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David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

This is a question for both members of the public and for those at local historical organizations. Bearing in mind that demand for electronic access might always surpass financial ability to provide service, tell us more about electronic delivery of historical services. What services currently satisfy what kinds of demands? What sorts of electronic services are not being offered? How important is it for local history organizations to have pages on Placeography, Facebook, YouTube, Flikr, and the like? What technology skills do local historical society volunteers and paid staff want/need to learn?

These are broad questions and asked only as it is good to occasionally reflect on what we as a community are doing well and what else might be needed. The discussion that follows hopefully will be about what is done now and what is wished for in the future. I think anyone involved with local history knows how stretched volunteers and staff are, so we shouldn’t feel a need to restate that. Instead, I’d like to get a sense of where we as a local history community are, and what kinds of technology might be coming that could be used to good advantage marketing our services and making history more accessible. In order to do that, I will invite the many I know that read this blog but have not commented to share your thoughts. You are observers and users of technology, your thoughts will be important to shaping this discussion.

 

16 Responses to Tomorrow’s History Access

  1. Cathy Walters says:

    Your peoplefinder is fantastic! Would love more-especaily anything of my family on line,lets say you had a money order postal book(fantastic locate family movents& relitives overseas sending money)would like to be able to access it by my pc.This is a vital book!Free access for me is IMportant-pc is my only way to you and others.Links to others -family move,Index;Plainview postal book (Readslanding Wabasha co.Historical Society)-search book,and locate other postal books at Historical Societies within state/WI ect..- link,by the way,I wasn’t finished with it-1990!Hope this helps,Cathy

    Reply

  2. Well, at the moment, we can barely keep the website up, so we are not a good example of what is going on. However, old fogies like me need to pay particular attention to the tenents of Web 2.0–interactive is better than one-way; people who use your services online want to have choices not just about content, but about responding and expanding upon what we have, and that there are many commercial websites that individuals use regularly that we should perhaps have a presence on if we want to reach beyond those of our generation and older.

    I have been studying museums’ presence on Facebook, as an example. It is a dynamic presence, and one that actually requires staff to keep up with. Not responding to something important within hours is probably not acceptable. Probably same with YouTube and Flickr.

    Because of our staffing shortages, it would be difficult for us to keep up with this kind of time-draining activity without help. This is probably a very excellent opportunity for us to get younger people involved with the museum. College-aged students live on these sites when they are awake. It is possible that we can find that rare individual with both an interest in history, and a facility with new media.

    And I’m also thinking about our old idea that if we could get our “collections” up on our own institutional websites, we would have served our remote public. Not so sure anymore, especially with the desire for user-driven content. Just putting the stuff up there seems like the same old, same old, except electronic..

    I do look at this as important, time consuming, and something we should probably be thoughtful about getting into.

    Reply

  3. Mary Warner says:

    Having designed our website and started our blog, as the IT Department of MCHS, I have reached a point where I can’t think of everything. I’ve mentioned to our director that I would like to have an IT committee put together so that we can decide which services we’d like to add to our online presence.

    We’ve had more than one request for our cemetery indexes to be put online, but when it comes to active cemeteries, there is no way we could keep up with this. Ideally, I’d like to see active cemeteries (associations, churches) keep their own online indexes and then we could simply link to those sites. As a historical society, we could perhaps cover the inactive small cemeteries online, using volunteers to enter the data. Not only do we have to think about the logistics of creating the online indexes, we also have to concern ourselves with what kind of server space we have and how much we can load onto that server without having issues. In addition, there are sites such as Find-a-Grave that are already providing this service. Do we want to build our own, or encourage people to add to what’s already there and then link to it?

    Our curator and I went through the library program “23 Things on a Stick,” which introduced us to a wide variety of Web 2.0 applications. It was a great deal of fun, but we discovered that it would be impossible to sign up for everything and then keep up with each app in a meaningful way. This is where we need to be selective. We’re doing a fine job on blogging, as far as posting, although we are having difficulty with comments because our site gets spammed if we keep the comment feature too open. If we were to add Facebook and Myspace and Twitter and YouTube and etc., etc., we would very quickly run into problems with providing new content in a timely manner. This is where we need an IT committee, so we can decide what direction to take and make a commitment to it.

    The beauty of having historical organizations jump online now is that they do have all of these fun apps to choose from and many of them are free. That’s an easy way to have a web presence without having to build a website from scratch.

