A Simple Way to Crowdsource From a Distance

Associations have found plenty of new ways to collaborate remotely since the pandemic began, including with snazzy, multifunctional technologies. But sometimes a solution as simple as a shared document is the most accessible and efficient way to pool your members' expertise and ideas.

When COVID-19 began to impact the United States in earnest last March, Dr. Lydia Tang was concerned about what it meant for her fellow archivists. Would institutions furlough or lay off workers, thinking their jobs were unnecessary if there weren’t physical archives for them to work in?

So Tang, a special collections archivist at Michigan State University and cochair of the accessibility and disability section of the Society of American Archivists, drafted a Google document making the case for all the things people in her profession could do remotely—and then invited others to contribute. Titled “Archivists at Home,” the document was designed “to try to compile as many ideas as possible for work-from-home situations to justify continued employment for archivists,” she says.

With an assist from social media and SAA itself, word about “Archivists at Home” quickly spread. More than two dozen people contributed to the document, which expanded from a simple list of tips to a thorough, 17-page guidebook providing advice on remote projects, tools, how to secure an archive that’s been closed, working with student employees, and more.

“At the height of COVID-19 closures in mid- and late March, there were over a hundred people logged in [simultaneously],” Tang says. “It seemed like people were constantly looking at the document.”

SAA’s accessibility and disability section, which had been established in August 2019, was instrumental to the creation and support of “Archivists at Home,” Tang says. A similarly crowdsourced document on inclusive interviewing and hiring practices, produced in January, provided a kind of trial run for the COVID-19-related effort.

The power of such documents is that anybody can contribute to them without interference, though success prompted Tang to take a firmer editorial hand.

“There were a lot of really great ideas, and then there was a lot of repetition of ideas,” she says. “So I put it on comment mode, so I could mediate ideas as they came in. Most of the time, unless it was completely incorrect, I would accept it into the document.”

SAA itself promoted the document as a COVID-19 resource, and it’s become a go-to source for other archivist organizations. Tang says it demonstrates how such an activity can introduce ideas that might not have had a hearing otherwise.

“Just being open to seeing how the document evolves is really important, because it also shows the needs and the expertise of the people that are contributing,” she says. “Some people come to it with questions and some people come to it with answers, so there’s a dialogue that’s actively happening on the page, which is really amazing.”

(MicroStockHub/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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