Archives & Social Media

You gotta love it when two of your favorite things find a way to intersect. Hence, my excitement when I read about how the National Archives (NARA) is using Tumblr to promote their digital collections and increase engagement with historical documents and photographs.

In an interview with Storyboard (Tumblr’s editorial publication), archivist Darren Cole talked about his involvement with Today’s Document, one of NARA’s ten Tumblrs.

As I see more and more library blogs, webinars, and publications about how LIS institutions can utilize social media, it’s nice to see a concrete example of someone doing it right:

  • NARA is utilizing the medium to a T; most of their posts are images, which caters to the visual nature of Tumblr.
  • They have broken up their mountain of potential content into 10 different Tumblrs; there is something for everyone, and thus probably a higher likelihood of follower retention (because followers won’t have to scroll past posts they don’t care about).
  • Their Tumblrs are driven by their institutional goals. They know why they’re doing what they’re doing; it isn’t just social media for social media’s sake: “Broadly speaking, we’re following the directives of our strategic plan by educating, engaging, and building public awareness of our holdings, and also meeting the new expectations of the public by improving access. So long as we’re getting comments from people who have learned something new about U.S. history, become aware of the Archives, or are simply impressed that we’re even on Tumblr, I think we’ve fulfilled our mission.”
  • They are making an effort to learn about and acknowledge the diversity of Tumblr users: “Our first bike-to-work day post was a photo of a couple on this Victorian tandem bike. It was surprisingly popular at the time (for one of our first posts) and made us realize the popularity of the vintage and quirky items (and the bike community). Another post of “Ice Girls“—two women delivering ice during World War I—was picked up by several women’s history blogs and did extremely well without getting on the Radar. Both posts were wake-up calls of sorts and helped us to recognize the variety and diversity of communities on Tumblr. Hopefully we have something for everyone (or will).”

    I think this is key; no matter what the stereotypes are around certain social media platforms (e.g. Instagram is for hipsters, Pinterest is for brides-to-be and stay-at-home moms) we really need to investigate further and attempt to engage with a variety of user groups.

While not every institution has the same types of collections or resources as NARA, I think we can definitely take a page from their book on appropriate use of social media.

Had to include the "Ice Girls"!
Had to include the “Ice Girls”! Source: NARA
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