For my independent study this semester, I’m working on two digital projects: first, to tell the story of A. Louise Klehm, Skokie’s first lady doctor, and second, to digitize and create an online exhibit around Skokie Public Library’s fantastic solar eclipse party from 2017.
The goal of the A. Louise Klehm project on a practical level is to become familiar with Omeka, the content-management tool the library uses to create digital collections. The digital ‘items’ and the metadata surrounding them already exist; it’s now a matter of organizing them into a cohesive and interesting story. As I’ve been digging into the material and starting to shape the exhibit, here are some things I’ve been learning and thinking that will help drive what comes next.
Message – what’s the big idea?
First and foremost, what is this about? A helpful way to begin to answer this question is to use the formula, “My story is about X, but it is really about Y.”
“My story is about A. Louise Klehm, Skokie’s first lady doctor, but it’s really about perseverance and resilience, about women breaking barriers in history.”
Audience – who cares?
Knowing who you are speaking to drives organization, design, and storytelling decisions. For example, the likely audiences for this project are:
Community members interested in local history – for them, this is primarily a storytelling mission, so it makes sense to emphasize local ties to places and people and relevance to the current day (common pain points, triumphs). What are the moments of drama? Let’s shape the story around those(for example moments of conflict or overcoming obstacles), How will it end? In this case, we can end on a high note with an uplifting message.
Students – for example, how can we balance giving them the factual information they need without doing all the work for them? What additional resources can we include to help with further research? How can we incorporate this into what our youth librarians are doing?
Researchers (local/Illinois/country) – this isn’t our main audience, but there may be people interested in specific items as part of a larger context, like 19th century medical equipment (or is it early 20th century? shoot, I’ll have to check) or the history of female physicians. How can we present this information so it is easy to find and rich in needed detail?
Us! – How can we use this in the library? Talking through the project with Jessica and Annabelle, Annabelle suggested launching it for Women’s History Month in March and thinking about how it could work with youth research projects and/or a Civic Lab presentation. In addition, we should think about how the Virtual Community Engagement department can help get the word out.
Narrative – what themes will guide the story you’re telling?
What will audiences learn? What will they feel? What do we want them to do at the end of all this? I’m in the process of categorizing all the items to help me find emerging themes around which to tell the story.
Design – what’s it gonna look like?
This isn’t just about colors and pictures, it’s about how the content is organized and what major principles will inform decisions. For example, the design principle of, “Show, don’t tell,” may translate into keeping the navigation simple and the text minimal, instead using imagery and interaction to communicate.
Now that I have a handle on the answers to some of these major questions, I am digging into all of the items in the collection in detail and starting to organize them. Thanks to Jessica, I have a articles and papers about Dr. Klehm that I can pull from for the story itself. The ultimate goal is to have this ready to go by the end of February so the library can start to promote it as part of Women’s History Month in March. Lots to do, but it’s fun, so I’m sure time will fly!
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this approach so far, especially around the messaging, intended audiences, and potential for collaboration with others.