Minnesota Local History

Minnesota Local History Blog.

Minnesota Local History Blog.

Advice and help with building history capacity.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s Local History Services helps Minnesotans preserve and share their history. This blog is a resource of best practices on the wide variety of museum, preservation, conservation, funding, and non-profit management topics. We’re here to help.

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Social media/Web Guidelines and Strategy Worksheets

By: Joe Hoover | Information Technology | September 10, 2010
As social media tools are becoming increasingly commonplace and valuable to historical organizations and museums it is important to keep the communication appropriate, relevant and inline with the organization's mission, which is why it is important to have a strategy before going in and to have guidelines on how to best interact when there.

The following strategy worksheets and guidelines were developed for by Enterprise Technology and Local History Services at the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) as templates for use by other history organizations. The guidelines were created both from experiences here at MHS and by glomming good ideas from the guidelines of others around the web, such as the email guidelines which were wholly adapted from the University of Saint Thomas' own email guidelines.

If you have not created your own, look at these as a starting point, if you already have your own, add these as tools to your arsenal.

Strategy Worksheet


Also of interest is the Web Standards Guide (PDF) that was created by MHS' Information Technology team last year which outlines good, better and best practices for designing and maintaining web sites.

Just what is a Mobile Museum?

By: Joe Hoover | Information Technology | September 8, 2010
Images of mobile devices including cellphones and calculators

Some words about "mobile"...

"Mobile Museum" is as widely talked about now days as it is widely misunderstood. Museums talk about mobile tours but without little clarification of just what mobile means.  Organizations stumble headlong into the world of mobile and others wish and plan to do so, and as the old saying goes - "be careful what you wish for"

Remember this - a handheld calculator can also be considered a "mobile" device, so define just what mobile is in your organization and if you’re working with a team of people make sure that everyone is in agreement as to what the definitions and perceptions are. Case in point, what is the difference between a cell phone tour vs. a mobile tour? Perhaps nothing, but it can be very different.

Take a tour

A cell phone tour can mean dial up to listen to a prerecorded message on an object or place. A mobile tour can mean that AND it can also mean downloading podcast episodes on your MP3 player and going for a walk. Maybe mobile means the "Mobile web browser" and you use your mobile phone's web browser to access a tour on a mobile designed web site. These web sites vary greatly some can look primitive and can only function on in a mobile phone browser only with the greatest of effort, others can be slick sites that are also considered "web browser apps" that mimic many (but not all) of the functionality of a "mobile app"

Which brings us to our next level of mobile tour - download a "mobile app" to your device be it a iPhone, iPad or iTouch (...or Android device) and proceed to go on a tour where the data on the mobile app changes and updates in real-time and not only do you receive information on your tour, you can add your own comments, photos and interact with others on the tour. Dynamic data is also something a web app can do, however, a mobile app also allows you to access many features of your mobile device like the camera, microphone, accelerometer, GPS, etc... A web browser app that operates from the web browser cannot. This allows your device to capture 2D barcodes, recording and uploading of photos, video and audio. It also can allow position recognition and know where you are in relation to a place or a museum object.

The worst mobile apps are the ones that do not take advantage of web connectivity and are bloated space hogging mobile applications that contact all the information within the app itself instead of accessing it as needed from a web database. Example: at 54MB the American Museum of Natural History's Dinosaur iPhone app is a good example. Many of the well-designed apps don't go over 2-3MB. There may be reasons to create a jumbo app, such as a critical need to work even if the web connection is down or maybe the tour is in an area without internet or mobile phone service. If the museum building itself cannot get internet/mobile phone reception that should be addressed before the mobile app is built in the first place.

From a marketing point-of-view, getting the person to keep the app on their mobile device long after the tour or museum visit creates a long term relationship which you can refresh with an update of the mobile app. Space hogging apps or one-trick-ponies that focus only on a particular tour or exhibit won’t stick around on the device for long.

Your mobile ready web site...

