Ever wonder what exciting new projects the many employees at NARA are working on? The “What are You Working On?” blog feature aims to introduce a variety of NARA employees and highlight some of the exciting projects we are working on around the agency. Check for this blog series on Wednesdays!
This week, we introduce Hilary Parkinson, writer and editor for the Office of Communications and Public Affairs.
What is your name and title?
Hilary Parkinson, writer/editor for the Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Where is your job located?
I work in downtown Washington, DC, in the National Archives building—if I turn around at my desk, I can see the top of one of the columns out of the window!
What is your job in a nutshell?
I write for two audiences at the National Archives.
The first audience is the public, who read the posts my colleague Rob Crotty and I write on the blue Facebook page and the Pieces of History blog, or my “Author on the Record” interviews in Prologue magazine.
My other audience is the National Archives staff; I write and edit a monthly newsletter and an internal blog about everything happening across the country. We have 3,000 staff spread across the United States in regional archives, Federal record centers, and Presidential libraries. All of them have different jobs and projects and holdings. I learn something new about the staff at the National Archives every month!
Since I am part of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, I also brainstorm with fellow staff members come up with new and crazy ideas to market and communicate our programs and holdings to the public.
What are you working on right now?
I’m really interested in using social media—blogging, Twitter, Facebook, QR codes, games, apps—to encourage people to use and learn more about our holdings.
The National Archives building will always be here, and there’s no substitute for seeing the Constitution and other documents in person, but social media gives us a chance to reach people miles away, start a conversation, and access the holdings in many different ways.
We have a new video shorts series called “Inside the Vaults” which we can embed in blogs or press releases, and that’s been a new way to bring our holdings to the public, whether it’s the Nuremberg Laws or Grace Tully Archives. (I am one of the voiceovers in the Tully video!)
And of course, social media is fun! Where else could I use the holdings to search for images to write “Facial Hair Fridays?”
Part Two of “Discovering the Civil War” opens soon, so we’ll be featuring that on the blue Facebook page and the POH blog. And I am really excited about the possibilities for social media for the next big exhibit, “What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?” in 2011. Stay tuned!
How long have you been at NARA? Have you worked at any other NARA location?
I’ve been here one year and four months—a mere blink of the eye in NARA time!
Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?
The National Archives Building and its holdings are both amazing, and I am thrilled every time I have a “behind-the-scenes” experience.
This summer I went up on the roof of the portico of the National Archives Building—if you read the Archivist’s blog AOTUS, I stood right next to the base of that eagle and it’s very high up! I also got to peer down from the oculus of the dome in the Rotunda, directly above the Charters of Freedom.
And it’s always exciting to go into the stacks and have an archivist pull out a record to show you, whether it’s a document signed by Lincoln or a ship’s log. In the National Archives at New York, I saw a ledger that listed civilians’ names and the reasons they were excused from the draft in the Civil War. Sometimes they were foreign nationals (bad time to visit the States!) or were ill or—the most wrenching—were the “father of a motherless child.”
As a writer, I find records fascinating. I am always asking myself, what is the story of the person behind these records, how do these records and that person connect to us now, and how can I tell that story to my audience either online or in print?
What are your passions or interests outside of work?
For the past three years, I have been volunteer teaching English as a second language to immigrant adults through a non-profit in Washington, DC. It has been one of my most enjoyable experiences while living here.
I also love to travel with my soon-to-be husband. We enjoy walking around strange cities, eating unusual foods like sweet potato soft serve, and riding on weird public transportation like funiculars in Hakone, Japan, and Quebec City, Canada.
What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?
There is always an enormous stack of books by my bed—I usually read more than one at a time. I just finished The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a true story in which access to records (medical ones) play an important role for a family and for scientific research.
My three favorite books at the moment are all YA novels: Voices by Ursula LeGuin; Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge; and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, where an intrepid girl and her brother run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Coming to work here reminds me a little bit of her adventure—I don’t get to live in the Met, but I do get to spend all day at the National Archives!
Meet more NARA employees: http://www.archives.gov/careers/employees/