Through the Rhode Island History Online Directory Initiative (RHODI), the Rhode Island Historical Society (RIHS) is determined to fulfill its mission as a platform for connectivity and participation by using digital technology to increase the history and heritage sector’s visibility, access to peer networks, grassroots support, fundraising capacity, transparency, and the dissemination of messages ranging from education to advocacy.
RHODI is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Beginning in 2012, the RHODI Project conducted a sector-wide survey of Rhode Island’s history and heritage community. The criteria for inclusion was that organizations must have collections or programs related to Rhode Island history, and must be accessible to the public. Field teams visited organizations in order to conduct the survey in person, in an effort to better learn about the historic resources within the state. The compiled data was then used to create the RHODI directory, which includes descriptive information about collections, photographs, and contact information for each organization. The directory also includes an electronic giving feature for organizations who opted in to receive donations through RHODI. We hope that users will find RHODI tobe easily searchable, inclusive, and neutral.
In the process of gathering the necessary data for the directory, the RHODI Project was also able to undertake a mapping and needs assessment of these organizations. As a comprehensive and detailed survey of Rhode Island’s history and heritage sector, we aimed to provide not only trustworthy data on which to base future grant-funded proposals for such activities as collections cataloging, capacity building advice, preservation projects, educational programming, or a virtual museum, but also the much needed impetus for synergies and collaborations.
The manageable size of Rhode Island’s territory, coupled with the plethora of historical organizations, make this initiative an ideal pilot project to be replicated elsewhere. These two interconnected initiatives – the online directory and the sector survey – are intended to advance public access to historical knowledge and provide the first steps toward identifying ‘hidden’ collections, while serving as a powerful tool to promote higher professional standards and better public accountability.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation currently makes grants in five core program areas:
- Higher Education and Scholarship
- Scholarly Communications and Information Technology
- Art History, Conservation, and Museums
- Performing Arts
- Conservation and the Environment
In 2008, British entrepreneur Marcelle Speller and the UK Community Foundation Network (the national body of the UK’s 57 community foundations) launched LocalGiving.com, a searchable web-based directory of Britain’s local charities and community groups. The following year, Ms. Speller donated her half of LocalGiving.com’s shares to the Ardbrack Foundation whose mission is to support communities worldwide through the impact of technology. LocalGiving.com has demonstrated its usefulness in collecting and sorting information from a host of small organizations.
LocalGiving.com has provided the inspiration and guidance for RHODI’s:
- Information gathering systems
- Standardization of information
- Web-access interface (making the information available online)
- Content management (easily searchable and updated)
- Page template design (based on drop-down menus)
- Ability to take payments
LocalGiving.com provided RHODI with a series of best-practices guidelines and has shared the ‘lessons learned’ of the past four years. These included advice on sustainability (for example, the use of match funds, membership fees and corporate sponsorships), updating mechanisms (such as incentives for directory members to keep their information current), developing a help desk (for example, developing escalation policies in times of technology crises), as well as measurement and reporting.
Central to the creation of a supportive network for the project is a committee of 8-10 representatives from a cross-section of organizations and potential user groups to act as both advisors and ambassadors for the project.
The Advisory Committee will:
- Define the parameters for inclusion in the directory
- Assist in expanding existing lists of relevant organizations
- Review the content and phrasing of survey questions
- Promote support for the directory (contact peer organizations, assist with press relations)
- Meet regularly throughout the year to comment on the progress of the information gathering effort
- Comment on the survey findings and assist in drafting the final document.
RHODI Project Advisory Committee Members:
- Anne Valk ~ John Nicholas Brown Center, Brown University
- Carl Becker ~ Rhode Island 1st
- Jennifer Smith ~ Roger Williams National Memorial
- Kathy Hartley ~ Historic Hearthside Homestead
- Katrina L. White
- Linda A’Vant-Deishinni ~ The International Gallery for Heritage and Culture
- Lori Urso ~ Pettaquamscutt Historical Society
- Marjory O’Toole ~ Little Compton Historical Society
- Maxine Goldin ~ RI Jewish Historical Association
- Nellie Gorbea
- Ruth Taylor ~ Newport Historical Society
- Theresa Woodmansee ~ OLIS: Protecting the Past
- Val Talmage ~ Preserve Rhode Island