(Almost) 20 Years Later: Reflections from an Early Ohio Memory Staffer

Workers during construction of the tower at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, 1930. Courtesy of the Pontifical College Josephinum Archives, contributed during Phase 2 of the original Ohio Memory project.

In 2002 I was finishing up what I lovingly refer to as my “Lost Year,” where I was living and working in Europe. My goal had been to have a job waiting for me when I came back home to Ohio so I was pretty excited when the Ohio Memory job opened! I had already worked at the Ohio History Connection (then the Ohio Historical Society) while I was an undergrad at The Ohio State University, and had continued working after graduation, so I already knew the organization was a great fit for my career goals. The Ohio Memory position gave me the opportunity to continue to develop my research skills, but also allowed me to develop new skills like digitization and relationship-building.

First edition sheet music of “Beautiful Ohio,” published in 1918 and adopted as the official state song in 1969. Courtesy of the Ohio State University Music and Dance Library during Ohio Memory Phase 2.

A phone interview from my apartment in Rome and a few plane rides later, I was working as the Content Development Assistant for Ohio Memory by the end of 2002! In this position, I worked with institutions who wanted to submit items to Ohio Memory during Phase 2, which focused on materials from the post-1903 date range. It was fun to meet so many different people from different organizations around the state and learn more about their local history. I managed those relationships as well as digitizing and writing metadata for their submissions.

Fast-forward 15 or so years and I was able to revisit my Ohio Memory work when I became the Director of the Outreach Division and the Ohio Memory team was under my purview. The great thing about revisiting programs years later is that you get to see how they have grown and developed. Online projects can be very precarious; the excitement is there for a few years and then it peters away as the next new, shiny online project comes around. What I was impressed with the most after my hiatus from direct engagement with Ohio Memory was how the development of the project didn’t stop after I moved into another position or when other key staff moved to new positions or organizations. Fresh eyes and ideas were brought on board to continue Ohio Memory’s development. While there are a myriad of ways Ohio Memory has stayed at the top of its game over the past 20 years, I’ll just highlight a few of my favorites:

Photograph by Nell Becker Dorr, showing a young girl standing by water. A Massillon native, Dorr was a renowned photographer known for the haunting quality of her work. Courtesy of the Massillon Museum during Ohio Memory Phase 2.
  • Consultation on Federally Recognized American Indian Tribes: As part of the Ohio History Connection’s own progression with tribal relations, Ohio Memory staff have worked, and continue to work, with tribal partners to ensure the collections shared online are culturally appropriate to share and the metadata description is correct and sensitive.
  • Partner Development: Back when I was working directly with Ohio Memory we had our partners, but over the past 20 years the idea of what an “Ohio Memory Partner” means has evolved. The initial smaller-scale contributions established ways for institutions to subscribe to receive their own digital collection, which means Ohio Memory stays dynamic and more representative, but also allows greater visibility for organizations who might not be able to afford to launch a large scale digitization project on their own; a win-win!
  • User Experience: Although the great content is still there, Ohio Memory looks very different from when I was working on it in 2002. The team has continued to enhance the user experience, most recently updating to a fully mobile-responsive site, meaning you can now have Ohio Memory on the go!

I could go on and on, there’s a deep bench of changes over the past 20 years that speak volumes to the thoughtful ways the Ohio Memory team–be it the 2000 team, the 2010 team or the 2020 team–consider the needs of not only the partners but the end users as well. I think this speaks to not only the individuals who have stewarded the program over the past two decades, but to the relevance of the program itself. If partnering institutions, and more importantly, the public, didn’t find Ohio Memory useful to them personally and professionally I don’t think we’d be celebrating 20 years this year.

So a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Ohio Memory this year!

Thank you to Stacia Kuceyeski for this week’s post! Stacia worked as an Ohio Memory content development assistant from November 2002-November 2003. Following various roles within the Ohio History Connection, she has worked as Director of the Outreach Division since 2014.

Ohio Memory is celebrating 20 years! Visit our blog all year long to learn more about our program, partners and collections.

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