While it is a good idea that your organization's web site should be mobile ready, it is important to understand just what that means.

First, if you have heard of the mobile domain extension ".mobi" do not buy it. It is fairly worthless. Instead you have several other options. First, if your web site  is correctly coded using style sheets then you could reformat your web site using style sheets aimed at mobile devices and mobile specific JavaScript.

Secondly, you can just as easily (and cheaper) create a subdomain for your mobile content instead of using a new domain name with the extension .mobi. As an example,  see how the Walker Art Center handles its web site for mobile devices.
Mobile: m.walkerart.org
Non-mobile: www.walkerart.org
You already own/lease your domain name no need to get a second one when you can just create a subdomain for your current domain.

Lastly, many smart mobile devices have already built browsers to handle traditional web sites, so even if you do nothing it is getting easier for people to view it via mobile device. But even if you wish to go the extra mile and design your site for a web mobile device you probably don't (and should not) have to replicate all the content on your traditional site. Hopefully you have some type of analytics collecting web traffic data. Google analytics allows you to track mobile device use. You should see what pages get accessed via mobile (and where) and build your mobile site accordingly with the content mobile users want.

I leave you with a table created by Nancy Proctor of the Smithsonian American Art Museum that compares the platform to the type of content it supports, which serves as a reminder it is important first to define your objectives, then to define the technology you need.

Mobile device comparison chart

Grace List Part 2

By: grabitsdm | August 31, 2010
The Internal Revenue Service responded to requests to expand the grace period from a May 15 deadline to October 1 as the nonprofit world transitions to all organizations needing to report annually. The good news is that about 2,500 Minnesota nonprofits heeded the call early this past spring (Risking 501(c)(3) status), but there are still roughly 5,000 that risk losing their charitable status for failure to file.

Starting with the 2007 tax year (filed in 2008 or 2009), all nonprofits, including the narrow band of 501(c)(3) charities, needed to file with the IRS. For tax year 2009 (filed in 2010 or 2011), all nonprofits with gross receipts of $25,000 or less must file the 990-N electronic postcard. Those with gross receipts of more than $25,000 and less than $500,000 and total assets of less than $1.25 million can file using the 990-EZ or 990. Those above that range must use the full 990. These numbers will change for tax year 2010 (filed in 2011 and later).

A quick scan of the list from the IRS shows the following Minnesota historical organizations:

Albany Heritage Society Inc                                          
Bechyn Historical Society                                            
Cokato Finnish American Historical Society                           
Columbia Heights Historical Society                                  
Duluth Preservation Alliance Inc                                     
Duluth Preservation Society Inc                                      
Fort Ridgely Historical Festival Inc                                 
Hennepin-Overland Railway Historical Society Inc          
Historic Dayton’s Bluff Association                                   
Historic Irvine Park Association                                     
Historic Pipestone Inc                                               
Historical Experiences Inc                                           
Hollandale Heritage Huis                                             
Hotel Kaddatz Preservation Association                               
Hmong Historical Society of Minnesota                                
Lanesboro Living Museum of Natural History                           
Lesueur County Historical Society Museum Chapter 1                   
Mesabi Heritage Society                                              
Minnesota Society of Architectural Historians                        
Minnesota Womens History Month                                       
Morristown Historical Society                                        
Ness Church Preservation Foundation                                  
New Prague Historical Society                                        
Nordic Heritage Association Inc                                      
Northwest Airways Inc Historical Society                             
NYA Pavilion Preservation                                            
Paul Bunyan Historical Society                                       
Plymouth Historical Society                                          
Regional Anishinabe Historical Society                               
Richfield Historical Society                                         
Salem Historical Church and Cemetery Association Inc                 
Southeastern Minnesota Living History Farm Inc                       
Talon Historical Society                                             
Trimont Area Historical Society Inc                                  
Truman Historical Association Incorporated                           
Ulen Historical-Recreation & Conservation Association Inc            
Woodbury Heritage Society

If you know any of these organizations, please take a moment to ask them where they are with filing. The history community in Minnesota has benefited from work each of these has done, so it would be unfortunate for any to lose their status unnecessarily. For more about the list, see the IRS website.

