Today’s [Minneapolis] StarTribune.com carried an interesting column “Small Towns Need to Dust off Websites” by James Lileks. His comments about towns and websites hit home with me. I am sure that it will have great meaning for vacationers, genealogists, and others looking for information on a specific place. When I travel, I often look for a website of a place I am planning to work in or just stay the night in a motel. So often the info online is meager to say the least.
James is a unique writer — I can just see him standing in his backyard or sitting at the dinner table when a column idea and the associated humor and commentary pop into his mind. His idea made me remember trying to find info online about the small towns where two of my adult children and their families were living.
A research trip to a new place always gets me planning. Is there a restaurant, park, any shopping, parking, and what does the place look like? Whether it is an outlying town or the county seat, I love to “see” what it looks like before my visit. James’ emphasis on the history of the towns is right up my alley. Many libraries in these places in Minnesota and elsewhere have local history rooms that could provide much of the historical detail for such a website. A county history might have some neat details on the early history of the town.
James wrote “That’s where the Minnesota Hamlet Website Project would come in. Sending unemployed Web designers around the state would be the modern equivalent of those WPA Guides the government used to sop up all the loose writing talent sitting around in the ’30s. If they were put to good use, the idea went, they wouldn’t sit around hungry and angry, writing rabble-rousing plays about woebegone Bolshevists. Send them around the country, the government decided, and have them do something nice and useful.”
WPA [Work Projects Adminstation/Works Progress Administration] — was he writing for me? Many of my readers know my passion for the records, abstracts, indexes, clippings, inventories, guides and other material created under the auspices of the WPA. The Historic Records Survey part created much that continues to assist family and town historians today. My lectures and articles on the WPA era are high on the list of requests.
I still believe that some sort of WPA system could help out-of-work Americans put food on the table for their family or pay the rent. Libraries and historical societies everywhere have less budget and staff to work with. Just think of all the tasks a WPA type worker could accomplish. Small town, county, and city websites would be wonderful projects also.
Anyone listening? Yes, the WPA and other parts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal system was not perfect but it did produce a lot of good.
© 2009, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.