November 16, 2017

Libraries Test Chronicle: Collaborative Local History

Chronicle ScreenshotWhen libraries seek community help with local history/photography projects, one of the most challenging details is often finding a user-friendly tool for the job. The team behind Chronicle—a new collaborative platform and community designed for photographers—has approached several libraries over the past six months to participate in the closed beta release of the platform. Users add recent photos or scanned archival prints to the platform via an app or web interface, where they are collected in chronicles focused on specific locations, events, or themes.

“While Snapchat is temporary and Instagram lacks quality control, Chronicle provides a platform to create lasting records over time,” Steven McBride, founder and CEO of Chronicle, said in a company presentation. The TimeSlider—a thumbnail timeline that allows viewers to quickly scroll through images in chronological order by date taken–allows for quick comparisons between photos, to see how a location or an idea has changed over time. Speaking with LJ, McBride elaborated: “Our inspiration grew out of the need for a collaborative chronological platform where everyone’s photos come together to tell our visual narrative.”

The platform was developed with the photography community in mind: creators retain ownership of their content and images are always credited to their source (as identified by the uploader). Contributors are encouraged to add robust metadata, including creator, location, date taken, subject, and full descriptions. Collaboration can happen at different levels: fully open contribution, moderated contribution, and private contribution restricted to the chronicle’s creator. All chronicles are public to view, and any user can follow, like, or comment on chronicles and individual photos. Chronicle also features an open API, so it’s straightforward to embed slideshows and videos on websites and in social media.

But the platform’s developers felt that these features that make Chronicle appealing to photographers could also make it an excellent tool for libraries reaching out to their communities. Through the Local Chronicle Project, the Chronicle team offers libraries promotional materials, training suggestions, and guidance on events and program marketing, free of charge. “Soon after planning our product, [what] stood out was empowering people to collectively record their story and local history,” McBride said. “Libraries are central to the history of a community and therefore stood out as natural partners.”

Vanessa Nastro, archivist and special collections librarian of the Port Washington Public Library, NY, is  one of those early partners. “Our community relies a great deal on the services we provide,” Nastro said. “Our Local History Center, in particular, has been a trusted source of information on the history of our town…. This project is a great way of bringing together community members that can help strengthen those collections by playing a role in the collective memory of our town’s history and people. Not only can they add their own images, but…they may be able to identify images in our collection that currently do not have any descriptive data.”

Nastro is also looking forward to working more closely with other Port Washington historians and organizations on the Local Chronicle Project. “[The project] can work towards unifying our collections, allowing them to be viewed in one place, making it a helpful tool for someone interested in our local history on a broader scale…. Although we are still in the early stages of the project, it is exciting to see the positive response from the community. Ideally, the project will work as a conduit between sources of knowledge and the interests of our patrons.”

Idaho’s Meridian Library District (MLD) came on board in August in an effort spearheaded by digital services librarians Nick Grove (a 2016 LJ Mover & Shaker) and Hailey Roberts. They noted, “At MLD, we offer a number of services and events that focus on personal/family/local history, so we’ll be encouraging our patrons who are already interested in local history to use Chronicle and help us capture Meridian’s historic and current character.”

Roberts’s enthusiasm is personal: “I’ve always loved local history and wished that I could time travel to see what my community was like in the past. Chronicle provides an opportunity for me to see the evolution of this place through a collection of images, which is very exciting!”

MLD participated in the National Day of Listening on November 25th and used it as an opportunity to let the community know about Chronicle. Explained Roberts, “I thought Chronicle fit in well with National Day of Listening, so I’m promoting the event as an opportunity for our community members to orally and visually record their experiences in Meridian. We’ve invited participants to bring their photos that they’d like to share via Chronicle. We’ll show people how to use the interface, as well as help them scan hard copies of photos to add to the collection. We’ll be looking for opportunities to recreate and augment programs like this in the future.”

Grove and Roberts are also reaching out to local history organizations via programs, flyers, and direct outreach, focusing on the collaborative storytelling elements of Chronicle. “The beautiful thing about Chronicle is that anyone can contribute to the visual tapestry—the more perspectives we’re able to collect, the better chances we’ll have to appreciate the vibrancy of the city,” raved Roberts.

Both Port Washington and MLD have had initial success in using Chronicle as a crowdsourcing local history tool, and are looking forward to integrating it further into their programming in 2017.

Libraries are invited to participate in the beta release of the platform—testing both the interfaces and the Local Chronicle Project itself—by contacting the team at contact@onechronicle.com or on social media at @TheChronicleApp via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Chronicle will reach out to school and academic libraries in the coming weeks as well, and welcomes queries.

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