We moved into a new space in Chicago only a few weeks ago. It’s a large, timber loft space in the West Loop – lots of brick and light. I’m still getting used to its quirks and sounds.
I came into the office very early this morning to enjoy a few hours of quiet before facing the adventures of the day. When I am able to carve out this early morning time, I absolutely treasure it. It’s a time that doesn’t need to be consumed with the completion of tasks or racing to the next thing, but basking in the simplicity of going through the bills, hearing the city wake up outside our windows, and thinking about the potential of the day.
Last week the Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Initiative featured HistoryIT in a video interview. I correctly expected business calls to pick up a bit this week as a result. So, I spent much of my morning returning calls and emails. I had the opportunity to describe our innovative approach to six prospective clients. Engaging new business isn’t just a company necessity for me. Each conversation feels like another chance to convince people that the way we are working with our history can be – and should be – completely different. Organizations must not think of their archives as a silo, a separate compilation of materials that would be nice to have available more easily. We see tremendous value in the information stored away in boxes, piles, folders, disks, videos and cassettes, and even digital files. We see those archives as a wealth of inaccessible information and work with our clients to figure out who needs to access that information, how accessing it will provide real value – both to the public and to the institution – and then design and implement a plan to create a digital archive and discover that value. We have the opportunity to be innovative with materials that we previously relegated to only one realm of usefulness.
In the past two years, we’ve developed our own software platform to manage digital historical collections, and perfected a process of digitizing historical collections in their entirety at a very rapid pace. We subject tag every single item in these collections according to a customized plan that makes the primary source materials truly discoverable by diverse audiences. This way, we invite the public into the world of primary sources in a way that is meaningful to them (via the quick search) and invite them to come to their own conclusions about our past based on this evidence.
I used to think Tuesday was the most depressing day of the week. Now, before noon, it’s a day when I have the opportunity to convince six groups before lunch that together we can democratize history.
So, the Tribune video meant that today turned into a day of responding to inquiries. Almost as exciting, the video meant that we were able to further promote one of my all-time favorite clients, which is featured in the story. Our team in Indianapolis is working with the University of Indianapolis on a state-of-the-art Digital Mayoral Archive. Digitizing and subject tagging more than 15,000 records a week, our approach is enabling the University to utilize their existing assets to meet a wide variety of goals. This project is fun for our entire team. The digitization process is diverse, as it requires a variety of digitization formats to cover the range of materials in the collection (documents, negatives, photographs, artifacts of various sizes, and audio and video captured on a wide range of formats). Our design and development team gets to curate new features, highlighting particular stories captured in the collection, like a feature about bringing the Colts to Indianapolis or the early political career of Senator Richard G. Lugar.
But I don’t just love this project. I love these clients. Going to Indy and meeting with the administration, faculty, and staff associated with this project is always a fulfilling experience. Our colleagues at the University are really visionary and excited to explore the rich variety of ways to utilize a digital archive, including engaging public discourse and integrating digital primary sources into the curriculum. The University’s adoption of our methodology places them at the forefront in this field. We are doing something truly innovative in a world that tends to be mired in almost antiquated processes and procedures.
I realize that I didn’t actually take you through my day so much as describe my thoughts throughout the day. It’s one of those days when you sit down at your desk in the morning, look up and it’s just after 7PM. Where did this day go?