Each day, Communications Coordinator Haku Blaisdell brings the treasures of the Newberry to thousands of social media followers. In this edition of the Donor Digest, Haku talks about her work, the intersection between social media and education, and the importance of accessibility.
How did you first encounter the Newberry?
This is actually my first long-term position. I graduated from Northwestern last year with a degree in education and social policy. A lot of my research was specifically about Indigenous interventions in institutions like museums and libraries, and that’s where the Newberry came into play.
One of my professors at Northwestern was Kelly Wisecup—she’s actually a Newberry fellow now. I love her; she’s amazing. Kelly taught a class on Native literature in Chicago, and she was really great at having us look at primary sources whenever we could. As a lot of people know, the Newberry is home to the Ayer collection, which is this amazing collection of Indigenous materials. Kelly arranged for our class to visit the library and talk with Analú López, the Newberry’s Ayer Librarian, about the collection, the Newberry, and how the library is working to build relationships with Indigenous communities. That’s how I got the Newberry on my radar, and I ended up using a lot of collection materials in my research.
Then, after graduating, I saw that the Newberry was hiring for a Communications Coordinator, and I thought, “This is something I could do.” I already knew that it was a wonderful place to do research, so I figured it would be a great place to work as well!
What does your job look like day-to-day?
A big part of my role is coming up with content for our various social media accounts, mainly Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into that, whether it be researching collection items that we could feature or speaking to curators about items that relate to holidays, events, or heritage months. It’s a lot of meeting with people, learning the scope of our collection, seeing items in person, and figuring out how I can best capture those items and translate them for a broader audience. My goal is to make our social media as accessible as possible and make it a welcoming entry point into the Newberry, so that anyone can feel comfortable taking the next step of coming to the library or engaging with other digital resources.
You mentioned that you majored in education in college. How has your interest in education fit into your current role and your storytelling ethos on social media?
Thank you for framing it like that. It is storytelling. It’s like I’m in a conversation with all of our 20,000 followers. Even though it doesn’t outwardly scream education, I think social media at the Newberry is very much embedded in education. I like to think that there might be people out there whose first interaction with the Newberry is on our social media accounts, and that social media interaction could be an entry point for exploring our collections further or connecting with a librarian.
I know from personal experience that educational institutions can be intimidating, especially ones of higher education. I love social media because we can use it as a tool to emphasize that, regardless of all the marble grandeur in our lobby, this is a library for everybody. You don’t need a PhD to engage with our collections.
How do you go about crafting an accessible and welcoming social media post?
It starts with the Newberry staff. They know our collections best and they’re the experts in their respective areas. I start a conversation with them by asking questions like, “What items could be good to feature on such-and-such holiday?” or “What are some cool new acquisitions in your area?” And trust me, there are a lot of cool new acquisitions.
Once I have a few leads, my supervisor Alex Teller (Director of Communications and Editorial Services) and I go into the reading room to view the items. I’m very grateful for our digital collections and the accessibility they provide, but seeing an item in person is a different experience. It’s pretty spectacular. That visit helps us determine how best to showcase the item, whether that be a video, a reel, or a still image. A book with movable parts, for example, might be best understood through a short video where a librarian demonstrates that interactivity. Finally, we craft the caption, consulting with staff as we go to make sure we’re putting out good, well-researched information that’s also fun and easy to understand.
All of our collection items have incredible stories behind them. We could write a blog post about every single item in the collection if we wanted to. What we try to put on social media is work that's done closely with the staff members who really know these items and can activate those stories and bring them to life.
Of the content you’ve produced so far, what’s your favorite?
Oh my gosh, that’s a big question. Well, one of the first posts that I did was back in November—and mind you, I started in October, so this was very, very early on. November is Native American Heritage Month, and it was wonderful to interact more with materials made by Native folks here in Chicago and around the world. On November 2nd, I created a post about “The Red Man’s Greeting.” It’s a birchbark book that Simon Pokagon made and handed out at the 1893 World’s Fair. I actually studied it a lot in my own research in college. I remember thinking when I came into the job, “I want to feature this at some point. Doesn’t have to be now, but at some point, this item, its history, and what it represented then and what it represents now have to be featured.” That one definitely holds a special place in my heart.
Click here to see the social media feature of “The Red Man’s Greeting” on Instagram.
I also love our behind-the-scenes videos, because if I were a member of the public, I would love to see that kind of content. A lot of the work here involves people who are running the library behind the scenes. It’s great to highlight their work and be able to learn from the movers and shakers who make the library wheels turn.
Click here to see a recent behind-the-scenes video featuring a Newberry conservator at work.
What is something the public might not know about the Newberry that you can help reveal on social media?
This may look like an intimidating, academic institution, even just physically from the outside, but this is a place for everyone—all you need is curiosity. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true.
We all have histories that we bring to this space and these collections, and I think that’s something we can build off of. I just hope that I can get across that the Newberry is an accessible place and that we’re constantly working on making it more approachable.
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This story is part of the Newberry's Donor Digest, Spring 2022. In this newsletter, we share with donors exciting stories of the work made possible by their generosity. Learn more about supporting the library and its programs.