Using social technology for community engagement

In my role of Manager Development and Learning I am lucky enough to be able to engage with public library colleagues on a regular basis.  Working across rural communities throughout Queensland through the delivery of professional development and training opportunities, our team gets to visit locations as diverse as Birdsville, Mt Isa, Julia Creek, Longreach, Bowen and Dysart.  Programs we deliver range from showing library staff the latest databases and online resources available, to taking them step by step through the process of borrowing eBooks via the State Library’s Electronic Book Library (EBL), and recently while in Cunnamulla showing them the potential of the UK based social media site HistoryPin.

An online archive of historic and contemporary photos of places of historic interest, one of the most captivating things about the HistoryPin concept is that content development is for a large part user generated.  That is, the success and accuracy of the site depends on the people who post or “pin” images.  Individuals and collecting institutions can develop a “channel”, adding content to build a story about their area of interest and expertise.  For the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) our focus is the history of Queensland people, places and events.  Events that have taken place in the past, but also contemporary events that will become the history of the future.

The best way to learn is often by doing and it was with this in mind that my colleague Michelle and I collected the group we were working with to take them on a hands-on walk through of HistoryPin while we explored the local community.  Cunnamulla is a town full of history, and as such it was easy to inspire library staff to appreciate the scope of what HistoryPin can do.  Prior to our trip to Cunnamulla we coordinated with our colleagues to make sure a number of historic images of Cunnamulla from our collections were already loaded to the SLQ HistoryPin Channel.  During our Cunnamulla excursion we then tried to match contemporary views of the same historic points of interest, and if the site was no longer recognisable added contemporary images of other points of interest instead.

Cunnamulla Railway Station

Capturing a repeat image to replicate one of the historic images with a contemporary view of the same location is fun and actually allows for a "fade in" overlay mechanism so that the years disappear before your eyes.  Pretty neat really.  We successfully managed a repeat of the Cunnamulla Railway Station, Invincible Cinema, Fountain, and the old Ambulance Building.  Allowing for the growth of trees, changes in the alignment of roads, and the odd new building or two, it was still quite a successful exercise.  In addition we added new pins including the Cunnamulla Hotel, Trappers Inn, Cunnamulla Memorial Club and Paroo Shire Council Chambers.  Just down the road a way (approx 90km), we added the water tank at Wyandra, and after a two hour drive back to Charleville, the famous Corones Hotel.

The amazing thing for me was that the post I added to my personal blog detailing our adventures with HistoryPin was picked up on their radar, so next thing we knew HistoryPin were Tweeting about our Cunnamulla excursion.  How incredible to think that people half a world away are aware of our adventures visiting this incredible town in Western Queensland.

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