Evolution of Local History Websites

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Evolution of Local History Websites

By: grabitsdm | Information Technology | May 12, 2009

The Cokato Museum & Historical Society debuted its web site in the late summer of 1997.  At the time, and to the best of our knowledge, only three other museums in the state had a presence on the web.  A culmination of what seemed like months of planning, this event was met with little fanfare, other than a small article in the museum’s quarterly newsletter.  The local newspaper did not even provide coverage. During our discussions about creating a web site, I made the comment: “Within ten years, the Internet will be the preferred method of information retrieval for a large chunk of the populace.”  Needless to say, I was a little off on that estimate.


Since that humble unveiling, it should come as no surprise that Internet has radically transformed how historical organizations can and should conduct business.  For the Cokato Museum, those changes can be seen in numerous ways. 


One is in handling genealogy requests.  Since we are not the county museum, we were not typically the “first call” people made.  But with a presence on the web, genealogists can find us quite easily.  With our list of available resources, they can decide if we can assist them, and send an e-mail query.  Our research numbers have tripled since 2000, due almost exclusively to the web site.


Another item is providing general historical information about our community.  From a simple “Quick Facts” sheet, to our Lost Cokato series, and articles from our newsletter and the local newspaper, interested persons can learn a great deal about Cokato’s history from the comfort of their own home.  Those who seek further information can easily contact us.


Membership services are another area of benefit.  Early on we utilized email to contact members about upcoming events and other items of interest.  Unfortunately, the proliferation of spam forced us to curtail that avenue.  Now we encourage members to visit our News & Upcoming Events section of the web site, which is updated weekly or as needed.


A list of available publications, membership forms, and other information helps keep the activities of our organization in full view of not just our membership, but all who choose to view our page.


Social networking sites are quickly becoming another avenue by which museums can further advance name recognition.  Pick a network, and you can find organizations which have established a presence there in one form or another.


The negative side, and of course there always is one, can be found in the staff time needed to maintain these digital presences.  With so many organizations struggling to maintain current staffing levels, an honest conversation about time management must take place before embarking on these ventures.  Setting up that initial presence is easy.  Devoting time on a consistent basis for site maintenance can be the difficult part.


The obvious question remains then: what will the future bring for museums as the digital age progresses.  Considering how rapidity by which the technology had advanced, one can only guess at the next directions.  With barely over a decade having passed since museums made their initial forays into the digital universe, many of us in the field are anxious to see those new directions, and to determine if they will be beneficial to the advancement of our mission.


Mike Worcester

Cokato Historical Society