Harris County Public Library: Creating personal connections between community and collections

Harris County Public Library system (HCPL), Texas, the US’s 10th largest, launched its digital archive in Quartex in early 2021, its centennial year, telling its story through more than 30 digital exhibits.

Showcasing digital collections through interactive exhibits

HCPL needed a flexible asset management system that could present the story of each library branch and engage the communities that are key to its core values.

Having gathered scrapbooks, photographs, correspondence and more from across the library network and Harris County Archives, the small project team led by CJ Williams, Technical Services Manager, initially planned to host these collections on the Archives’ own website. Realising that the underlying platform was unsuited to this purpose, the team looked for an alternative platform in which to create digital timelines and exhibits.

Powerful multimedia capabilities

The flexibility, creativity and storytelling elements of Quartex and its exhibits feature were a "huge draw" to CJ and her team.

“Exhibits really were the main selling point for me,” says CJ. “We knew that these branch histories needed to be very mobile friendly, visually interesting with lots of pictures, and really easy to navigate." 

When I saw what Quartex could do in terms of providing an asset management system and discovery layer, including our digital exhibits, we really needed to make the switch.

"Of all of the products that we looked at, this really had everything to equip us with that storytelling element.”

Creative thinking to visually represent the library’s history

“We found the exhibits feature very easy and intuitive to use. We learnt a lot working with exhibits and doing so has directly informed our internal workflows.”

But exhibits were just the start for a team keen to push the boundaries of what Quartex could do. Working with the platform team, HCPL created an interactive map, plotting over 200 library service points. “Each point on the Centennial map corresponds to items in the digital archive and the time lapse feature shows how the service has evolved. It's a really nice visual representation of the data that we've collected.”

HCPL also saw an opportunity to create lesson plans based around these new local history collections. “As a public library, literacy and digital literacy are part of our core mission. One of our staff members, a former teacher, designed lesson plans that correspond to the exhibits and connect to our state standards, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The plans have sections about exploring and understanding primary sources or exhibits and help to teach digital literacy, critical thinking and how to perform research online, using local history as a starting point.”

Strengthened engagement with the community’s past

Exhibits have allowed us to create a lovely, personal and emotional connection between the community and the collections.

“One woman, having seen a photograph of a bookmobile in a rural part of the county, wrote in this beautiful letter that reminisced about her father and the experience of going out there with him.”

Google Analytics show that exhibits are the library’s most viewed feature, with those highlighted on the collections site homepage getting the most views. “We have been really encouraged by this trend as a lot of effort and resources have been dedicated to creating them.”

Growing the archives and telling new stories

HCPL plans to continue growing its digital archive, while tools like automated transcription and full-text search enable the team to do more research and find new themes to explore and more stories to tell.

CJ says, “The marked success of our exhibits has really promoted deeper digging within some of our branches, leading to staff searching out old, lost, forgotten files, eager to share their history.”

Recent posts

Burlington Public Library: Raising awareness of local history collections

The City of Burlington is committed to preserving its history and cultural heritage for future generations. As part of this mission, Burlington Public Library makes it a priority to digitise materials that document the history of Burlington and its people.

Samford University: Serving a growing supporter community

Securing long-term support for its cultural heritage collections is central to the mission of Samford University Library and a catalyst for its migration to AM Quartex.