Outreach is a vital component of any archive or library service’s strategy, and this applies as much to digital archives created via digitisation as it does to physical ones.
To us, the term broadly means carrying out a wide range of promotional activities to inform a potential user or visitor about your archive. Typical benefits include increased awareness, a rise in footfall, a rise in website traffic, and more; which can in turn help towards revenue generation.
But with increased workloads and budget cuts, making decisions in terms of an archive’s outreach strategy - not to mention researching potential techniques - may not be top of your list of priorities.
So to help you get started, or develop your current strategy, we’ve approached archivists and collection managers running successful outreach and marketing programmes to share their best practice advice...
Inspire and Intrigue through Blog Posts
The Mills Archive, which features a collection of over 42,000 digitised images, has incorporated frequent blog posts into its marketing strategy. Development Officer Liz Bartram says:
“Alongside our other outreach tools, we regularly write blog posts to showcase the many different sides of our digital archive - they are key to engaging with interested parties.
We write a wide range of informative posts from unusual images and documents we’ve found to event announcements and industry news.
To keep our readers interested, the posts are written by a variety of people working on different elements of the collection. We also like to include profiles of staff and volunteers to show the work we do and to encourage more volunteers to join us. Members of the public also have the opportunity to submit topics they think may be of interest.
After our blog posts have gone live on The Mills Archive website, we can send the post onto relevant people and interested parties using our e-newsletter software. The posts are also promoted through our social media channels, reaching a larger audience and increasing website traffic.”
Although a more time consuming way of informing potential users about your archive, the end benefits are worthwhile. Via their blog The Mills Archive are able to write about topics that interest potential users and promote previously unseen materials in more detail than is possible with other outreach methods.
Harness the Press to Promote your Archive
The team behind the Sefton Looking Back project turned to the local and national press to help them successfully market their recently digitised local history collection of 45,000 images. Dave Ewing, project leader explains more:
“As our collection features geographically specific images, we decided to approach The Liverpool Echo. We worked closely with them on the article to ensure all information was correct, especially how to access the archive.
To reach a larger audience we also sent out press releases - including project details and key quotes - to other local media outlets, such as The Southport Visitor. Press releases are an excellent way to supply all the information the press need to put together a news item, concisely and in an easy to read format.
As the collection is hosted online it can be accessed worldwide, wider press coverage is welcomed. Our archive has been featured in the national Who Do You Think You Are magazine several times, which has helped to raise awareness enormously. Again we worked closely with the WDYTYA journalists, providing input where required.
My top tip? When approaching the press be selective - work with consumer focussed, rather than trade, publications to reach the widest and most interested audience.”
This approach has been a very cost effective way for Sefton Council Library & Local Studies to promote the collection, both locally and nationally. The majority of the press coverage was planned to coincide with the launch of the archive and Sefton continue to work with the press to promote the collection, whilst utilising other outreach channels.
Utilise Social Media to raise Awareness
With an ever increasing number of archive users being active on social media, these platforms can be great tools to raise awareness amongst, and engage with, your target audience on a more personal level.
The Herefordshire History project run by Herefordshire Library Service utilises Facebook as one of its main outreach channels as Jan Nesaratnam, Local Studies Manager, discusses:
“After a successful launch event, we wanted to continue to promote the digital archive using inexpensive and easy methods. By having a Facebook page we have been able to achieve this. It does require time and commitment, but the result has been worthwhile.
To date we have over 2000 likes and our initial launch post reached over 16,000 people- all potential users. Also we receive over 300 visitors to the online archive per month from Facebook alone, so the benefits are clear.
The page is used to show interesting archive material, as well as advertising and raising awareness of upcoming events. We also encourage a two way dialogue and engage with our audience by replying to comments and enquiries as often as possible.
Also images are posted on Facebook that feature unknown people or places. Usually someone will be able to help us by identifying a relative, family friend or local landmark- adding depth to the collection.”
Facebook has proved invaluable to Herefordshire History and has allowed the archive to build up a relationship with current and potential users. This has helped raise awareness and increased website traffic. Social media is a vital outreach channel that anyone can use.
Encourage Engagement through Events
Events such as volunteer days and relevant workshops are excellent ways of promoting an archive and encouraging users to engage with your collections. Berkshire Stories decided to promote its newly digitised collection of WW1 documents and photographs through a series of events. This culminated in a launch event when the digital archive went live. Ann Smith, project leader explains more:
“As well as celebrating what we had achieved, the primary aim of the launch event was to showcase the new digital archive to interested parties and demonstrate the website - encouraging the public to explore the collection.
Before the official launch, we also held other events and worked with other parties to educate more people about the project. These included family history events, heritage open days and themed talks about various aspects of WW1.
We also partnered with Reading University for one event. Organised by history students, members of the public were encouraged to bring along items of importance related to Berkshire in WW1 to share with a team of experts.
All of these events were Outreach techniques aimed at engaging with the public and attracting new volunteers- though there were time implications, it was worthwhile in the long run.”
One off events are vital and can be very beneficial - helping boost engagement and raising awareness, but there are of course time and cost implications. These can be reduced by linking up with similar organisations, like Berkshire Stories did, especially as larger events with multiple partners mean a wider audience engaging with an archive.
Outreach – A Mix is best
Whilst all of the channels above can be very effective, it’s worth noting that an outreach strategy employing a mix of complimentary channels will deliver the best results. Such as using social media to share interesting blog posts, or using events to promote your blog and social media pages. Finding the right mix for you, which offers benefits whilst being sustainable with your available resources, is key.