Friday, October 13, 2006

Promoting cultural collections

Yet another workshop today, this one an all-day affair in downtown Portland. I'm attending a seminar called "Telling the Story: Promoting Cultural Collections," presented by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA).

What
do we do currently to promote the collections here at HC&A? How do we get out of the History of Medicine Room and into the places where researchers are? About a year and a half ago, we did the obvious: created a glossy brochure highlighting our collections and services. We've handed out about a thousand of them now, by my reckoning, and most have probably made their way into the hands of people who would never have discovered us otherwise.

The brochure is limited by its very nature as a physical object (we know all about the limitations of physicality here in HC&A)--someone has to pick up the brochure, or we have to mail it out. In contrast, our website is able to touch people who cannot come here to touch our brochure: they stumble across it in a Google search, they are directed to it by citations of other researchers, they are linked to it from records in OCLC's WorldCat, they see it listed in online directories of historical collections.

On the website, researchers with a specific question or agenda can find a good deal of information about our holdings. For the casual browser who has no predefined information need, we provide some entertainment on our exhibits page. This web presentation is a complement to the physical exhibit that is installed in the OHSU Main Library. The quarterly displays represent another extremely powerful method of promoting the collections. In the exhibition of selected materials from one or more collections, we provide footprints back to the full collections, leading researchers Hansel-and-Gretel-like into the forest of available information. Attractive exhibits can make history come alive for those not normally interested in past events.

We have also partnered with other institutions and programs in the past to reach an even wider audience. In Fall 2004, we worked with the Multnomah County Library to mount an exhibit of local materials complementing the National Library of Medicine's traveling exhibit "Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature" (some photos from that exhibit can be found in the Digital Resources Library by doing a search on "frankenstein"). An especially productive ongoing collaboration has been formed with the producers of a documentary program on the history of medicine in Oregon. Together, OHSU and the OMA-OMEF sponsored project have conducted several oral history interviews of local physicians and health care workers. We have included these in our Oral History Project, while the documentarians have begun compiling all the interviews into a single program. You can view a short demo of that film in the DRL.

And, if you're reading this, you know that our blog is now helping promote the collections here. You may have already noticed that there are more research projects awaiting investigators than there are projects underway. So, if you see reference to something you'd like to know more about or something you think would be perfect for that paper or article you need to write, give us a call! If you know of anyone--student, historian, amateur sleuth--who might be interested in some of the materials we have, by all means let them know about us! Help us spread the word--there's room for a little history in everyone's future!