Minnesota use of StEPs

By: grabitsdm | August 25, 2010
As of today, 166 organizations have enrolled in the American Association for State and Local History StEPs program in its first eleven months of operation. The twelve states with the most enrollments are:

1. Texas (20)
2. Ohio (19)
3. California (8)
4. Pennsylvania (8)
5. Virginia (8)
6. Illinois (7)
7. Kentucky (6)
8. Alaska (5)
9. Colorado (5)
10. Maryland (5)
11. Minnesota (5)
12. Tennessee (5)

From our pilot project, we learned that some museums and historical societies like to work within a group on a project like StEPs. The group structure helps them meet other paid and unpaid museum staff in their state, share ideas/issues, and feel accountable to the group to keep making progress. This last point is especially important given that many organizations will be in the StEPs program for several, if not many, years (and there's nothing wrong with that!) Staying motivated and engaged in the program will be important. Given all of this, I encourage museums within each state to consider forming StEPs user groups.

If staff and/or funding is not available for someone to lead a user group in your state, you might start a discussion with your state museum association, field service office, state historical society, or state humanities council about possible grant funding for a group facilitator or "coach." I've spoken with staff from several state humanities councils and they expressed interest in the idea. One state, Minnesota, has created a grant program that offers funding for enrollment in StEPs plus money for a consultant and supplies.

Cherie Cook

Digitizing Minnesota Newspapers

By: grabitsdm | Collection Management | August 23, 2010
Minnesota Historical Society is taking its newspaper collection into exciting new territory with multiple digitization efforts.  The Society has been collecting and preserving newspapers throughout its history and the state’s history – it is the largest single collection of Minnesota newspapers with dates ranging from 1849 to the present day.   To collect, preserve, and provide access to the hundreds of newspapers it receives, the Society has relied on microfilming over the past 40 or more years.  Today digitization is making newspaper collections even more accessible to people throughout the state, nation, and even worldwide.  The Society is embracing the accessibility and the benefits of free-text searching that digitization brings.

Digitizing Current Newspapers

The Minnesota Historical Society continues to collect daily and weekly newspapers from throughout Minnesota.  While budget cuts required that the Society’s newspaper microfilming cease in July 2009, the Society continues to receive current newspapers while it pursues efforts to deliver current newspaper content digitally.  An exciting collaboration is under way between the Society, the Minnesota Newspaper Association, and newspaper publishers to develop a process for collecting the electronic content that publishers create for today’s newspapers in a digital repository that will preserve and provide access to current news throughout Minnesota.  The Society is also exploring the use of ArchiveIt to collect an initial set of Minnesota news content from Internet-only news sources.  This online content will complement the traditional newspaper content collected electronically from publishers.

Digitizing Historic Newspapers for the National Digital Newspaper Program

In 2007, the Minnesota Historical Society received a two-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to participate in the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). This program is a partnership between the NEH and the Library of Congress to build a national digital resource of newspapers published between 1836 and 1922. The material is full-text searchable and freely accessible through Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, a website developed and hosted by the Library of Congress.

From 2007-2009 the Society digitized 100,000 pages of the Daily Globe, St. Paul Daily Globe, and Saint Paul Globe (1880-1905) and the Minneapolis Journal (1901).  All of these issues are available on Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.  In July of 2009, the Society started a second NDNP grant and will be digitizing three Ojibwe newspapers, the Progress, the Tomahawk, and the Red Lake News; an African American newspaper from St. Paul, the Western Appeal and the Appeal; four Minnesota city newspapers, the Princeton Union, the Bemidji Pioneer, the Warren Sheaf, and the New Ulm Review.   Additionally, the Society will complete the published run of the Globe with the Daily Globe, 1878-1879 and more years of the Minneapolis Journal, 1902-1906.

