David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Lake County Historical Society launched their first website in 2000 with a grant from Iron Range Resources. When I started working at the Society in 2009 it was evident that since the website’s launch there was little or no maintenance done or resources dedicated for this purpose.
The new sites were needed for a variety of reasons:
a) To regain control over our domain names. We had been sold by Internet service providers so many times we couldn’t find out who the administrators were for our domains.
b) To bring the society into the 21st century, the old site was filled with obsolete features, erroneous information, and the content itself was ten years old.
c) To re-brand the organization itself and to create the image that we are a modern and active organization. This is done by having a site with administrative privileges so we can edit page content without the aid of our designers.
d) This may be unique to our organization, but we needed to create two mirrored websites that allow for an easy flow back and forth between the B&B website and Historical Society site. It is very important to me to make sure that people looking at the Lighthouse B&B website understand the mission of the Lake County Historical Society and that we are preservationists, not operating a north shore tourist trap.
The Lake County Historical Society was very fortunate in the redesign of the websites. The Lighthouse B&B website was a donation from Creative Arc (a St Paul based company) CEO Paul Larson. Paul and his wife have been repeat guests at the B&B and as business was slow at the time, Paul offered his team to design a new site for us to keep his designers fresh. We accepted his offer and asked him to include the Society’s site as well because I knew before I met him I had to bring these two entities back together.
I invited Julie, the lead designer and her husband up to the B&B to spend the night so they could experience the B&B and gave them a tour of our museums and talked about how important it was for the historical aspect of the B&B to be present in the website.
We received a grant from the Two Harbors Area Visitors Bureau for the development of the LCHS site as it serves to bring tourists to our area and visitors to our local hotels.
The B&B website was created entirely by Creative Arc from content in the old website and additional images taken by Julie and her husband during their stay.
For the LCHS site Creative Arc provided me with what they call a Basecamp website. On this Basecamp there was a wireframe of our site that I could log into and edit text content and photos. I have roughly over 100 hours into scanning, editing, researching content, writing, and uploading for the site.
We began by using the existing sites as platforms for the new ones. We knew what we wanted out of each site and the deficiencies of the previous sites.
For the B&B it was obvious, encourage people to reserve a room and come stay with us, and explain how their money would benefit the public through historic preservation.
The LCHS site needed to do demonstrate to people that we are active, and that we provide services to our members and patrons, and that by being a member of the Society their history is preserved and the community benefits.
I had a lot of experience with my own websites from when I was an aspiring musician so the only thing I had to learn was how to use the editing engine (Expression) provided by Creative Arc. I am still, and I believe always will be learning new things about administering websites as technology changes.
The B&B website is performing admirably for us generating new business. I am having a hard time calibrating the impact of the new LCHS website. I was hoping that it would drive people to become members but I fear the “Charges for research and reproduction” section might be scaring people away. If nothing else the new website at least demonstrates that we are cognitive of the need to maintain a fresh and modern web presence. It does not save time as I have to do much of the editing myself. It has come down to editing the calendar on a quarterly basis and our projects list annually.
We have moved our entire web hosting to Creative Arc and pay them the annual fees for both sites. In addition if I need to make a change in the site that the ExpressionEngine can’t perform I pay an hourly fee to Creative Arc for each task. This seldom happens, so our website redesign has been cost effective.
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