Making local history accessible

PORTLAND — The website, designed to make several regional collections available to researchers and the public in a unified, digital space, was launched recently by the digital history company HistoryIT and the Friends of Island History consortium on Mount Desert Island.

The History Trust Digital Collections site is the culmination of a yearlong collaboration between HistoryIT and 13 member organizations of Friends of Island History seeking to increase accessibility to the region’s historical collections. The creation of a shared space for the collections promotes participation by multiple organizations with different types of collections and varying resources.

HistoryIT’s Digital Platform Environment allows organizations to contribute and keep track of historical records, while creating metadata that will connect their records with others. The resulting catalog incorporates interconnected records from more than a dozen organizations.

“While organizations have the option of keeping their collections private, the power of the shared catalog is in the access organizations have to intersecting materials when they are made public,” said HistoryIT founder and CEO Kristen Gwinn-Becker.

“This model focuses heavily on user experience and discoverability, as researchers are able to view records from several collections with a single click.”

With the site’s Digital Backpack feature, students and educators can create a personal account to save and share items from the History Trust Digital Collections site in their own folders. The backpacks can be used to store items about a particular person or family, a specific island town or a topic of interest. Teachers can save selected materials from several different collections to a single backpack for lesson planning, and students can compile and share digital primary sources to use for research and class presentations. The general public also can use the feature at no cost.

Friends of Island History’s efforts to share collections digitally “will significantly expand public access to historical records and foster partnership between collecting organizations, schools and universities, and independent researchers,” said Tim Garrity, executive director of member organization Mount Desert Island Historical Society. Access to these historical resources will provide “opportunities to inspire students’ discovery and engagement with history.”

HistoryIT created enhanced metadata for a representative sample of almost 2,000 items from participating organizations, including libraries, historical societies, museums and civic organizations. This sample represents less than 1 percent of the region’s historical collections, and the hope is that with continued participation and support, the organizations will be able to continually contribute more materials and enhance the effectiveness of the shared catalog. A gift from the Charles Butt Foundation made the initial partnership and website possible.

The following organizations have contributed items to the History Trust Digital Collections site: the Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association, College of the Atlantic, Great Cranberry Island Historical Society, Great Harbor Maritime Museum, Islesford Historical Society, Jesup Memorial Library, Maine Seacoast Mission, Mount Desert Island Historical Society, Seal Cove Auto Museum, Southwest Harbor Historical Society, Swan’s Island Educational Society and Tremont Historical Society.

Email [email protected] or call 699-4222.

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