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Our Story: Content, Collections, and Impact in Rural America

Measuring the impact of public library-led history, storytelling, and local cultural heritage in rural communities throughout America.

Photo of Jon Voss
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Describe your project.

Our Story is a national pilot partnering with more than a dozen rural libraries in New Mexico, North Carolina and Louisiana to host lively events to gather and preserve community memory, and to measure the impact of these events on local communities.

Participating libraries will be supplied with kits and training to guide them through the following steps:
* Recruiting staff and volunteers for the project
* Planning for digitization and preservation
* Identifying collections for activities and digitization
* Recruiting community for events
* Running community events
* Collecting community stories
* Digitization and preservation of community content
* Measuring engagement and impact
* Sharing stories and results
* Iterating and continuing the project

The library kits and training will be based on four key areas, pulling in methodology and curriculum developed by both the Digital Public Library of America and Historypin in their work with cultural heritage partners throughout the US and around the world.

Training
We will be adapting and incorporating curriculum like DPLA’s Public Library Partnership Project, created to enable small public libraries to build digital collections. There will be printed and digital materials provided, as well as a two-day workshop for each state and communications between the cohorts throughout the project.

Programming
Designed to strengthen or supplement existing library programming, we’ll provide the tools for running small-scale initiatives that can be conducted in a number of casual, local settings both in the library and in the community. Standardized activities within the service include sentiment-mapping, intergenerational and group reminiscence, mystery-solving, personal digital storytelling, collection exploration, group digitizing and exhibit creation.

Preservation
While behind-the-scenes to most participants, we’ll employ a streamlined workflow for small and rural libraries to support effective preservation and discovery of local community treasures. Digital content will be described with appropriate metadata for both discovery and preservation, and we will take advantage of the DPLA and Historypin networks to ensure the long term preservation of the digital files.

Evaluation
The events and activities that will be taking place in the small and rural libraries will measure specific outcomes focused on reduced isolation, increased intergenerational contact, and other social indicators leading to stronger communities. As part of the project, librarians will be trained and supplied with lightweight methods of data collection that will feed into analysis across all cohorts. Unlike traditional “impact with attribution” mechanisms of evaluating development projects, we’ll utilize an Outcome Mapping approach that puts an emphasis on understanding the direct and indirect strategies to gradually increase the capabilities of rural librarians to deliver local change.

How does this project advance the library field?

Our Story will advance the library field in three key areas: measuring the social impact of public libraries, strengthening a national network of digital preservation and content discovery, and demonstrating the potential of open library data.

*Measuring the social impact of public libraries*
While libraries and cultural heritage organizations are widely seen as an important common good in communities around the world, there is little real indication and measurement of just how important they are to community wellbeing. The need to measure the impact of public libraries has prompted the Public Library Association to take on the three-year Project Outcome to begin measuring the impact of key library activities.

At the same time, an increasing amount of research is showing the potential role of cultural heritage and shared memory in health and well-being. Studies indicate the importance of group activities in combatting senior isolation along with the power of reminiscence and community memory. They also point to the potential for participating in cultural heritage to decrease risk of anxiety and depression.

The primary advancement in the library field that Our Story will facilitate is the ability for small and rural libraries to effectively measure their impact in strengthening local communities.

*Strengthening a national network of digital preservation and content discovery*
Currently, DPLA and Historypin both provide discovery layers to digital content. DPLA’s aim is to build a national network of cultural heritage institutions with partnerships in every state, while Historypin aims to provide a rich storytelling layer for this cultural heritage content. We will take advantage of DPLA Hubs and/or existing collaborative relationships in the states we are aiming to work with to ensure long term access and preservation of the content provided by this project. Small and rural libraries often do not have the resources to digitize materials or maintain digital content. Through our networks, we will provide access and preservation to this content, and build a continual pathway for the future.

*Demonstrating the potential of open library data*
Historypin and DPLA are a part of a global movement advancing an ecosystem of open library data, which provides the possibility for communities, domain experts, technologists and others to build tools and services around public cultural heritage data and content. At its core, this project is built around open cultural heritage data. This allows us to build interoperable tools and platforms, leverage open source technology, and create multiple ways to enrich and share collections in new ways. While these digital efforts are often out of reach for small and rural libraries, it’s critical that we build increasingly accessible and affordable tools that can be used and improved by these institutions, while also respecting the variety of needs of their communities.

Who is the audience and what are their information needs?

Our Story focuses on developing programs and services for underserved and under-resourced small and rural libraries in the United States. A 2013 Institute for Museum and Library Services study (https://www.imls.gov/assets/1/AssetManager/Brief2013_05.pdf) noted that rural libraries make up almost half of the public library systems in the United States, and that almost all rural libraries are considered “small,” with a legal service area population of 25,000 or less. In fact, 54.2% of rural libraries serve a population of 2,500 or less, with 31.5% serving populations between 2,500 and 10,000.

