23 Things for Archivists

Thing 24: More Blogging (Tumblr)

By Jill Reilly James (Director of Social Media, U.S. National Archives)

Tumblr is a blogging/microblogging community. The Tumblr environment is visually rich, and community members are enthusiastic about photography, design, art, crafting, and fashion.  There is an active community interested in history, vintage design, and archival photos, so the response to archival content shared by the archives and libraries has been positive.  

Sharing content is a key activity on the site, and in some ways Tumblr serves as a hub connecting content from other social media platforms and communities like Flickr and other blogs. You can share a text post, photo, quote, link, chat transcript, audio recording, or video.  Many of the most active members of the community consider themselves curators or editors of content on the topics they share, and some become official Tumblr editors.  You can like (heart) and even reblog a post from another blog so it appears on your own blog.  Some, but not all, blogs have Q&A, comment, and submit a post features included, too.  Tumblr highlights the number of notes (total of likes and reblogs combined) a post gets and doesn’t publicly show how many followers a Tumblr blog has.

If one of your archives’ target audiences is already on Tumblr or you would like to raise the Tumblr community’s awareness of your archives, then you should consider setting up an official Tumblr to share finds from your holdings and collections.  Many brands, organizations, and a good number of cultural institutions are joining this fast-growing community.  Every Tumblr blog is a little unique, but most organizations are looking to connect with the Tumblr community by posting visually appealing content that is noteworthy, quirky or hip, and something you can’t resist passing on.  The Peace Corps Tumblr blog shares riveting photography and engaging promotional materials from the past and present.  The New York Public Library Wire on Tumblr announces events and posts finds from their special collections.

The National Archives aims to offer some historical surprises and curiosities to capture the imagination of the Tumblr community interested in the past and increase engagement with our projects.  Our strategy on Tumblr has been to focus on content and pilot topical blogs related to projects or ongoing activities, which fits with our larger social media strategy for tapping into existing communities with an interest in historical content.  With Today’s Document on Tumblr we share the current document of the day, also featured in our Today’s Document mobile app, and invite the public and the Archives staff to suggest National Archives documents and photos to be featured in a refreshed version of the app.  Similarly, our I Found It in the National Archives blog encourages the public to submit or tag posts for us to consider for our local version of the Society of American Archivists’ I Found It in the Archives! Contest.  We share photographs that reveal what the Archivist of the United States and the Presidential Libraries have been up to lately and link to more content on our Archives.gov blogs, Flickr streams, or Facebook pages.  Our National Archives Exhibits blog highlights the killer content from our latest exhibit and uses tags to attract the attention of Tumblr members who have an interest in the exhibit’s topics.  We’ve been happy with the engagement on Tumblr.

A lot of archives have great treasures and fascinating finds to share with the Tumblr community.  Check it out, and happy tumbling!

 Tasks

1.   Strategize

  • Scope out the communities of interest that interest you.
    These might be the communities around archives, history, museums, libraries, paper arts, or whatever you are into.  Tumblr blogs are public, so you can browse Tumblr’s Spotlight directories or Tumblr Explore, which are curated by Tumblr staff and editors.  You can refer to the resources listed at the end of this post for a few Tumblr blogs to watch.
  • Plan your content strategy.
    Think about what content and perspective you have to offer the community and how you want to position your blog.  There are certain aesthetics and tones to the exchanges on Tumblr.  It’s best to listen a bit and not jump in like a tone-deaf newbie.  

2.   Get Your Tumblr Started

  • Register for an account first. 
  • Set up your first blog.
    Check the Tumblr Help for how-to guidance.  (The first blog set up via your account must be an individual blog, but additional blogs can be set up with a group blog structure, where posts are attributed to their authors.) 
  • Select or design a theme for your blog.
    The number of blog themes available in the Tumblr Theme Garden can be a little overwhelming, so just going with one of the most popular or featured ones to start with can be a good idea.  Most templates allow you to make tweaks to the background color, etc.  The National Archives web staff found a template that was pretty easy for us to customize, had all of the features we wanted to include, and seemed to have a good amount of support from its developer.  If you have some HTML and CSS skills, you could create your own theme.  
  • Download the Tumblr app and browser plug-in.
    There are mobile app versions of Tumblr to make it easier to update your blog and check your newstream on the go.  Tumblr also offers a browser plug-in makes it easier to share content you find on the web.

3.   Tap into the Tumblr Community

  • Find blogs to follow.
    Most individuals in the community create their own blog and follow other Tumblr blogs (also called tumblelogs and tumblogs).  When you follow a blog, its updates appear in your dashboard stream.  To find blogs to follow, you can start with some of the blogs you found when you scoped out Tumblr’s Spotlight.  Archivists, you’ll find some intriguing blogs to follow in the History Spotlight, including (shameless plug) the National Archives’ Our Presidents Tumblr.  Searching is also an effective strategy to find content that appeals to your interests.  The Tumblr community uses hashtags like the Twitter community does.  Try searching for #archivists or #manuscripts.  I recommend using hashtags in your own posts to pick up new followers or community members who might like or reblog your content. 
  • Heart. Reblog. Repeat.
    Once you are following a number of blogs, you will probably start to notice their creators are liking and reblogging content from other blogs on Tumblr.  Follow their source links, and if you like what you see, start liking, reblogging, follow some of your new discoveries.   

Blog Prompts

  • Blog about whether you’re excited about using Tumblr.
  • Would you use it instead of a “regular” blog or in addition to.
  • How might you use it with some of the earlier social media tools you looked at?

Resources

  1. […] blogging (or Tumblr blogging) is not included in the libraries list and thing 24 on the archives […]

  2. […] go beyond those things? Jill Reilly James attempts it by introducing a new blogging platform in her Thing 24, Tumblr by name. I admittedly sort of didn’t see the point of Tumblr at first– it seems […]

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