Common Access Interface

With multiple newspaper digitization efforts taking place, the Society and partners such as Minitex and the University of Minnesota hope to develop a common access tool that will allow searching across different digitized Minnesota newspaper collections.

Other Newspaper Digitization Projects

Still in the planning stages are projects such as the Swedish Language Newspaper Project that the Society will undertake with a variety of partners in Minnesota, the United States and Sweden.  More news on newspaper digitization projects such as this will follow.

Anne Levin
Minnesota Digital Newspaper Project

When 1991 is Ancient History

By: grabitsdm | August 17, 2010
The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an article on Tuesday August 17, 2010, about Beloit College's annual list of what incoming Freshmen know. Contained in the list are hints about material culture that will be important for local historical organizations to consider as exhibits and public programs get developed. The list also underscores the importance of collecting today so that those in the future will understand us today.

What surprises you from this list? Are any of the items mentioned already in your collections? In what ways might you use a list like this to prepare for exhibits, public programs, publications, and more?

Merging Websites in Clay County

By: grabitsdm | Information Technology | August 9, 2010
Our website was launched in May 2010. The website took over a year to design and create. Meghan Lannan, student at Minnesota State University Moorhead, created and designed the website for free. I began my position with the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County in January 2010, so I entered during the tail end of the project. I am taking on the role of updating the website frequently with upcoming exhibits/events and archival information.

We decided we needed a new website after we merged our two organizations, Clay County Historical Society and the Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center, into the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County. We wanted to brand our new organization name, and we felt a new website would help establish ourselves. In addition to branding ourselves, we wanted to make the website more user-friendly so visitors knew what was happening at the Hjemkomst Center museum.

We use Adobe® Dreamweaver® for the entire site, as well as Adobe® Flash® for our main page. I had previously taken courses in college on Dreamweaver® but was not too familiar with the program. Meghan showed me the basics of Dreamweaver®, so I was able to make updates to our website.

To track our website, we use Google Analytics®. This helps us know where are visitors are coming from, which page they visit the most and how many new visitors we get daily. This helps us determine what pages we need put more emphasis on.  For instance, one of our most visited pages is our “Events” page, so I make sure that page is updated daily.

The site is designed to be more user-friendly for visitors and includes information on upcoming events and our in-house and traveling exhibits, as well as a partial listing of research materials available in our Archives. Visitors can also find directions to the Hjemkomst Center, contact information and more. We are currently in the process of transferring all of our holdings from our old website to our new website. In addition, we will eventually have a page setup so guests can view and purchase items in the Heritage Gift Shop.

Brianne Carlsrud
Marketing Coordinator
Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County

Electronic Access for Rural Minnesota

By: grabitsdm | Information Technology | August 9, 2010
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $43 million for six Minnesota rural communications systems to upgrade service to broadband, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Thursday August 5, 2010. While history has been and continues to be preserved in many parts of the state, faster access to that history now appears to be coming.

For those in Lyon, Pipestone, Rock, Lac qui Parle, Kittson, Marshall, Roseau, Cass, Crow Wing, Stevens, and Faribault Counties, what might you do with this service to increase access to your collections?

America's Great Outdoors

By: grabitsdm | August 6, 2010
This last Wednesday, local history staffers attended a public input meeting at the University of Minnesota on America's Great Outdoors. This is a national initiative looking at the legacy of places, one part of which are historic.

The idea of the meeting was introduced with a short film that recalled President Theodore Roosevelt's 1908 call to action to preserve natural and historic areas. History is a wonderful teacher, but critical context was missing.

One of the most frequently noted challenges to preserving parks, trails, and historic sites by attendees was essentially the lack of legibility of these places by the public. Often people said something to the effect of "How do we get them to know more about these places?"

The one part of the context of Pres. Roosevelt's was that demographically more than half of the United States population lived in rural areas. Today less than 20 percent live in rural areas. In 1908 Montana and North Dakota were still open to homesteading. Today, only Maine, Mississippi, Vermont, and West Virginia have over half of their populations living in rural areas.

