Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Producing Facebook Live Streams: Where the Magic Happens

Overseeing social media for both the agency and North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum’s pages, I’m always on the lookout for future or trending hashtags. When I saw upcoming national #AskACurator and #AskAnArchivist days, I knew we needed to participate with our staff experts in those areas. But how?

My first thought was to do a Facebook Live session, but with some staff working from home and social distancing in the office, I wasn’t sure how that would work. Since Microsoft Teams has worked well for our meetings, I wondered if there was some way that we could do a Facebook Live stream via Teams. That’s when I turned to my best friend Google for help.

Thanks to a Google search, I found out this was doable. Woohoo! After a bit of research on the different software available and reading other users’ reviews online, I picked the one I thought would work best for our needs. I pitched OBS Studio, software for video recording and live streaming, to our IT staff and received approval to download and test it out. Then I dug right in. I was excited to see if this software would actually work in the way I imagined it would!

It took some tinkering and a few more Google searches to figure things out, but eventually it came together. I did a trial run with a couple of people, which went smoothly. Next came the real test, however. Would it work with more people and when we were live rather than on a test run?

five women are shown in their own squares on a computer screen. All are looking at the camera smiling.

Our first #AskAnArchivist panelists posed for a group photo before our livestream started.

It did! We have had four successful Facebook Live streams via Teams so far and will continue to do these monthly. I still get nervous before each one, though, because there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to make them run smoothly.

Two computers, two sets of headphones, and a dash of magic (“Tech Wizard”, after all, is my middle name) go into making these sessions happen. One computer runs Teams, the software, and the Facebook Live setup. The other runs Teams and the actual Facebook Live stream to make sure it looks and sounds as it should.

A woman sits at a desk wearing two different headphones with a laptop and another computer monitor running Teams and Facebook Live. Also on the desk are a computer mouse, keyboard, sunglasses, water bottle, telephone, stuffed t rex, and other odds and ends.

My setup for the livestreams. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the positions of each person are a little different on all three open windows.

Why have Teams running on both computers? Besides running the software, I also have to message the presenters to let them know when to start and stop as well as monitor any questions that come in during the livestream. I then send the questions via Teams to the moderator. That way she doesn’t have to worry about monitoring the Facebook chat while also moderating the conversation. We find this setup works really well. Technically, I could do it all on the computer running the livestream, but I try to do as little as possible on that for fear of messing something up and having the livestream drop.

There is about a 15-second delay between Teams and the Facebook Live stream, so it can get quite hectic trying to listen to both and determine when to have the presenters start and stop. During the initial session, our presenters sat in awkward silence for the first and last 15 seconds. With each new livestream we have cut that time down. One of these days, maybe we’ll get the timing just right …maybe.

Although it takes work to make these livestreams happen, it is well worth it. People really enjoy them, especially watching us almost immediately answer questions they have just sent us. We look forward to continuing these monthly sessions on Facebook under their new name, #AskUsLive, and hope that you will join us next time!

Maximizing the Use of Archaeological Collections for Research, Interpretation, Education, and Exhibit

The Archaeology and Historic Preservation (AHP) Division houses more than 12 million artifacts for their long-term care, research, and access for multiple entities. The archaeological collections (artifacts, ecofacts, samples, associated records, etc.) provide a window to the past for thousands of years of occupation in the northern Plains of North America. In this blog, I focus on a major collections project that works to maximize the usability and accessibility of archaeological collections curated at the State Historical Society. As the archaeology collections manager, my task is not only to ensure that collections are preserved and curated according to Federal Curation Standards, but also to make them accessible to a wide audience through research, exhibits, digitization, public education, loans, and interpretation and publications. Many doctoral and master’s degree researchers use archaeological collections for their studies.

Effective user access to collections requires, at the minimum, assembling and organizing information regarding collection acquisition, accessioning, storage locations, etc. Along with me, three additional AHP archaeologists (Fern Swenson, Amy Bleier, Meagan Schoenfelder) are working on a project to increase the usability and public access to collections. We use journey boards (JB) to divide tasks and track our progress (See photo below). The project aims to summarize and document archaeological collections curated here. The summary includes information regarding site numbers, site names, cultural tradition(s), time period/age, ethnic traditions, land ownership, accession numbers, excavation year(s), storage location, general description of collections, number of records in Re:discovery (collections management software), references, and maps at a site level. By maximizing collections utility and increasing access to collections, we aim to reach a wider audience. This, in turn, will advance science when we promote research, interpretation, and publication.

Among other things, the summary document can be used:

  • As reference material for researchers to select sites or collections for their research.
  • To identify potential collections for instructional purposes (e.g., collections without provenance (origin) information).
  • To understand collections by time period/cultural tradition.
  • To map the location of sites where our collections come from.
  • To organize/reorganize collections in storage (e.g., collections from the same site may be stored in the same room/aisle).
  • To track collection recording and digitizing in Re:discovery.

Sample of Summary Document

A summary document of 32BL2 Menoken that lists information like cultural tradition, time period, ethnic tradition, land ownership, etc.

five dry erase boards with tasks, start date, and end date

Photos of the four people who participated in the journey boarding - Ashenafi Zena, Fern Swenson, Amy Bleier, Meagan Schoenfelder

Journey Board progress (top) and project members. Journey boards are visual project boards that provide feedback and progress information.

In sum, the summary document will provide archaeologists, scholars, interpreters, educators, culturally affiliated groups, and members of the public with better access to the State Historical Society’s collections for research, publications, exhibitions, education, and other forms of interpretive work, and this will provide information relevant for each of these activities.