The Big Dude, aka AOTUS David S. Ferriero, frequently writes at his blog about the “Wow” factor in the workplace. I attended yesterday’s Seventh Annual Wiliam G. McGowan Forum on Communications at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). My reaction? Wow! In fact, I told David at the conclusion that this was the most enjoyable NARA presentation I’ve heard to date. I added, “so much cool stuff, so much to think about!”
I always enjoy coming to what David calls his “house” because NARA is a place in Fedland I can find “people like me” (well, not exactly like me, I’m awfully, hmmm, let’s say quirky). What I mean is, I treasure–I absolutely treasure!–being able to connect with people who value knowledge, the records we depend on to find it, and the importance of sharing what is there to study. Ferriero’s astute outreach to me May 12, 2011 means these days I can step into the National Archives, a place where I once worked as an employee, with a confidence I hadn’t had in a long, long time.
Several elements combined to make this a special evening for me. I enjoyed hearing the fascinating discussion (#mcgowan2011 on Twitter) in the McGowan Theater about “What’s Next in the Social Media Revolution.” Alexander Howard (@digiphile), the Government 2.0 Washington correspondent for O’Reilly Media, was the moderator. (Howard really was impressive!) Speakers included Sarah Bernard, Deputy Director, White House Office of Digital Strategy; David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman center for Internet Society and co-director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab; and Pamela Wright, Chief Digital Access Strategist for NARA.
Prior to the presentation in McGowan, I enjoyed talking to many cool and smart people from NARA and from the Foundation for the National Archives (FNA) during the Social Media Fair in the theater lobby. In fact, as soon I entered the building at 5:30 p.m., I saw one of the people pictured in the FNA’s awesome and funny Facebook Halloween photo.
You know I said, “the blue hair is great; where were the blue nails?” I totally loved the whimsical vibe. Lots to talk about here but hey, I’m quirky. So the first photo I am posting just has to feature blue hair, right?
The evening had a double wow for me. NARA and the FNA, the panel and the fair, fabulous combo! Plus, I was celebrating a huge Fedland victory involving some totally cool NARA peeps (including AOTUS and one of my old friends) that took place a week ago Friday. But wait, there’s more! I had a Maarja “oops” moment yesterday evening involving two people I especially admire and respect, LOL. A-gain. Yeah, I’ll ‘fess up and share it here in a bit. All in all, plenty for me to enjoy and laugh about!
My mind is still whirring over what I saw and heard! Where to start? Chronologically, yeah, that’ll work. I had exchanged some fun emails with @adravan during the day so I knew that the super cool Arian Ravanbakhsh, electronic records management expert at NARA, would be there. I enjoyed chatting with him about the National Archives’ ever-expanding social media presence. (The Reagan Presidential Library just recently launched a Facebook page.) Arian is extremely knowledgeable (he often teaches classes on electronic records management). I’ve been following him at the Records Express blog since NARA launched it.
I also enjoyed meeting Adam Minakowski of the NARA Social Media team. He previously worked in the National Archives’ library. Library closures are much on my mind right now in Fedland. Adam and I had a lot to talk about in addition to discussing NARA’s blogs. (I shared some of the observations I’ve written about here.) I’m so glad Adam took the time to chat with me (I always have a lot of questions for NARA peeps, LOL). He is pictured with Arian in the photo below.
I moved on down the hall where I met Meredith Doviak, who assists David with his blog. Talk about wow! I’ve exchanged some emails with Meredith and am so impressed by how she rolls, so very cool. I recently noticed a duplicate posting of one of the books on David’s “What I’m reading” page. Meredith was great about ensuring the fix was made. She’s also been wonderfully pitch perfect in how she responded to some of my other comments about how NARA does some things. No surprise, after I introduced myself, we talked a lot about AOTUS’s blog and how it has developed.
I told Meredith that I see Ferriero’s present blog voice as having a cool vibe and that there is a very nice balance in the types of posts he puts up these days. She plays a big part behind the scenes in ensuring the posts go up the way they should in terms of formatting and so forth. I was pleased to be able to thank her personally for that. When I talked to David at the end of the evening after the panel concluded, he saw how my face just lit up as I observed with excitement, “David, I got to meet Meredith! She is just fabulous, I love how she has handled my questions. So cool.”
