Friday, November 6, 2015

Outreach - NARA at Philadelphia

This week, we discussed another facet of an archives functions – outreach and advocacy. Initially, I saw the two terms as being synonymous, though upon examining the readings and listening to our class discussions, it became clear that while they feed into another, they are two different functions. Oftentimes, outreach and advocacy occur simultaneously.
Discussing outreach in class reminded me of an initiative that I became aware of when I was first introduced to the world of cultural institutions in Philadelphia. About three years ago, I volunteered at the National Archives at Philadelphia (Hi, Grace!), where I worked with its education specialist, Andrea “Ang” Reidell. I worked on a few different projects in the education department. I helped Ang with several teacher’s workshops, National History projects, and a myriad of other outreach initiatives. But the one that stuck out to me the most was her project with Esperanza Academy.

            Esperanza Academy, a Philadelphia high school, has a large number of Hispanic students. Ang developed a partnership with the school to bring in students to use the archives to create family histories, a project called La Historia de Mi Familia. Many students’ families had emigrated from Puerto Rico, which meant that as a commonwealth of the United States, NARA had these holdings. Students not only developed skills in archival literacy and primary source documents, but they constructed stories and projects based off of what they found. The project also expanded further when many students interviewed their family members and looked within their own families’ treasure troves of photographs and letters that might help them to construct a narrative of their ancestry.

            This project was an effective way to increase NARA’s visibility and strength its relationship to different corners of the city, but it also gave students valuable skills. As we discussed in class, however, many cultural institutions don’t have adequate staff that can take on such large-scale recurring projects. The value of the archives in this regard is apparent, but more needs to be done to expend more resources on similar initiatives. I hope to see and contribute to different outreach models that enhance an institution and its surrounding neighborhood of users.

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