Archivist, New York Academy of Medicine Library
MSLIS, Pratt Institute, New York, 2008
Photo by Jason Sweeten
Back in 1847, the founders of the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) probably didn’t imagine it would one day employ an archivist who in her spare time does aerial and circus arts, or uses its material as pages in a vast, online coloring book. But they never met Rebecca Pou.
Pou’s is the mind behind the hugely popular #ColorOurCollections, a social media campaign that in 2016 first invited libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions to share images from their collections for users to color. The movement dovetailed perfectly with the adult coloring craze. The campaign, which drew participants from all over the world, was born on social media—Pou was inspired by a Twitter exchange with the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) and one of its followers who was using BHL’s content for coloring. Initially, she suggested a “coloring our collections” day. “It occurred to me,” Pou says, “that this was something that would be easy to pull off, and a week would have a greater impact (and be more fun!) than a day. If we and the BHL had coloring content, I knew other collections would, too.”
NYAM houses a rich collection of natural history works, which offers plentiful options for coloring and sharing. “In my role as archivist, I deal with very different materials, but as part of our social media team, I get to promote the whole collection, including the natural history books I love so much,” says Pou. Her favorite image? A woodcut of a rabbit and clover from Aldrovandi’s 1637 De quadrupedib.
#ColorOurCollections “has given the institution greater name recognition and led to relationships with other institutions we wouldn’t have otherwise,” says Pou. “We are more well connected with the special collections community on Twitter [and have] greater knowledge about the resources other[s] have.” NYAM hoped 50 institutions would participate in the first #ColorOurCollections. Instead, it had over 200 in 2016—and while the final tallies aren’t in, 2017 looks like a success, says Pou. “I hoped we’d make a little splash in the special collections social media scene, but then so many institutions joined we had a hard time keeping up. We were really excited when @FakeLibStats acknowledged the campaign with a tweet: “ ‘At this moment, 14 percent of librarians are in a coloring-induced trance.’ ”
On top of that, the social media frenzy exposed largely hidden institutional assets and facilitated bonds with current and prospective patrons, democratizing special collections and demonstrating the broad public benefits enabled by digitization—and the public domain.