I had joking told Ferriero before the event that there were many NARA stars I wanted to photograph when I came to Archives 1 on Friday. When David came in to the theater lobby mid-way through the Social Media Fair, we greeted each other and I told him I already had had my evening’s highlight–getting pictures (and pictured) with Arian! I grinned and asked, “Is it ok if I get a picture of you with him as well?” David said “sure,” and we walked over to where Arian was demonstrating and discussing Twitter, Facebook, and other social media tools. I laughed at David’s greeting of Arian (he’s irrepressible), then snapped a photo of the two of them. Look closely and you’ll see that AOTUS is wearing the famous green “yes until no” wristband. That is SO totally cool!
The three of us chatted about NARA’s blogs, outreach, the audiences for the different social media sites, perceptions of niche blogs, and what the goals are in connecting with the public. I said I’m a faithful reader of Records Express (of course, David knows I read his blog!) I told David that Arian’s post about court records was exemplary, a role model for how to explain in clear, plain English some fundamental records management principles and processes. How often do you get to tell an agency head face to face how much you admire something one of his officials has done? Not often! Gotta tell you, being able to do that was a highlight of my evening, right up there with meeting Meredith.
So how could I top that? I couldn’t. In fact, I followed it with a classic Maarja moment. Here I was, spending a few moments with two men I admire and respect. You want to look good in such a situation, don’t you? I handed my digital camera to Arian, who is, ahem, an electronic records expert. David was kind enough to spend a few moments of his time (which always is precious, he has so much to do!) to pose with me.
What happened? Arian tried to snap the picture but it didn’t work on the first try. He said, “Ah, it would help if the shutter were open!’ The photo captures perfectly the moment I realized and voiced to AOTUS that I had goofed, a-gain. I didn’t look to see if the shutter was open before I gave Arian the camera. Duh. You can see me telling AOTUS, “Is he saying I left the shutter closed?” David, ever honest, agreed this indeed was what Arian was saying. Heh, that figures. On June 29, I also had made Ferriero wait longer than he should have, when I forgot to switch my flash on and the photographer had to take two photos. You can see the results back then here in my post about my first meeting David. What can I say, I am consistent! I’m so laughing as I write this.
After that, it was on to the forum. (Added bonus, I sat next to my friend Earl McDonald, a NARA photographer. He has an interesting background; I told him I admire him for some of what he has done in his past jobs!) This post has gone on so long, I’ll give some light impressions of the panel. Great insights, candor, and openness in discussing social media and Open Government. High level overview?
First, and most impressively, Pamela Wright of NARA (shown below) totally gets it. Asked during the Q&A portion how agencies can get the public to engage with them, she turned the question around. Pamela observed that it was not a case of finding the public but developing the awareness within NARA that there are people out there with so much hunger for history and a desire to connect with the agency that holds the records that document our past. Beautiful! I loved that. It was a V-8 moment for me because it totally opened my eyes to what NARA is doing with its use of social media. She was a great representative of AOTUS’s vision for the New NARA.
Alexander Howard? What can I say. He was fun to listen to and a great moderator of the event. I really like his vision of social media and connecting people. He gave a fascinating overview of the past, present and future of social media (of course, he already has uploaded his slides.)
Sarah Bernard gave a good overview of how the White House uses social media and was very candid about some of the issues. As a longtime Fed, I liked her no-BS approach. Asked about the new electronic petitions process, she observed that when you’re dealing with issues such as the economy and jobs, it’s actually refreshing to read petitions about UFOs and marijuana. Yeah, that got a big laugh from some members of the audience. She was candid, too, in her observations about timing and scope and goals in use of social media, what can and cannot be done in the Washington environment–she acknowledged some things represented “baby steps.” And, oh yeah, she even mentioned the Presidential Records Act.
David Weinberger offered insightful comments about how people connect on the web and how subtle touches add human value and personalization to so many social media interactions. His observations about the ownership of social media sites and the implications of proprietary sites were quite thought-provoking. And when he replied to a question about filtering by saying social media connections often draw together people with “love of the same,” I nodded and thought of Professor Timothy Burke’s 2009 essay about learning to hear different voices.
A wonderful evening. You see in the photo below how members of the audience interacted with the panelists when the event concluded and how Ferriero waved a “thank you” good-bye to his guests. I stepped up to him and told him how much I had enjoyed the event and how it gave me a lot of food for thought.
Thanks for such a “wow” moment, Big Dude, objective achieved, totally. I left Archives 1 with a big grin on my face, yay! Good, always good.