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.

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!

Digging for Fossils, Searching for Answers

How far would you go to get something you want or need? Would you make a special trip up a flight of stairs in your house to get new batteries for the remote? Or would you wait until you had to go up for another reason? How about two flights? What if I took away the stairs, and you had to walk up a hill? How far would you go then? Ten feet up? Twenty feet? Thirty feet? What if your prize at the top of the hill wasn’t something you could easily replace from a drawer in your home but instead was the key to a box? A box that contained the answer to a question you’ve asked yourself for more than a decade. Now for the final wrinkle. What if I told you that the key you’re searching for is likely at the top of that 30-foot high hill, but I can’t guarantee it’s there, or if it is there that you’ll even find it. Is your answer still the same as it was at the beginning?

I recently found myself in a situation very similar to this. In the hopes of answering a question that I’ve asked myself for 13 years, I had to collect a lot of rock from a very tall butte in North Dakota. So a small group of us went to a site in the southwest corner of the state. We had to collect a lot of rock because the fossil animals we were looking for are very small, rare, and hard to find. As a result of the small size and scarcity, the bigger the sample size we collected, the more likely we will find what we’re looking for. After all the work was done, we had collected more than 800 pounds of rock from the top of that butte. The rock then had to be carried by hand in buckets down the butte and across the prairie. There is a high probability that the reward will be worth the effort. Maybe I will finally answer that question that has been burning in my mind for more than a decade. If not, I’ll try again and again until I’ve answered my question.

A women wearing a dark colored sweatshirt, pants, and hat hikes up a very brown hill with brown fields shown in the distance behind her

Our quest involved hauling roughly 800 pounds of rock from the collection site to a waiting truck.

This is the quandary faced by scientists all over the world. But in my opinion, not knowing what you’ll find or when you’ll find it just makes the endeavor more exciting. At times, the work paleontologists do can be hot, dirty, and tiring. Nevertheless, for me, the discovery part of science is both fun and rewarding — answering the questions that no one has answered (or even thought to ask) and finding something new that no one has discovered. That is what keeps me coming back for more, and I bet a lot of you feel the same way.

Many green buckets with white lids sit stacked on a pallet.

Could the answer to my burning question lie inside one of these buckets?

If you want to join me on the quest for answers, come along on one of our public fossil digs. We hold them every summer. Please keep in mind that while not every dig we offer requires a lot of physical strength, all of them require patience. The fossils we work with are fragile and need a certain amount of care to remove them intact, but you will learn how! Follow us on social media to find out when registration will start. We are on all the major platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), just search for @NDGSpaleo. I hope to see you next summer!