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Lessons Learned, Part Four: Limiting Factors

Post Date: April 22, 2020

This is the final installment of our series of lessons learned over the first year of the Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry project, adapted from our grant report to IMLS. The term limiting factor usually refers to environmental or physiological restrictions on growth. In this case, we are growing a useful archive of peoples’ stories and artifacts, and there are limitations on its growth. By identifying limiting factors, we can then seek help to overcome them, or adapt our approach so that we can work within these limitations.

The Times Are Changing

In just the past month, the Chronicle team has adapted to working from home. For some of us, this has also meant accommodating our families’ school-from-home needs, as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way everyone does business. This shift has intensified the importance of online connectivity and clear communication. Most of the Chronicle work has continued as normal, but at a slower pace and with more intentionality. Video meetings have replaced face-to-face idea exchanges, and IMH staff have been staying connected through frequent calls.

The IMH staff are getting used to discussing our work on video platforms such as Zoom.

Time

Time is a limiting factor for managing all the pieces of content. Individual attention is needed for each piece of research to understand its legitimacy, reproduction rights, and relationships with the individuals featured on the website. The same is true to a greater extent for each item that is contributed by a community member. Meeting with them, hearing their story, asking relevant questions, and following up individually helps us build trust, and teaches us how to better manage and present their contributions.

Working with bureaucracies adds an additional, unpredictable layer of time. Approval for communications pieces, branding, purchases, and legal documents can take two or more months. As we forge new partnerships and strengthen existing ones, each institution we work with has their own processes that move at various paces. Read more about the relationship aspect in the first blog in this series.

People and Funding 

As a grant-funded project, I was hired as the project manager on a temporary basis, to develop the site and get it launched. Likewise, community historians and college students are supported during the grant period. The project’s intern budget will be used up at the end of this summer, and we are looking for additional funding and partnerships to fill that gap.

Interns have been essential in moving the project along, although the allocation of their work has changed from the original plan. We split one intern position into two so that one could focus on oral history collection while the other focused on organizing existing files for more than 800 individuals. Oral history collection is a specialized skill and we were lucky to know a genealogist who was trained, available, and excited to help with the project. (Read more about the oral history project on this blog post.

Content and Expertise

While there is no limit to the amount of content that can potentially be displayed on the site, researchers are limited in the quality of historic content that is available. African Americans in the horse industry is somewhat of a niche subject, riddled with bias in the popular media of past eras. It takes a discerning mind, familiar with the topic, to write stories for the Chronicle that interpret these sources with sensitivity.

Qualified and interested collaborators are not abundant, even though the project has many enthusiastic supporters. Reaching out to find collaborators and provide them administrative support is another challenge. Now that we have a much clearer idea of how the site will present information, there are necessarily some limiting factors that we must place on the format of the materials that are included on the site. Read more about our presentation decisions on the previous blog post.

Quantity of Content

The list of people to include in the website keeps growing, and we haven’t even launched it yet. We expect there will be around 50-75 profiles and related research on the site when it launches. At our current rate of preparing person profiles, stories, items and related research, it would take approximately three years to upload information for all the people currently on our list. That doesn’t include the additional people who we hope to hear about, from all over the country, who deserve to be included in this unique showcase. 

This is why it is critical that we find sustainable partnerships -- college professors who want their students to work with primary sources, libraries who will assist the public with digitizing their materials, independent researchers and writers who will assimilate raw information into compelling biographical sketches and meaningful historical nonfiction stories.

Are you able to help us overcome our limiting factors? Reach out with your ideas for partnerships by emailing [email protected]

 

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Institute of Museum and Library Services