding how professionals think about advocacy and what they do about it. We, as professionals, speak about advocacy a lot--it’s presented on; it is discussed thoroughly on social media outlets and listservs; and we are all encouraged to participate in shared advocacy efforts. Through this project, we aim to continue and further the dialogue about what advocacy is, how it is defined, and the ways in which advocacy (as well as outreach activities) form part of our professional activities.

*The results of these surveys will be presented on at the 2013 SAA/CoSA Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Session 405, “Shout It from the Mountaintop: Changing Perceptions About Archival Advocacy.”