One thing that is happening to help urban populations access the great outdoors is creation of trails, parks, greenways, and other amenities in cities. But that does not solve the issues of "getting them to come out" to established amenities.

Could it be that to save outdoor heritage people need to be familiar with it? Could it be that in order to be familiar with something people need to live near it?

After sitting through the listening sessions on Wednesday, I certainly think that one part of solving this issue is to find ways for people to relocate to rural communities. That means helping people see the attraction of rural communities, helping them access cultural experiences more easily, and improving rural economies.

The depopulation that is occurring in western Minnesota counties is alarming and is perhaps the canary in the heritage mine calling us to action. Without addressing depopulation in rural areas the whole question of sustainability rises for beautiful but remote attractions. On the one hand, some people may argue that these are tools, and as needs for tools change society should trade in old amenities for ones it might actually use. On the other hand, part of the integrity of history is bound up in location, setting, feeling, and associations so we should not abandon history for the sake of convenience - but instead seek it out.

What are your thoughts? How much of an issue is depopulation in rural parts of Minnesota for the preservation of history? What can local history organizations do to encourage people to stay in their communities?

Feel free to also submit your thoughts to the federal government as it considers the next steps in preserving America's Great Outdoors.

Updated Website for Otter Tail County Historical Society

By: grabitsdm | Information Technology | August 4, 2010
We registered our domain name otchs.org in 2003. We had a previous website developed by a volunteer but wanted to have more control over the site and an ability to update it ourselves. I used Adobe® GoLive® to create our 2003 site. Adobe® Dreamweaver® replaced GoLive® in 2008. Since that time I have nursed our version of GoLive® along to do simple updates.

We purchased Dreamweaver® in 2008 but I didn't feel that I had the time to devote to learning the new program until I heard someone say how outdated our site looked. That gave me the push I needed to open the software and go through the training to get it started.

The 2003 site took about three months to build. The new site took six weeks. This included the work we did with a hired FileMakerPro consultant who created the pages that serve our cemetery search engine. The most time consuming aspects of the website are those places where we use the site to collect fees with links to PayPal.

On June 21, 2010 we launched our new website. The new site was created for two reasons. First, the software I used to build our old site had been discontinued for a few years and we had been nursing it along to get it to do updates. Secondly, we finally added a search component to the site.

Visitors can now search the over 86,000 names in our single largest database and request either or both internment information or an obituary lookup. Searches are tied to PayPal; which collects a $5.00 fee per lookup for OTCHS. This is a service people desire and should raise much needed revenue to help us continue our work collecting information on the people of Otter Tail County.

We hired Tim Cimbura, with Cimbura.com Technology out of Minneapolis, to set up our search screens.  We had been looking for someone with the skills and expertise with Apple, FileMaker and web development and through the Minnesota Association of School Administrators we found Cimbura.com Technology. All of the work Tim did for us was done from his home office. We used the telephone, Skype, and email to communicate. We have so many databases to share with the world but we lack the expertise needed to make them available. Now that we found Cimbura.com we only lack the funds to pay him to set up our next online search experience.

We may be unable to be on the cutting edge of technology but we are making an effort to keep our web presence looking tidy and offer web surfers a taste of what we have to offer. We hope it also encourages them to visit us in person.

Opportunities to become or renew membership, shop for a book from our gift shop, donate to our many important causes, request research, find out what events and exhibits we have going on and what we are planning in the near future, are just some of the things people can do and see on our website.

LeAnn Neuleib is keeping our Facebook page updated. All of these new internet sites and tools are cool and definitely something that people are using. We would like to have more Facebook friends. Make sure, if you are on Facebook, that you join our group or "like" our page. 

I would love to hear that you checked out our website and if you can think of ways to improve our web presence, and especially if you have the knowledge and skills to help us make it better, let me know.

~Kathy M.L. Evavold