Last month, we were thrilled to host a few dozen colleagues from the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and other cultural institutions to discuss their potential participation in History Hub. Below we’ve provided a recap of the event, which includes information relevant to museums, archives, and other cultural institutions interested in supporting research and connections with their collections and expertise. Please reach out to historyhub@nara.gov if you’d like more information, a demo, or to discuss your organization’s potential participation. The platform is free and open to all!

 


(photo by Miran Grujic)

 

A Warm Welcome to Interested Cultural Organizations

 

David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, shared his hope that the technology behind History Hub will foster a new model for collaboration to benefit the American public:

 

“Together, we are a powerful voice for American history. With new technology and collaborative efforts, we are simply more than the sum of our parts.”

 

He encouraged institutions interested in using the platform to share their views, questions, and suggestions early and often so that we can work together to make History Hub a success.

 

Ann Cummings, Executive for Research Services at the National Archives, shared her vision for History Hub as a place to solve the challenges faced by cultural institutions in the 21st century, with the potential to help us all to meet the evolving needs of today’s researchers.

 

What is History Hub?

 

Kelly Osborn, who leads the History Hub platform at the National Archives, summarized the background behind the development of History Hub. It started with research into how organizations can best communicate with and serve their audiences. She looked at trends in consumer expectations around immediate feedback, self-service capabilities, personalization, and a desire for human interaction. We were inspired by the success technology companies have had with online support communities that invite connections between staff, customers, and enthusiasts who bring their own expertise to the forum. Informed by these insights and models, the National Archives launched History Hub, a community of practice and crowdsourcing platform for people interested in researching history, both broadly and personally. It’s a place where people can get answers from multiple institutions as well as a community of citizen experts and historians. It’s a knowledge base that scales and improves in quality over time. And it’s a way for us to make information more “organization agnostic,” where the researcher does not have to know who has the answer before asking a question.

 

By creating a vibrant community on History Hub, we aim to:

  • Facilitate research and connect with new audiences
  • Enable contributions from the public and from subject matter experts of all stripes
  • Create a knowledge base that continually improves
  • Improve customer service for an audience accustomed to immediacy
  • Decrease our workload over time by increasing transparency


Who is using History Hub?

(photo by Pamela Wright)

 

Dana Allen-Greil, Chief of Web and Social Media at the National Archives, shared data on History Hub’s current user base and web visitation patterns. History Hub has seen a steady increase in traffic and activity since launch, enabling continued growth of the knowledge base that powers the platform. With additional organizations coming on board to participate, and with search engines driving new visits as questions are answered (and then indexed by search engines), History Hub has the potential to reach and serve millions. She also described plans for user research and testing in the coming months as we continue to improve the platform and reach new audiences.

 

Lessons Learned to Date at the National Archives

Becky Collier, Research Services’ History Hub Coordinator at the National Archives, shared the experiences of the Research Services Focus Group using History Hub to respond to researcher inquiries. She stressed the need for establishing internal policies and processes, as well as social media training for staff. Looking towards the future, she noted that the reference staffs were excited by the potential of the platform, as well as the opportunity to collaborate more closely with other institutions.

 

What We’ve Heard from Organizations Interested in Participating

 

Darren Cole, History Hub community manager, shared common questions and concerns that have been expressed by organizations during discussions about their potential participation, as well as how we plan to address them. Questions about moderation and notification systems for participants are the most common. Attendees had the opportunity to dig into these further during the brainstorming session in the second half of the meeting.

 

The Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution:

 

Representatives of other institutions also briefly shared their plans and perspectives on participating in History Hub:


Jeffrey Flannery, Head, Reference & Reader Services, Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress, conveyed the Librarian of Congress’ support for History Hub and the Library’s initial outline for participation. New Library of Congress experts will be joining History Hub in the new year!


Michelle Delaney, Senior Program Officer for History and Culture, Office of the Provost / Under Secretary for Museums and Research at the Smithsonian Institution, sent a note of support (she was unable to attend), stressing how History Hub represented a new and much needed collaborative approach to digital access and outreach, and further noted how it aligns closely with the Smithsonian's strategic plan to broaden digital access and education outreach.

 

Brainstorming: How Can History Hub Address Your Audience Needs?

 

Participants were encouraged to brainstorm in small groups, sharing their ideas about how History Hub could address user needs, as well voicing their questions and concerns about implementing participation within their organizations.

 

Group discussions focused on 4 key questions:

  1. What are some common frustrations your audiences express in trying to conduct research or find information? What types of resources are your users seeking most often?
  2. How might a community forum experience help your audiences?
  3. What is the biggest benefit of collaborating with other cultural institutions on this platform?
  4. What would success look like for your institution? What concerns do you have about being successful?



(Photo by Miran Grujic)

 

A few common themes emerged during the discussion:

 

Researcher Frustrations: Knowing where to start, even down to which institution to begin at, was cited as a frequent frustration for researchers. Not knowing how or where to ask their questions is a formidable challenge and researchers find the institutional structures daunting.

 

Researcher Needs - Getting Started, Tailored Guidance: Researchers are looking for better guidance, in essence “connecting the dots” to getting started in hands-on research. Requests for personalized help, such as information on specific items and artifacts is common. More digitized primary source documents and online finding aids are also popular requests.

 

Benefits to Users: Community building was recognized as a clear advantage of the platform. The ability for researchers and other users to come together through History Hub to share ideas, resources, and answers came up several times. 

 

Benefits to Institutions: The ability to link related collections and topics across institutions was seen as a clear benefit of the platform. Participants also saw the potential to break down barriers not only between institutions, but within organizations as well.

 

Institutional Success: Participants looked forward to an improved ability to disseminate information, and getting away from email and other similar 1-to-1 interactions. They were especially hopeful of being better equipped to more fully answer the “hard” research questions. 

 

Institutional Concerns: Adapting the new platform to existing internal cultures and processes was a common concern among participants. The potential of the platform to “open the floodgates” of questions was mentioned frequently, especially when staff are already juggling other priorities and workloads. Addressing the varying needs of different audiences was seen as challenge, and participants were also concerned about how to measure performance, success, and other reporting requirements.

 

We’d like to thank all our colleagues for taking the time to come out and share their viewpoints and work with us on making History Hub a platform for everyone. We look forward to collaborating with you!

 

What’s Next?