Aaisha Haykal, Archival Manager at Avery Research Center of African American History and Culture, has known from childhood that she wanted to work in a library. In her current position, she handles acquirement’s, public programming and supervising student workers (graduate students). Although she has only been at this institution for two years, she has implemented several new programs. She has published research and conducted workshops and conferences about Avery’s collections and museum management. The Avery Research Center has become one of the nation’s most eminent institutions that collects, preserves, and displays artifacts of Low country African American history with an emphasis on Charleston.
Before beginning her tenure track at Avery, she was the university archivist at Chicago State University where she managed collections, books and university history. Before she began her museum career, she obtained double majors in African American Studies and English and Textual Studies from Syracuse University in 2009, and an MSLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 2011. Ms. Haykal stated that she decided to move to Charleston from the “Windy City” for more opportunities. She also asserted that she has a particular interest in preserving and managing African American History because she did not learn much about black history in grade school.
Although she is the archival manager, she has collaborated with other departments within the institution to create and implement social media/on line resources. One key point she raised during our conversation is that as a result of Avery being closed for renovations, they have had to stay on top of social media/on line updates. This includes Facebook posts and announcements about events on Avery’s web page. As a former graduate assistant at Avery, I noticed that their social media platform was “weak” or lacked a following as they are not on more popular social media outlets like Twitter or Instagram. Ms. Haykal stated that although Twitter is effective, it is time consuming and their small staff of five does not include someone for that specific role. I asked whether they would be interested in hiring someone for social media explicitly, and she said that they were unsure of that. One question arose in my head after her comment, “How can they reach their audiences if they are not in constant dialogue with them?” I in turn asked the question, “Who is Avery’s targeted audience?” Ms. Haykal reaffirmed what I thought was their target audience which is middle aged and older. Although they have an online newsletter for grades five and up, I am not sure if local school districts are aware of it.
Another key point she mentioned was that although Avery only does Facebook posts and website announcements, their contributions to the Low country Digital Library and South Carolina Digital Library have expanded their audience. Even though their Facebook posts may not be seen, if an individual researcher or organization is searching for information about African American History in the Low country or any other topic they specialize in, these aggregators (SCDL and LCDL) are easily accessible and navigational.
I suspect that Ms. Haykal´s situation of having to deal with social media as part of many other responsibilities is more the norm than the exception in the museum world. I wish she would delved more deeply into the specifics of the Avery´s web design endeavors.
I think the Avery should have used the opportunity afforded by the closing of their physical exhibits to revamp their website in order to connect to their audience while catering to their needs. Although it is a bit late for the latter, a more active social media presence could be tackled in the coming months to help the public keep their connection to the institution alive while its institution is closed.
I couldn’t agree more. As you can tell from my interview and prior knowledge, I was a bit shocked that Avery has such an inactive social media campaign even though one of their largest demographics is college students. I asked Ms. Hayakal if they ever thought about implementing Facebook live videos or small vlogs to not only describe but show the changes going on at Avery, and it seemed to me that their small staff does not have a designated person for social media. As you stated, she has a plethora of responsibilities and this closing could have been an opportunity for them to grow their audience for when it does reopen.
Great interview with Aaisha! It was great hearing the challenges and successes of someone working at a smaller institution within a university setting. As you and Wendy have mentioned, although this would have been a great time for the Avery Research Center to do an overhaul of their current website while their building is undergoing renovations, as a small institution with a staff of five, the website is truthfully most likely not their top priority. If most of their budget comes from the university and not from public support, I can see why the website has taken a back burner during this time when the Avery staff most likely have more pressing responsibilities to deal with. Sadly, and this may sound counterintuitive, but if cultural institutions are going to stay open regardless of public support/donations, they don’t have the necessary push to have a more active social media presence to potentially gain new visitors. I appreciated hearing this prospective because that is honestly the situation for most of the museum’s I’ve worked for.
It was great hearing about all of the Avery’s collaborations with other organizations and departments on campus and Aaisha gave some great advice regarding what professional associations to follow or become a part of if someone is interested in library sciences or becoming an archivist. I look forward to following the Avery’s renovation and reopening in 2019.
While an online presence doesn’t seem to be a priority for the Avery Research Center at this time, they are taking small steps in that direction. Ms. Haykal discussed the online component to one of the physical exhibits (Avery, The History That Would Not Die). Physical panels are replicated on the website. I agree that more could possibly be done with an online exhibit while the physical space is being renovated. However, if time and resources are not going to be dedicated to an online space, this can be the next best thing. Visitors have the opportunity to learn from these panels and get a feel for what the museum is about. This could potentially entice them to visiting the physical space once it reopens.
I appreciate that she is so committed to preserving African American history and culture. I did not know that a librarian could be tenured so that is interesting. I also find it interesting that she prefers Facebook over other social media platforms. The truth is I feel the same way as far as being able to do more with Facebook. I also appreciate that she understands that a variety of audiences can be reached via this social media platform. Everyone from middle schoolers to great grandmas are on Facebook these days. I also think Facebook is like launchpad – so many people will go in search of something whether in-person or online simply because they saw a cool video/post/meme about it on Facebook.
An aside………It is very odd and it would seem a detriment to the center that they have been closed for so long for HVAC renovations.
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