home on the range

The American West: land of the free, home of the brave, frontiersmen on the brink of discovery and families that braved it all for a piece of  the big sky.  Pioneers heeding the call of mystery: the invisible pull on your heart, a quiet whisper on the breath of the wind, that takes hold and doesn’t let go until you strap on your spurs and head out, following the sunset.

A couple hundred years later, frontier librarians have taken the charge of this bedrock region and are forging new alliances; merging melting pot wisdom with traditional American values.  The result? The Douglas County History Research Center.

From the home page:

The Douglas County History Research Center collects and preserves the history of Douglas County, the High Plains, the Divide area of the Front Range and the State of Colorado in order to provide historical research resources to the public.

And boy do they. This site has so many links, it is actually hard to know where to start.  Unless, of course, you start on the third paragraph which states: “NEW!!! Visit the DCHRC on Flickr!”  Now that’s a library that knows the quickest way to my heart.

Their Flickr photostream is quite established, and very broad.  They have all their photographs grouped into collections and sets, which facilitates a kind of “subject” browsing without having to use tags to find similar images. One of the things I like the most about their Flickr photos, is the use of “metadata” in the photo’s description, instead of just a plain paragraph describing the picture (see below).

Formatted text doesnt just look good. It feels good, too.
Formatted text doesnt just look good. It feels good, too.

As you can see, they have worked long and hard formatting that text to serve as their Flickr captions, and it has paid off.  Including this metadata with their photo collections enhances the utility of their Flickr images for both Flickr browsers (who may be surprised at the level of detail) and researchers who may just find themselves looking at these images instead of the rather bulky views offered from the home page.  I have below a shot of the same image as displayed on their home site.

Note the not-quite-as-pretty description
Note the not-quite-as-pretty description

This brings me to a couple different points about this particular use of Flickr.  First, it fits beautifully with both the research and service missions that the library has laid out for themselves.  Using Flickr to host the images increases their access by providing them through two separate services. Providing them with equal detail in description is just the icing on the cake.

Second, it provides an alternative to the bulky and hard-to-navigate home page.  Doing an overhaul on a library web site is much more time consuming and difficult than mapping out some Flickr collections.  This is one of the first uses of Flickr that I’ve looked at that is not only a supplement to the library’s existing collections, but is actually a viable alternative to them. I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  However, if it’s not within the budget to give your home page an overhaul, perhaps mapping out some free alternative collections elsewhere isn’t such a bad idea.  I bet it would also ramp up your Google search rankings.

So keep on blazing the trail, Douglas County.  I think there are many more smaller libraries out there that can follow the lead and increase access as well as utility in a fairly inexpensive manner, just as you have done here.

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