Sunday, January 5, 2014

What A Little GIF Can Do For Your Agency's Mission

 photo ArchivesInnovation-OpenTheBox_zps3ec2f029.gif
Gif by me.

Why GIFs?

Is it me, or are animated GIFs all over the place lately? My work team makes them, some Twitter avatars are them and they populate Buzzfeed (BF) posts regularly.

Although it's impossible to learn everything, I do think it's important to keep up and it seems to me that knowing how to do a good GIF is worth its weight in gold for a communicator.

Fortunately there was recently a post on BF called "24 Invaluable Skills To Learn For Free Online This Year" with a ton of good links to free courses or tutorials, among them how to make the GIFs.

I don't want to repeat the tutorial because it pretty much tells you exactly what to do.

I do want to explain how I used it for my purposes and what the GIF above means.

A Real World Use-Case 

Before I go on, please know that I am speaking in a personal capacity now, and not as an official representative of the National Archives (NARA).

At NARA's Office of Innovation, our main job is to make it easier for people to find and use the historical records we hold. The big job is to get these records into the online catalog, while at the same time finding ways to make the catalog talk to other information repositories where the public congregates.

(I have one employee who spends all his time finding ways to get images into Wikipedia, which is where they are exponentially more often accessed than from our website or physical buildings.)

We also ask the public to help us add information to U.S historical records so that they are more complete.

The Communication Challenge

NARA has a range of specialized audiences among the general public, such as geneaology researchers, veterans, teachers, and of course history students and researchers. Of course there is also a broader open government audience for whom access to the nation's archives is of primary importance in the context of transparency.

The public wants access to the records. And yet archival culture and tradition focuses mainly on records preservation. This is the job of literally receiving, organizing, labeling and storing boxes (or other storage devices) with paper records and other media.

The head of the agency, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, repeatedly makes it clear that access is a top priority - in fact "make access happen" is our number one priority.

And yet - "make access happen" is not a totally clear or compelling headline to anyone that I've spoken to about my job.

What a Little GIF Can Do

Among all of our social media tools, Today's Document is by far the most popular. People want to see visuals - images, video, original documents, and so on.

So having a short and punchy GIF that "tells the story" seems to me like an important tool to have on hand.

The image above conveys that our job is not only to hold things on behalf of the public, but also to provide these things to them. We are only stewards who receive things packed in boxes and then unwrap them, organize and preserve them, and then make them available to whoever might want to need them.

A GIF seems like a simple tool. But it is the simplest tools that are often the most critical when it comes to educating people about a very important mission - both inside the agency, to achieve cultural unity, and outside.

* All opinions my own.


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