What do Juno-nominated musicians, comic book collectors, interior decorators and personal organizers have in common? They’ve all, at one point or another, accessed collections and services at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA).
Located in Edmonton, PAA is the repository for records and resources considered to be of historical and cultural significance to the people of Alberta. Whether for photos, videos, films, maps or text, folks visiting the Archives can access literally millions of different records.
Besides providing access to historical records, another vital aspect of the Archives’ work is to make sure that people in Alberta are aware that the PAA is there as a research resource. Common uses and visits to the PAA are often related to genealogical or academic research, to find out the history of a community or related to personal curiosity or interest in a particular topic or past event. Through public programming and outreach to different groups and demographics with varying archival needs, there are many unique and creative ways to get the word out about Alberta’s Provincial Archives.
Generally, outreach from the PAA happens in two ways: holding events at the Archives or ensuring its presence in the community. From leading school tours, attending trade shows, publishing academic articles or meeting with donors, no single person is solely responsible for outreach at the Archives; it’s a collaborative effort. The Archives has been successful in its outreach, in part because it’s one of the few provincial archives in the country with a dedicated Program Coordinator.
Jaclyn Landry, Program and Volunteer Coordinator for the PAA, says that her position, “allows the Archives to make a more conscious and strategic effort to develop interesting and creative public programing to meet the needs of our current and potential facility users.”
So what do these creative outreach programs look like? Well, it could be PAA staff attending interior decorating shows to promote their photo collection as inspiration for designers with historic images making their ways into homes, offices, restaurants and hotels. Or it could be taking part in a Comic-Con event to show collectors the proper ways to care for and preserve treasured issues of their favourite paper comic books using archival supplies and best practices.
Or say a person has a bunch of film cans full of old family film reels: do they just hold onto them forever? Would there perhaps be a benefit to having them properly stored and preserved for future generations? Maybe a person would be more inclined to donate their films if they took part in the Archives’ Home Movie Day, an annual event where people can bring in their films and view them on vintage playback equipment. Landry says that, “It can be a pretty emotional experience to see days gone by, perhaps in films they have never been seen before.”
Music has also (excuse the pun) played a role in PAA outreach. In 2013, the Archives partnered with the School of Song, a group of emerging singer-songwriters, and invited them to the PAA to use the archival collections as inspiration for songs. They were also joined by Juno-nominated artist Maria Dunn. For some of the artists, it was a single archival photo that inspired a new tune; for others it was hours of research accessing different types of archival sources. Landry says that, “Although the original project and planned concert has passed, the beauty of this project is that many of these musicians continue to grace the stages of local and national music festivals, and as they introduce the songs that they wrote using the PAA’s archival records they tell the story of how these songs were inspired and written and how they visited an archives to be inspired. Using archival material is just another tool for their creative tool box.”
PAA staff are continually thinking of creative ways to reach fresh audiences for new potential items to add to the Archives’ already vast collections to advocate and ensure people are aware that the PAA accepts private record donations from individuals, businesses and community organizations. Public programming and community outreach are the best ways to do that. “We’ve toured personal organizers through the PAA to help them understand the value of archival records and to show them examples of record types that would be of interest to the PAA. These personal organizers now have this awareness and when they are helping someone go through their personal or business effects, they can advise their clients of our private records donation program.”
“We want the Archives to be a place that people think of when they are looking for answers to their questions, or are wondering what to do with their records,” Landry said. “Public programing allows us to focus on communicating that we have interesting, unique, one-of-a-kind collections, we are a free public service and we collect record donations. Public outreach isn’t always focused on who is already visiting our site; it’s important to focus on those who aren’t yet visiting and find ways to engage them.”