Though small in size, Rhode Island has played an exceptional role in American history and boasts a unique concentration of historic sites, collections, and heritage organizations. Yet within the state’s history and heritage sector – potentially one of its key economic assets – there is an urgent need for better public access and inter-organizational coordination.
Through the Rhode Island History Online Directory Initiative (RHODI) Project, 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.
To this end, the RIHS received a grant of $160,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Scholarly Communications and Information Technology Grant Program for a 16-month project to create a web-based directory of all the history and heritage organizations in the state.
The RHODI Project initially will conduct a sector wide survey by field teams, including on-site visits with each organization. Criteria for inclusion has been determined by an Advisory Committee representing diverse segments of Rhode Island’s history and heritage community. The compiled data will be used to create RHODI, and will include descriptive information, photos, and contact information. Additionally, an electronic giving feature will be available to those organizations in the directory. For the end user, RHODI will be easily searchable, inclusive and neutral.
In the process of gathering the necessary data for the directory, the RHODI Project will also be 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, it will 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, 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, many in need of strategic, operational, and technical assistance, make this initiative an ideal pilot project to be replicated elsewhere. These two interconnected initiatives – the online directory and the sector survey – will 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.
Cultural heritage is an essential part of any vibrant local community, providing a strong rallying point and a means to instill civic pride. Through technology, it can easily and affordably be made relevant and valuable. RHODI will give hundreds of small local organizations access to audiences ranging from tourists to scholars, as well as to the benefits of a coordinated and dynamic virtual network.
RHODI Project Blog