    Reply

  4. Cathy Walters says:

    Find A Grave does’nt have all!Weather each Society has on line site,I look to you to tell& give link(Clearing House)Like to see all Society’s talk to you and each other.What is Wabasha Co. Hist.Soc. up too?Are they on line-what they have-needing help? To be seen is a way to grow-,one time Olmsted Co. talked about Wabasha Co.Cemeteries-nothing has been heard-this location could, if they see this,may get the ball rolling.If everyone can get on board-mutual help(Societies&Public),Olmsted has Cemetery books of county,back in 1980 I copied Elgin Cemetery Book and didn’t have the smart idea of keeping it updated-Original may be in townhall or in someones hands-like it was back when I copied it.(I have my copy done in pencil-in folder)Every town should get your link so they can respond.Meetings on-line in stead of behind doors.Am I the only public to respond-why,it was because somehow I found you-every MN Genealogical Society should have your link and asked to respond-public forum.If LDS&ANCESTERY>COM ask and are getting help from JOHN Q PUBLIC so can U.Go to ance...@yahoo.com see&talk to them they are new since March 2008 -they get info by others. On cemetery index’s 1865-2000,then update later 2001-2010,hope anything I say can be of help to you.Facebook been on, but being of the older generation my knowhows are liminted and checked out tree’s by reading their blogs&others blogs-so its not one I can speak of with much knowhow.

    Reply

  5. While it seems that some days I cannot even find my “IT hat” in my office, having a web site has been a boon for a little organisation like ours. Simply put, being on the web gives you access to literally millions of potential customers who previously would have had to track down in their libraries or other sources a usually outdated copy of The Official Museum Directory.

    At present, we do not have a blog, Facebook or My Space page, Flikr account, nor have we posted videos on You Tube. I would enjoy hearing from somebody who has/does and explain why it is a valuable resource in comparison to how much time is put into developing and maintaining those features.

    We have come so far now that it seems–to me at least–that a majority of the historical organisations in this state have some presence on the web. That is good. Will we ever be able to keep up with the private sector in terms of those technological features? Probably not. But we don’t necessarily have to, so long as what we offer helps our patrons reach us, utilize our services, and help us link to other interested parties.

    Reply

  6. Brenda Wiech says:

    I am an older student with an AS in Multimedia, currently pursing my BFA in Digital Arts & Photography. I have a passion for photography, history, and genealogy. I am a member of several historical societies in SE MN. In addition, I have produced several historical short film documentaries.

    Currently, I am conducting research on the digitizing of photographic images in the Historical agencies of Minnesota for a report in my Senior Seminar class at the School of Fine Arts, University of Minnesota—Duluth—Rochester campus. I will greatly appreciate any thoughts you have on the subject of “Tomorrow’s History Access”. In addition, I am interested to know of openings for employment, grants, and internships for digitizing historical photographs. My dead line to finish my research paper is December 26th. Personally, I would be thrilled to be employed to research and scan old photographs.

    Reply

    Brenda Wiech reply on November 12th, 2008:

    I made an error in my post. The dead line date for my research paper is November 26th, not December.

    Reply

    Mary Warner reply on November 19th, 2008:

    Have you spoken to Marian Rengel with the Minnesota Digital Library (MDL), yet? Her office is located at St. Cloud State University and she works to organize the various digitizing projects that flow through the MDL. There are two digitizing centers that MDL works with – one at the Minnesota Historical Society and one at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. If you email me personally at cont...@morrisoncountyhistory.org, I’ll give you Marian’s contact info.

    Reply

    Brenda Wiech reply on November 19th, 2008:

    Has your center seen an increased demand for digital access to your collections? Digitization raises a number of issues, such as extensive time by personal and volunteers, file size, file variations, and storage. Furthermore, are your patrons willing to contribute to the cost of digitizing photographic images?

    Again, I will greatly appreciate any thoughts you have on this subject by November 25th. Thank you for your time.

    Reply

    Mary Warner reply on November 19th, 2008:

    Answering this at home, ’cause that’s where I’m reading it at the moment and you’ve got a deadline, Brenda.

    We have seen a slight increase in demand for digital access, but that audience seems small, yet, mostly because our researchers tend to be older. While some of these older folks are really tech savvy, many of them aren’t there yet. I expect that as Gen Xers and Millenials get older, we’ll see an increase in demand.

    One thing that has been requested of us is a full index of all of the cemeteries in Morrison County (around 80 sites). People want this online and they want it to be free, but the work involved with this would be so extensive that we would essentially have to give up everything else we are doing. Especially when it comes to active cemeteries. This sort of thing would be more appropriately handled by the organizations that are operating the cemeteries, rather than us.

