Today's guest post is written by Stephanie Hess, Curator of Digital Collections at the Northfield Historical Society. Since 2015, Stephanie has also coordinated digitization for the Northfield History Collaborative, a community-based digital history sharing website.
It is getting more and more common for historical and cultural organizations to share part of their collections with an online audience. In Northfield, we have created the Northfield History Collaborative (NHC) to digitally preserve local history and share digitized photos, documents, and artifacts online.
After ten years of growing our online collection, we began to realize two things:
1) It's not enough to put the digital files up. We want people to actually use them.
2) We need to package these digital files in ways that help people use them.
The NHC is not alone in these realizations. There is a growing movement among digital collections to organize online content into larger categories, topics, and events. The Library of Congress, Digital Public Library of America, Minnesota Digital Library, and more are leading the way in creating these sets, and they call them Primary Source Sets.
Each organization's sets are slightly different, but for the most part, they all include a topic overview, links to about 20 unique items that fit the topic, discussion questions, related resources, and an interpretation guide. Some, but not all, connect the users to K-12 academic standards to encourage teachers to use them within their classrooms.
After exploring several of these examples and attending a Minnesota Digital Library workshop on creating these sets, I decided that the NHC should develop several of these sets. I believed they would help people better understand the local Northfield experience of a larger historic event, theme, or era.
So, in 2018, I applied for a Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grant in the "Research and Writing" category to create at least 10 new Primary Source Sets for the NHC. The project was broken into two parts: identifying and researching the ten topics, and selecting items and drafting the text for all of the sets.
At the end of the grant project, I had completed ten sets. They are all available on our Primary Source Set landing page, and include the following topics:
-Settlement and Immigration
-The James-Younger Gang Bank Raid
-Malt-O-Meal in Northfield
-Agriculture and Farming
-Milling in Northfield
-Women in Northfield
-World War II in Northfield
-Religion in Northfield
-Entertainment in Northfield
These ten new sets joined two I had composed in a previous project on World War I on the Home Front and the Influenza epidemic.
I had selected these topics using two kinds of community input. First, I came up with a list of potential topics, sent them to Northfield-area social studies teachers, and asked them which topics they would find most useful. I also created online polls on our NHC Facebook page to gauge the general public's topic interests. Some of their responses surprised me. For example, I asked our Facebook followers if they would find a Malt-O-Meal set more interesting, or a Music one. Northfield is a historically musical town, yet Malt-O-Meal won that poll almost 2 to 1.
In order to ensure that these sets actually can be useful to local educators (and even those outside of Northfield), I also researched Minnesota K-12 academic standards in both Social Studies and English Language Arts. For each topic, I identified several benchmarks within both of those educational categories that can be explored with these sets. I wanted teachers, in particular, to be able to find and explore the wealth of online materials available on the NHC with minimal effort and obvious connections to their curriculum goals.
After the Research and Writing grant was over, and we eventually published the sets online, I shared them with my original group of social studies teachers in Northfield. One teacher wrote back and told me how much his students would benefit from this "fantastic tool for anyone working with local history." He told me he would actively promote these sets to his 6th grade students for their end-of-the-year investigations into Minnesota history topics. His email validated this whole project and showed me that we met our goals.
For more information on these sets, check out the Users' Guide online or email me at NHC@northfieldhistory.org.