Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How I Joined My Local Historical Society

Until coming to Dartmouth, I'd pretty much always lived in large cities. The politics and agencies that made these cities function were somewhat of a mystery to me - I knew work was done by people somewhere, but the processes and responsible agents felt distant and mysterious.

Strafford's Iconic Town House
Living in small town Vermont is a totally different scene. The business and services of our town, Strafford VT, population ~1000, is run by people I see at the general store, who work at the local school, who live down the street. My friends are on the Volunteer Fire Department, my husband attends meetings of the Conservation Committee, my neighbor is on the School Board.

After we settled in to town, I wanted to get involved, too. Given my experience in preservation departments big and small, the Strafford Historical Society seemed a natural fit. This past January, I emailed the chairman of the Historical Society Board, explaining my educational and professional background in preservation, as well as my current work with digital projects and digital preservation. The response was immediate and enthusiastic: "OH MY GOD WHEN CAN WE MEET WITH YOU THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT WE NEED YOU ARE AN ANSWER TO OUR PRAYERS" (I've paraphrased).

The Brick Store- Home of the Historical Society
It turns out, the Strafford Historical Society has long felt a need for a more developed web presence, and has dreamed of putting their collections online. Can you, they asked, build us a website, digitize our collections and make them searchable for the world on a very small (non-existant) budget? Having never built a website, and knowing how much work, infrastructure and expertise goes into creating digital collections, I said, "Sure! But it might take us a while."

Over the past few months, we've had a few meetings of the ad hoc Technology Committee of the Strafford Historical Society. We've identified people in town with programming and systems admin skills that can help us set up an Omeka instance. People have volunteered time for "data entry" (i.e. metadata creation) so they can learn more about the collections. We even got a donation of a scanner from a generous Board member.

Building out a digital presence from scratch with few budgetary or infrastructure resources could seem daunting and overwhelming, but I'm feeling pretty optimistic we can do this thing. The past two years have shown me that this town is full of talented people willing to contribute time, willing to share knowledge and expertise, and willing to learn new skills to serve the good of the town. We've totally got this.

Written by Jenny Mullins

No comments:

Post a Comment