    In thinking of the digitization of photos, we’ve had a few requests, but most of our researchers are looking for genealogical materials and we don’t have that many photos of families and individuals. When we scan photos for researchers, we have a per scan fee, plus the cost of the CD we use. So far, we haven’t had complaints about the fee.

    Hope this helps.

    Reply

  7. Latest research states that over 1/3 of all senior now use the Internet and the senior population is the fastest growing age group. In addition, 75% of college educated seniors use the Internet. Add to this the fact that seniors have more interest in history than any other age group. Because quite a few seniors are home-bound or make infrequent trips away from home, the Internet is their best alternative establishing an active connection to their areas of interest in the outside world. What an opportunity for historical societies to extend their reach. And creating and managing an interesting and useful website is much less expensive than most societies imagine.

    Reply

  8. Mary Warner says:

    You’re right, Robert. There are many ways for history organizations to create an inexpensive website or have a web presence. (Witness the Fillmore County Historical Society’s website, built using a free blog from WordPress.com: http://fillmorecountyhistory.wordpress.com/
    Way to go, Fillmore!)

    The larger, more costly issue is that of creating content. Even writing casual posts for blogs takes time. Writing well-researched articles (even if they are only a paragraph long) takes much longer than readers might think.

    We’ve been working on our Morrison County Influentials series since May. We list five influential people related to the county each week on our blog and describe their sphere of influence. Five basic paragraphs takes an entire day’s work worth of research and writing, which means that some other task is not getting done.

    Not that we mind blogging. In fact, we find it to be fun and we have other potential uses for our Influentials list. But this is definitely a factor that historical organizations need to consider when moving online. Are you going to be able to commit to the time it takes to keep a web app alive and fresh and regularly updated?

    Glad to see some figures on internet use by seniors. Those figures seem to be what we’re seeing on the ground without having done a survey. Could you cite the source of these figures so I can check it out? (I’m a sociological study junkie.) Thanks!

    Reply

  9. Mary — I did a Google search and found that report — but I did not bookmark it and I am unable to find it again. I have seen statistics on Internet use by seniors publishde by Pew, AARP, and Kaiser Foundation, but they are all a couple years old. The report I quoted was dated August 2008. If I can find it again, I will give you the reference.

    The time required to manage a website depends on what the primary purpose is of your website, and how user friendly the administrative tools are. We do not create research articles for our site. We only post events, some stories, our newsletter PDF — information that is easy and quick to update. I regularly copy text from our newsletter and post it on the site.

    Reply

  10. Mary Warner says:

    Thanks for checking on the source for me, Robert.

    You are correct on saying that the time needed to manage a website is dependent on purpose and content. When we were ready to go live with our first website in 2002, I had a number of people look at it. Our primary purpose for the website at that time was simply as a marketing piece – a way to make our museum and name known in the online world. One of the people who reviewed our site said, “What? No history?” and a light bulb went on in my head. Why would we not include history on our historical society website? What was our mission anyway? Why hadn’t I thought of something so obvious?

    Needless to say, I added a history link and uploaded a bunch of articles from past newsletters. At that time, it wasn’t as easy to create pdfs of newsletter files, so I entered each article on its own web page.

    As it turns out, it’s the history pages that draw people to our website. We have covered many topics within the 100 or so articles on our website and each one of those topics has the potential to grab a reader’s interest, no matter how arcane the topic. One of the favorites over time has been swimsuits.

    What we’ve discovered is that the average web surfer won’t give two hoots about how our organization operates, or even that it exists, unless we find a way to give them information on something that is relevant to them in a personal way. The more content we provide, the greater our potential reach.

    Our blog opens up content production to the rest of the staff (rather than just me) because it doesn’t take website coding language to operate. We also like the fact that it allows readers to comment directly back to us.

    I see from your website that there are plans to eventually post the videos of the Fridley History Conversations online and that a virtual museum is in the works. These are other good ways to give people content. Content really is king online and increasingly, so is the ability to interact with that content.

    Reply

  11. Cathy Walters says:

    WI put history in theirs,enjoy reading,always in hopes of some relitive or info to make-understand their life fuller.With that said,I always want more-guess I’m a history junkie.Bring it on-I’ll be in 7th heaven,win-win situation.Thankyou for being here,Cathy

    Reply

  12. Mary Warner says:

    Cathy – It’s fabulous to hear from someone who uses historical society websites. Without feedback from our users, we don’t know how the info we put online is being received, or what people want that we aren’t providing. Thanks for adding your perspective to our museum conversations.

    Reply

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