How the Orange County Library System Digitally Preserves Local History

On the TechSoup for Libraries blog, we discuss the numerous ways the public library serves its community: as an information hub, a place for activities, a book and DVD repository, and so much more. But we haven't really discussed another important element of the public library: as conservator of local history.

At ALA, the Orange County Library System (OCLS) in Orlando, Florida discussed how it is preserving local history, from the perspective of its community, at a session called "Your Community Memories: Preserving Local Legacies." Donna Bachowski, the reference central manager and Vanessa Neblett, reference central assistant manager, discussed two projects that the library is working on to engage the community in local history.

A Digital Scrapbook for Orlando

Orlando Memories homepage

Whether you've been an Orlando tourist or a lifelong resident, the Orlando Memory website is a place to share stories, images, and of course, memories. The OCLS started Orlando Memory to explore and honor the rich history of the area. Orlando has a large transplant population from other parts of the country, and there's a misconception that there was no history in Orlando before Disney World.

Dubbed a "digital scrapbook," Orlando Memory also lets you upload video clips, documents, and audio recordings to supplement your stories.

The stories are divided up into categories: people, places, topics, events, and organizations. For example, somebody shared a memory about Concord Park Elementary School. The design is simple, clean, and easy for just about anybody to use.

A Database for Obituaries

EPOCH, which stands for Electronically Preserving Obituaries as Cultural Heritage, started with a $50,000 National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to create an open access obituary database.

The staff also put additional time and money into creating marketing collateral both online and in print to share EPOCH with the community. The library partnered with local historical and genealogical organizations, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution.  

EPOCH legacies

The librarians said they took great care to make sure that the site "didn't look like an obituary site." When you visit EPOCH, you're greeted by a home page with rolling green hills and a sunset. It's a calm, peaceful design and the color scheme evokes the name of the library system: Orange County.  The site is built on Drupal; the library hired a contractor to design it.

At ALA, Bachowski and Neblett remarked that they were looking for "ambassador" libraries to launch EPOCH in their respective states. Being an ambassador library means that you launch EPOCH for your own community and help other libraries in your state get involved.

After they showed EPOCH at least year's ALA annual conference, they started discussing partnerships with various libraries. They mentioned that the Tulsa City Library had already signed on to the project.

Another intriguing side of EPOCH is that the project teaches the craft of writing an obituary. Bachowski and Neblett said that the library provides a free booklet on how to write an obituary for people interested in contributing.

Why Libraries Should Preserve Local History

Preserving, digitizing, and sharing local history is a way to build a stronger connection to your community and supports genealogical and historical research. It could be as simple as an oral history project, like the Sunnyvale Public Library's Sunnyvale Stories on YouTube or building digital history collections, such as the Richland Library's site (South Carolina).

Getting out and connecting with the people who have shaped and influenced your community is also a way to drum up support and demonstrate your impact in the community. Being a preserver and promoter of local history makes your library an invaluable resource.

Further Reading

How does your library digitally preserve local history? Tell us in the comments!