We are looking specifically at the information needs and opportunities of these rural communities in relation to their existing local heritage collections, their role as community connectors, and as providers of digital and technical resources. Local heritage collections are often some of the most accessed content in rural libraries, either through free geographical web interfaces like Historypin, local exhibits in public libraries, or national content networks like the DPLA. Combining this opportunity with the often central role that public libraries play in rural communities offers the chance to exponentially increase the impact of these collections on local residents and to enrich, digitize and share the collections more broadly. Technology and electronic resources in rural libraries are increasingly important compared to city libraries due to the continued lack of broadband access in homes. As of 2011, rural libraries had already seen a 20% three-year increase of computer terminals in libraries, compared to a 9.5% decrease in city libraries during the same time. This project has the unique ability to combine these three information needs in programs and services that can draw on local participation and volunteers in a way that boosts local library services and public engagement, while measuring the specific impact in these communities.

Our Story will focus initially on three states- New Mexico, Louisiana and North Carolina- which were selected because they represent very different ethnic demographics, and have varying degrees of existing library network support. The specific libraries within each will be selected based on existing historical collections and materials that we can start with as seed content, as well as those with librarians who have an expressed interest in running community memory events.

Please list your team members and their qualifications.

Led by national partners Historypin and the Digital Public Library of America together with state and local library networks, Our Story aims to expand the national network and projects of thousands of cultural heritage collaborations that both DPLA and Historypin have established and increase the capabilities of small, rural libraries.

Team leaders:
Jon Voss is the Strategic Partnerships Director at Historypin (http://historypin.org), a global non-profit project that is creating innovative ways to help people build community around local history through intergenerational and intercultural community memory. He's helping to build an open ecosystem of historical data across libraries, archives, and museums worldwide through his work with Historypin and as the co-founder of the International Linked Open Data in Libraries, Archives & Museum Summit. Jon leads Historypin’s participation in national and international collaborative efforts throughout North and South America and Australia.
 
Emily Gore is the Director for Content of the Digital Public Library of America (http://dp.la). In this role, Emily provides strategic vision for DPLA content and metadata, coordinates content and collections workflows and oversees the DPLA Hubs program. Much of Emily’s current daily work focuses on identifying and helping to establish new Service Hubs for DPLA. Before joining DPLA, Emily served as Associate Dean for Digital Scholarship and Technology at Florida State University Libraries. Emily’s fifteen-year career in libraries has largely focused on building digital collection collaborations among cultural heritage institutions.

Organization name and location (City, State).

Historypin, a project of Shift, San Francisco, California.
Digital Public Library of America, Boston, Massachusetts

What are the obstacles to implementing your idea, and how will you address them?

The primary obstacle to implementing this project and to enabling successful community memory programs in rural public libraries overall is lack of training and staff resources. We plan to overcome this by creating and distributing library kits that have very specific outcomes, activities and measurements that make it much easier for time-crunched librarians and community volunteers to hold successful events and measure impact. Our service design team will work with rural librarians to identify needs specific to rural communities and co-design particular replicable activities that are best suited to their libraries and patrons, utilizing the free, non-profit Historypin digital platform already popular in libraries worldwide. Each participating library will receive a complete Our Story library kit with programming and materials, basic a/v and digitization equipment, a 1.5 day training seminar held in their state, and one year of support.

A key element of measuring the success of Our Story will depend on mapping the activities of the project to intended outcomes. Specifically, we intend to show that individuals sharing and engaging in local memory and cultural heritage can help strengthen local communities through reducing isolation and increasing community connections. Here, we’ll build on lessons from a Gates Foundation-funded program designed by the National Library of Colombia and Historypin to conduct community memory projects in 900 public libraries across Colombia. Similar to that project, Our Story will be created with a specific audience in mind, and provide step-by-step resources and training for librarians and community volunteers. The Colombia project has given us important insights into how we can use lightweight tools to record event demographics and attendance as well as spot surveys to get meaningful data to measure the impact of these events on local communities.

Another obstacle faced by rural libraries in running community memory programs is regional support. We’ll be creating cohorts of four libraries in each of the three pilot states so that in addition to receiving support from our central team, they will also be able to work with one another to compare results, work through issues, and share solutions that may have a regional relevancy.

Finally, an important challenge will be confronting a common shortcoming in one-off projects by ensuring that these local community archives can be preserved for generations going forward, both in the libraries themselves and for the nation. The Digital Public Library of America gives us the national network and infrastructure to support this preservation and future discovery, and building the technological framework for projects like Our Story and Historypin to feed into DPLA are a key component of the project. DPLA will also provide guidance and training on copyright and licensing to help insure that this important cultural heritage data and content will remain accessible.

How will you spread the word about your project? Who are you trying to reach?

The target audience for Our Story is rural librarians and the communities they serve. We will be piloting the project with three cohorts of four libraries each in the states of New Mexico, Louisiana, and North Carolina, for a total of twelve libraries. The participating libraries will be selected based on existing activities, experience in community memory events, or a special interest in community archiving. We will be working with state and local agencies in each state as well to insure that we are involving a diverse set of libraries in the state while also building capacity on the state level.

In New Mexico, we will be collaborating with the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and the New Mexico State Library's Library Development Program. In Louisiana, we will collaborate with Louisiana State University and the State Library of Louisiana. In North Carolina, we will be working with DPLA’s existing North Carolina Service Hub based at The University of North Carolina, in partnership with the North Carolina State Library. On a national level, we will be sharing our progress and findings with the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association.

