Today’s post comes from our Tumblr guru and Today’s Document lead, Darren Cole.
“Where are the aliens?”
“Did Nicholas Cage ever return the Declaration of Independence?”
“What’s the worst amendment ever proposed?”
These are just a sampling of the questions recently put to National Archives curators during our inaugural “Answer Time” Q&A session on Tumblr.
On May 17, Tumblr users were invited to the National Archives Exhibits Tumblr to ask co-curators Christine Blackerby and Jennifer Johnson questions about the new “Amending America” exhibition.
Opened in March at the National Archives in Washington, DC, “Amending America” explores some of the 11,000 attempts to amend the Constitution. It includes petitions, interactives, landmark documents, and political cartoons addressing issues including child labor, prayer in schools, free speech, suffrage, civil rights, and more. The National Archives Exhibits Tumblr blog serves as a companion portal, sharing these items and others that couldn’t fit in the exhibit online.
The live, online chat provided a great opportunity to engage with audiences about the mission and work of the National Archives. During the event, Christine and Jennifer fielded a variety of questions from Tumblr users, ranging from classic interests like exhibit design and the inner workings of the National Archives to the more niche topics of ‘craziest failed amendments’ and favorite sandwiches.
The biggest challenge was keeping up with the steady deluge of questions. By the end of the session, over 1,100 questions had been submitted. Ultimately the hosts were able to respond to 32 questions over the course of the 2 hour event. The most popular topic? Queries about “aliens in the Archives” comprised over 11% of user submissions.
Questions included the serious, silly, and speculative. The most popular question asked whether the National Archives might hold records on the comic book character “Captain America.” While the subject may have been fictional, it was a great intro to more realistic archival topics, including military personnel records, declassification issues, and actual comic books in our records.
- Preparation was essential. Our curators had documents and images from the exhibit ready to go as needed.
- Staying on top of the questions was exhausting. Our team of six started reviewing questions that morning, only to see them gradually double over the course of the day. Most fell into thematic groups so we tried to choose representative questions from each set.
- Divide and conquer. To make the session run smoothly, each member of our team had an assigned task. Some questions were answered jointly by the curators but in general they assigned according to their specialty and interest. A member of the communications staff then proofread and edited their draft answers. Relevant images and links to relevant blog posts and pages on archives.gov were added to the answers by the Web & Social Media staff and finally queued up for posting.
- Keep it fun. Don’t avoid the silly or lighthearted questions. They’re still a great opportunity to engage with users and add some levity to the conversation.
See the complete thread of questions and answers at:
Catch our next AnswerTime on July 1 when you can send your questions to Archivist of the United States David Ferriero at http://aotus.tumblr.com/ !