Docent Program 2021–2022 FAQs – Letterform Archive


Jun 8, 2021

Docent Program 2021–2022 FAQs

We recently announced our long-awaited docent program! Applications are due June 15, 2021. Did you miss the info sessions? Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions.


How many docents are you looking to admit?
12–20 docents will be admitted based on interest. We are, however, looking to build a 12-person cohort if possible. We often find that 12 guests make an ideal tour and we’d like to match that dynamic.

What are the next steps after applying?
Wait a few days while we select folks! You should hear back within a week of the deadline.

Will docents give tours in-person or virtually?
Virtually, for now! In-person tours will resume in 2022 at the earliest. Ability to give in-person tours is not a prerequisite for acceptance.

I don’t live in the Bay Area, should I apply?
Yes! We are hoping for a mix of local and global docents.

What time of day/week would trainings take place?
We hope to do these within our normal business hours, 10–6 PT, M–F, but this will be dependent on the cohort we accept. The cohort will be small enough that we are hoping to customize a schedule that will work for most.

When would any on-site training take place?
Docents interested in giving in-person tours will be invited to 1-2 sessions in-person at the archive in September.

Pre-Covid, how many tours or groups came through the archive?
At our busiest, 30 tours per month was typical. Because of wear and tear on the materials, we don’t want more than 2 in-person tours a day, so 10–14 in-person tours per week is our upper limit. Virtually, our limit is just staffing.

What kind of availability does an Archive docent need to have?
You’ll need to be able to commit to hosting 2 tours a month, but the timing of your tours will be customized to your availability. Our introductory tours have always been regularly scheduled, and are in demand at all times of day and all days of the week. Our other tours are scheduled ad hoc, usually during weekday business hours. Because of our global audience, we’ve got a wide range of options to fit any areas of availability.

The Docent Experience

What kinds of people or groups typically visit the archive?
General tours — curiosity-driven, first time visitors outside of an organization who are looking for a wide-ranging introduction to the collection
Class visits — usually college students, we’d love to branch into K–12 classes if we get docents with that interest & experience. Requests vary from highly specific to general introductions.
Private visits — design teams, non-profit organizations, adjacent orgs.  Requests vary from highly specific to general introductions.

Will there be preservation & archiving training?
Yes, there will be one workshop with Paola, our preservation expert. You won’t learn intensive book repair, but you will be taken through the basics of sleeving, materials handling, etc., so that you can handle our materials with confidence and care.

What challenges do you expect docents to face?

  • Learning how to present and host conversations around culturally sensitive materials (i.e. poster with the Rising Sun, AIDS activism, representations of violence).
  • Staying focused — we have so much good material, it is hard to stay within an hour or an hour and a half.
  • For shy folks — just getting comfortable with public speaking. Not a prerequisite!
  • Learning how to say “I don’t know” and following that up with, “Does anyone here know?”
  • Approaching tours as a shared learning opportunity, not as experts on every single thing on the table.

How does the docent program fit in relation to the large goals of the organization?
One of our top goals is accessibility. Tours are the gateway to the rest of our collection; researchers cannot access the collection unless they know what we have. Our tours help researchers find a starting point for deeper dives. The docent program would allow us to double if not triple the number of tours we can host in a year.

We also hope that the docent program will allow us to give tours in more languages. We have a global audience, and to have global docents is a logical next step. The collections materials themselves are also in multiple languages. Multilingual docents and visitors alike help us gain insight to our existing collections and help us learn where it might need to grow.

What qualities are you looking for in a docent?
Humility, curiosity, and commitment!

Humility — represent our materials expertise and be informative without presuming we have all the answers. Be open to learn from visitors.

Curiosity — a deep love for our materials, curiosity to learn more, and enthusiasm to share that with the public.

Commitment — it’s a 15-month program; We need folks that can commit to that period.

When someone is requesting a tour, do they specify what they want to see?
For our general tours, private tours, and classroom tours (all our tours!), there is a range of customization options. Some folks have a vague idea of what they want to see, some just want a sampler platter, some have very specific requests.

Might people request tours with specific docents? Might themed tours be part of the docent experiences?
Yes! Each docent will design a tour specific to their interests, and the docent class will create a general tour (together) that provides a good introduction to the collection. We already match our tour requests with our tour hosts based on shared interests and expertise. We are excited at the possibility of offering themed tours if that is of interest to the docent class. Since docents will have the option to give public talks and write editorial content with the Archive, it is absolutely a possibility that specific docents will be requested by visiting guests.

What are output/end goals for the program?
Each docent will design a tour specific to their interests, and the docent class will create a general tour (together) that provides a good introduction to the collection.

Is there a plan to continue to recruit docents after this cohort?
Yes! We anticipate that this will be a yearly program. Not the right fit for you right now? Scheduling conflicts? Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about joining the 2022–2023 docent cohort.

Learn more and apply