We intend this project to be a highly replicable national model and we will utilize the DPLA and Historypin existing networks to spread the word about Our Story. DPLA currently has a system of community representatives in all 50 states and US territories and reaches close to 2,000 cultural heritage institutions through its Service Hubs model. Historypin has over 2,500 cultural heritage partners worldwide. The outputs of the project will be published and openly licensed for reuse in other rural libraries worldwide. Team leaders Emily Gore and Jon Voss will also be sharing their findings at conferences and annual meetings including the American Library Association, DPLAfest, the Association of Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums, and the American Association of State and Local History, to name a few.

How much do you think your project will cost, and what are the major expenses?

The total budget for the Our Story project is $207,245 for an 18-month period, run in two phases, separated by training workshops. The first phase will focus on service design for the core activities that will make up the Our Story project, and the second phase will focus on roll-out in the libraries and support throughout a year of programming.

Service Design: $100,000. Months 1-6.
Our largest line item is the creation of the core activities, which will include testing and iteration as well as support from our research and evaluation teams. Led by a service designer, we’ll work with librarians to co-design compelling activities and programs that can be rolled out in the rural libraries, as well as low-barrier tools to digitization and evaluation.

Library Kits: $35,000. Months 6-7.
The physical kits that will be shipped to the participating libraries, including graphic design, packaging, printing and shipping. These include guides for carrying out activities, tips for recruiting participants, preliminary audience analysis, gathering data from events, and more.

Equipment and Hardware: $6,000. Month 6.
Each library will receive some basic audio/visual and scanning technology to facilitate the various types of activities outlined in the library kits.

Travel: $12,078. Months 6-8.
Travel is intended to cover the cost to host three in-state meetings in total (in New Mexico, Louisiana, and North Carolina), where libraries and participating partners will convene for 1.5 day workshops.

Core staff support: $34,167. Months 1-18.
Our core staff support covers a portion of the time of team members Emily Gore and Jon Voss over the course of one year. These team members will be responsible for project management and close coordination with each of the local library partners.

Technical Development: $20,000. Months 5-8.
This will cover the cost of creating a central reporting mechanism and prototypical impact dashboard that allows the national team as well as individual libraries to track their community memory events and document the impact on local communities. We will also create a workflow from community memory events to the Historypin platform to long term preservation at the local library and Digital Public Library of America.

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Photo of R. Cramer

After spending some time on the new History pin site, it struck me that there have been some major changes since I last used History pin. The sections for libraries and community groups sound corporate. The Shift website says that History pin is a company but this application says that History pin is a non-profit. This seems like something very important to explain, especially given the sensitive nature of the content this project plans to record and share. Second question-since this is essentially an oral history project, why is there not someone trained in this field as part of the team?   

Photo of Jon

Hi R. Cramer thanks for the deep read on this and good questions. Hopefully I can clarify a bit more here.

As with many global non-profit initiatives, our corporate structure is a bit complex, so let me clarify. Historypin was started as a project of Shift in the UK (formerly We Are What We Do) in late 2009, and publicly launched in July 2011 in full production. Last year, Historypin was spun off as it's own not-for-profit company in the UK (legally, Historypin Community Interest Company). We consider it a social enterprise and sometimes use “company,” sometimes “business,” but always non-profit. In the US, there is a sister entity founded in 2011 (legally Shift Design, Inc, formerly We Are What We Do, Inc) which is a California non-profit company with IRS 501(c)3 tax exemption (or simply, a non-profit). Historypin operates in the US under this umbrella, and this project will be administered and managed through the US entity, with some support from the UK team. If that sounds complicated, it is. We're very fortunate to have fantastic pro bono legal teams in the US and UK helping us and other colleagues in the field build innovative non-profit businesses in the context of often-arcane tax and charity laws.

To your point about preservation, perhaps we need to make clearer that we are partnering with rural public libraries and the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to fulfill the preservation piece of this project. Historypin is the engagement and enrichment tool, while we will build capacity with library partners to be the stewards of their local history, in part through data sharing and data linking, together with the national digital preservation network of DPLA.

I’m not sure what you mean by “the section on libraries and community groups sounds more corporate.” Hopefully we’re making it clear that we are not just a feel-good project delivering something there may or may not be a need for. We have very specific aims in regard to social value, user value, and financial value. With Historypin, our hope is to continue refining a product that people want to use because it's a great product that fulfills a need for them, that has real financial value to individuals and institutions, and that helps build stronger communities through measurable impact.

Finally, we see this more as a community memory project rather than oral history project. That can be a fuzzy line, but specifically, this is not intended to be a scholarly exercise in one-on-one interviews, but rather community events and activities that include sharing, documenting, and enriching institutional and individual collections. This doesn’t exclude some oral histories, but it’s a lot broader than that. While Emily and I are the core team members, we have a number of public historians, scholars, librarians, social scientists, and others that will be feeding into the project, particularly in the service design phase, and in the support period.

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