When I first moved to Denver 12 years ago, one of the best things about being a transplant to a new city was the process of discovery: Getting away from the big tourist destinations and digging into the nooks, crannies and far-flung neighborhoods, finding out the kinds of things you only learn about a city from living there. Now, as the increasingly hoary cliche goes, "there's an app for that." For the last few years, the Western History and Genealogy Division of the Denver Public Library has been packaging its vast archival resources into one user-friendly bundle (which you can get on the web or on your iPhone) called Creating Communities, conveniently split up into a few historic Denver neighborhoods -- and tomorrow, the DPL invites you to weave your own story into the fabric
"People come to us a lot to get the history behind, say, their house," says Jamie Seemiller, who's headed up the project since its inception, "and we wanted to put that all online so people could get it from home."
Which they now can -- but the site is more than just a catalog of information. Here's how it works (though there's a lot to browse through, so you should probably just go check it out yourself): Basically, the site splits its content into a neighborhoods -- Auraria, Capitol Hill, Five Points and Barnum are a few -- where you start out with a general overview. If you're just surfing around to see what you might find, the site's accommodating to that; it's content is heavily linked, making it easy to click on items of interest and dig further in. If you're looking for something specific, like, say, information about your house, I personally had a more difficult time finding anything -- and the DPL acknowledges that that stuff can be hard to find; you're encouraged to go visit the WHG Division for help.
The site also features a huge collection of old and often painstakingly detailed maps, and as a general fan of maps, I had a lot of fun with that feature -- accustomed as I am to Google Maps, though, I was a little disappointed that whatever software the maps are embedded with doesn't allow you to click and scroll around; you have to zoom out, and then zoom back in somewhere else.
All the same, there's a stunning amount of information on the site, and for the most part, it seems oriented toward the casual user just looking to find some stuff out. As part of the research that went into it, for example, WHG did walking and video tours of each neighborhood and personal interviews with longtime residents, which are captured on video and easy to find for anyone who wants to see them. Want to know how your neighborhood has developed and changed over the years? That's pretty much what this site is for, and it does it well.
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And because history never stops happening, the site is a continual work-in-progress, adding materials as they come -- and they want materials from you. Tomorrow, the WHG Division will host a scrapbooking workshop from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the central library in the Gates Room on level five. If you just thought, "I can't think of anything more boring than scrapbooking," then keep your pants on, Chuck Norris. It's actually more interesting than it sounds.
Because the people creating "Creating Communities" are archivists at heart, they'll show you the right way to preserve things you want to last -- but then, they'll also help you upload your own little history onto the site and make a page about it. That goes in the myDenver section of the site (which will be a lot more fun to look at when content starts to build up).
You already update your Facebook status every five minutes. Why not make your compulsive need to express yourself on the internet a part of history?
Editor's note: For a short time yesterday, we published an entry on "Creating Communities" in which I had some negative things to say about the site's operability and usefulness. As it turns out, I had gone to the wrong URL [cue sad horn noise now]. When we figured out the error, the entry was immediately taken down. Nevertheless, our apologies to the DPL and WHG for the mistake. --Jef Otte