Blog Entry 9: An Example of how to collaborate with other organizations and individuals


When I began my position as Archivist and Associate Librarian at Indiana University South Bend eight plus years ago, I soon realized that nearly all my area colleagues were just like me – lone arrangers in small shops.

I wanted to get to know these colleagues – and to know just what collections were out there in my area. I wanted to network with these folks as well. I soon set to work amassing a list of all the area archives, museums, historical societies, and public libraries with local history departments. I then contacted them – and asked them to join in a group. I telephoned the directors and/or members (depending on their hierarchy) of each institution at hand, describing the group and urging them to join.

I amassed an organic, grassroots group that we call the Michiana History Group. Michiana is the area that South Bend finds itself in – and the group encompasses -- five counties in Indiana and three counties in Michigan. There are institutions from area colleges and universities, museums, historical societies, local history departments at public libraries, and religious archives.

There was a ‘first iteration’ of the group, if you will – there were some initial meetings, always after work time at a local business, but eventually attendance petered out. At the urging of a colleague at the local public library, I hesitantly revived the group, holding brown bag meetings at lunchtime.

Meetings are now held every month (or sometimes every other month) at alternating institutions. It’s a chance for the host to show off their collections and their shop and get more people to know just what they hold – and who they are. The meetings are very informal, and are a wonderful chance to meet colleagues, make connections on like collections (especially connecting area history, etc.), and network.

Often hosting institutions will provide some snacks and beverages at the group – which is not required by any means – but very nice! This being a group of small communities’ (for the most part) institutions, we often get homemade treats – a bonus! Members do make their own time to attend the meetings – so it’s often a slightly different mix of attendees each time, with many regulars in there too.

One example of just how this group has been able to support each other is highlighting the story of a small business owner in Goshen, Indiana, who helped to bring Jewish refugees to Goshen during World War II and saved them from death at the hands of the Nazis.  Through collaboration with the entire Michiana History Group, the staff of the Michiana Jewish Historical Society was able to bring this previously untold story to the public. Some of the members of our group have been working with the Michiana Jewish Historical Society to best preserve the collection. Others will begin a project to digitize the collection and others will offer outreach to let the public know about it. It is hoped that this story will be widely told, giving voice to this most interesting local tale.

I think it’s often impulse for those of us at small shops – especially if we’re lone arrangers – to feel like we’re alone and that we’re unconnected to colleagues. In this era of shrinking budgets that isolationist impulse and mentality is potentially dangerous. Getting together with your area colleagues has many benefits, not only meeting new people and having others with whom to discuss projects, but also having help in working on those projects and offering advocacy for each other. 

This has been my experience with getting together such a group together. It has multiple benefits, on many levels. And perhaps advocacy is the highest – and best – benefit.