Sustainability & Diverse Revenue Streams: What Happens when your State is Broke?

In their report “Searching for Sustainability: Strategies from Eight Digitized Special Collections, authors Nancy L. Maron, Sarah Pickle, and Deanna Marcum write that “While the efforts and activities needed to plan and build digitized collections have been addressed in a variety of ways, the set of activities that permit the digitized collection to remain vital and useful post-launch is often not addressed.” Many institutions receive grants or themselves fund projects to digitize their collections and build digital resources, but how and if these resources will remain sustainable is often left out of the conversation.

For this blog post, I looked at an exhibit hosted on the University of Illinois at Chicago’s library website titled “Changing Neighborhoods: Photographs of Social Reform from 7 Chicago Settlement Houses.”

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Fourth Star: Narrating a Century of Progress

My colleague Matthew Amyx summarized the narrative trajectory of our project very well on his blog post “The Narrative Goals of Fourth Star 1933.”

We are utilizing audio, video, and images for the site, which features a hidden object game. The story is that the user is a young person visiting family in Chicago during the Great Depression gets tickets to the fair. However, a strong guest of wind off of Lake Michigan blows them throughout the grounds, and it is up to the user to find them in order to experience different exhibits at the fair.

The track below by Blind Willie Johnson, “Dark was the Night,” plays over our Ken Burns-style intro video.

Having so many audio and visual elements will help our social media strategy, as we have a lot of media that can be shared through various social media platforms. Our hope is that after viewing the intro video and understanding the narrative of our project, viewers will be persuaded to visit our site.

Serial: Podcasts & Digital Storytelling

To me, podcasts seem like the simplest and most obvious form of social media when it comes to digital storytelling. What more literal way is there to tell a story than by listening to someone’s voice? “Listening to a voice or voices tell a story without other media is an ancient human experience, hearkening back to the oral tradition,” writes Bryan Alexander in The New Digital Storytelling. Though Podcasts seem simple, or perhaps because of their simplicity, I find them to be some of the most powerful and effective ways of storytelling with digital media. In this post, I will examine how my experience with one podcast in particular, NPR’s Serial – hosted by Sarah Koenig and co-produced by Koenig and Julie Snyder – might have implications for public history.


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I remember learning the term “meta” as an undergraduate when a history professor first explained to me what a historiography was. However, “history about history” was an easier concept for me to grasp than “data about data.” As I gained practical experience working to catalog museum objects and process archival material, I came to understand metadata as the important information which helps users to identify objects or documents that are relevant to their research or interests.

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Access & Preservation: Tensions at the National Archives

For this week’s blog post, I interviewed my good friend Amara Pugens who is an Archives Technician as the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland. Amara and I both attended Beloit College (turtles all the way down) and I was interested to talk with her about her experiences at NARA and compare and contrast the practical realities of her work with the theoretical issues we have been discussing in class.


NARA in College Park, MD

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Tangled: The History Web

In Digital History, Cohen and Rosenzweig identify the aggregate of historical websites as the “History Web.” When selecting a site to critique for this blog post, I attempted to find one using a resource they highlighted, the World Wide Web Virtual Library’s History Index, which was started by Lynn Nelson in 1993. Unfortunately, the site depended upon volunteers to maintain the lists, and many are not still updating.

However, a quick google search for “history digital resources” revealed a list compiled by the AHA of a group of presenters who had participated in the 2015 annual meeting’s “Digital Projects Lightning Round.” I chose to focus on a resource titled “Memories/Motifs: Approaching Early Holocaust Memory Online.” by Rachel Deblinger.

front page

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Images of Progress: Postcards from the 1933 World’s Fair

Two weeks ago I visited the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago to take some digital images for this class. I had written about Chicago’s second World’s Fair, “A Century of Progress” held in 1933-1934 in a previous class, and was curious to see what kinds of material related to the fair were held at the library.

Souvenir Book

Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, “Century of Progress” collection

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Hail Corporate: CouchSurfing and Communication

Couch Surfing is a hospitality network that connects travelers with locals offering places to stay free of charge. “You have friends all over the world, you just haven’t me them yet” the site’s tagline reads. Initially founded as a non-profit in 2003, CouchSurfing has undergone some major changes since its inception that have caused controversy among its users, especially around issues of privacy and security, safety, and the ethics of for-profit businesses. Understanding the history of CouchSurfing is useful for public historians who want to understand how their institutions should and should not interact with their online users and visitors.

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According to the site’s founder Casey Fenton, he came up with the idea for a site after finding a cheap plane ticket to Iceland, but not having anywhere to stay. He sent out a cold email to 1500 students at the University of Reykjavik asking for a place to crash – even on someone’s couch. Almost 50 students offered to let Fenton stay with them, and many personally showed him around the city. When Fenton returned to the US, the idea for CouchSurfing had solidified.

Originally founded as a 501(c)3 non-profit, the website went public in 2004. Initial growth was slow, but by the end of 2005 the site had over 45,000 members. In October 2011 the site had it’s highest membership, with over 3 million active and inactive members. Membership was free, though users could voluntarily pay for an identity verification service whose proceeds went to the site. Initially, the site was developed and improved by volunteer laborers, who came together in periodic “collectives” to work on and update the site. However, this changed in 2011 when CouchSurfing was privatized and became a for-profit corporation, as using volunteer labor to run a commercial enterprise is illegal in the United States. Since the 2011 incorporation, CouchSurfing has experienced some controversy among its members.

Many members objected strongly to CouchSurfing’s incorporation on ethical grounds. Users of the site saw their work as fundamentally community-based, and were immensely opposed to the idea of the site’s CEOs making money off of their donation-based work. The site had been previously financed and upkept through volunteer labor, as well as donations from members and revenue from the voluntary identity verification service. CouchSurfing International Inc., now a privately held corporation, does not publish any financial data, so it is impossible to know just how much the incorporation benefited its founders.

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Changes made to the website after incorporation led to some issues with privacy and security. For example, private city forums became publicly accessible, and members’ information such as phone numbers became publicly searchable. Then, in 2014, a security breach resulted in a virus being sent to 1 million users’ e-mail accounts. CouchSurfing apparently censored some posts related to the breach and refused to explain how the breach occurred.


CouchSurfing claims to use a number of mechanisms to increase safety among its users. Since CouchSurfing is based on a hospitality model where strangers invite other strangers into private homes, safety is a definitely a concern for the corporation. Initially, a comment and reviewing system made negative references easy to find and view. However, changes to the system have resulted in the website no longer labeling references as negative, and a personal vouching system was discontinued in 2014. Several high-profile crimes, including theft, sexual assault, and rape have generated international coverage, including incidents in France, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

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CouchSurfing has decreased in popularity and use since 2011, and there is currently a major issue with fake profiles in many geographical locations that boost user statistics. The decline of this particular social networking site I believe is a direct result of poor communication with users after incorporation. The history of CouchSurfing can help public history institutions who are questioning how best to interact with users, especially when major changes must be made.  Transparency and open lines of communication seem to be the best policy, even if this means opening up to criticism.

This post was written using information from the CouchSurfing Wikipedia page.

Digital Projects are Challenging

During last week’s class we had the opportunity to critique the functionality of a public history institution’s digital resources. I found it quite easy to find fault with many of the Newberry Library’s online collections. Like Tori (over at GoldenHistory), I was frustrated when resources I wanted to view were only accessible through a subscription database on-site at the Newberry. Wasn’t the whole point of digital resources to make collections more accessible? What good did it do to put something online if you could still only view it at the  physical library?


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