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Access + Outreach: A Multi-Level Approach

October 14, 2019

By Maria Cunningham, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Reed College

Access and Outreach are fundamental principles of the library profession. At Reed Special Collections and Archives (RSCA), access and outreach are at the foundation of our service model. We want patrons to feel like they belong in the space and that they have some sense of ownership over the materials. To achieve this goal, we engage in what we call “multi-level outreach.” Multi-level outreach consists of the programs and services that promote the collection as well as the internal work that ensures the collection is accessible, easily searchable, and usable. There are several ways we have approached this over the last couple years but our main focus has been to increase access and to do more outreach to highlight the collections.

RSCA is located on Lower level 2 in the library. There were no signs telling patrons how to get to us, and the door was always closed. One of the first things we did was to purchase a sandwich board sign that showed our hours and pointed the way downstairs. Next we opened the door to make it more welcoming and reconfigured the reading room to give patrons more space.

The internal work done to make the collection more accessible took a lot more work. First we started with much needed webpage redesign. To make our collections searchable to patrons, we migrated our PDF finding aids into ArchivesSpace. As a result, patrons can now search all of our archival holdings through our (much clearer!) website.  

Thanks to our new sign, we received a lot of walk-in visitors who were curious about what is in the collection. We selected some of our most well-known items and created a “Fun Shelf” that we can quickly pull from to show as examples. To reach a wider audience outside of Reed, we created an Instagram account (@reedspecialcollections) to showcase the collection and advertise our events. To reach out to student donors, we set up an information table in the dining hall where we handed out treats and talked to students about how they can donate their materials to archives. 

All of these activities involved a lot of planning, meetings, and setbacks but the results have been great. We are getting more classes, students, and community members using RSCA. We have a lot more planned and are excited to reach out to new audiences!

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