Cyberspace Museum

The multigraph machine is a business office printing press that prints letters, circulars, lists, cards, etc. It is used whenever a large number of copies of the same thing is desired.

You will want to learn to operate this modern office appliance. The college that you will want to attend is the one that has all of the up-to-date business machines and equipment. The Little Falls Business College is recognized as one of the best equipped colleges in the country.

From a Little Falls Business College promotional booklet, c. 1917

The Little Falls Business College prided itself in offering courses in the latest office technology, such as the multigraph machine, the adding machine, the Dictaphone, typewriters, and the phone system. The progress of the college could be charted based on the number of typewriters it had available to students. In 1907, the college had eighteen typewriters. An undated promotional booklet (c. 1908-1916) boasts that the college had ninety typewriters. By 1917, the number jumped to 150 typewriters.

Like the Business College, historical societies are increasingly being judged based upon how much technology they use in their operations. Researchers and museum professionals also want to see how well historical societies have adapted to cyberspace. The Morrison County Historical Society is no exception.

Within the past two years, we’ve replaced three computers. In July 2001, we received a touch-screen kiosk computer through the Little Falls Community Partnership. And, in August of this year (2002), we purchased a microfilm reader/printer with funding assistance from the City of Little Falls. As you can see, our progress is measured in computers, rather than typewriters. The majority of our typewriters are preserved in our artifact collections. (We use one typewriter for the occasional form or label.)

In January 2000, we entered cyberspace by connecting to the Internet. This opened new avenues of research and allowed us to communicate with other museum professionals and researchers through email. It also necessitated the creation of a website. The site was launched in the summer of 2002 and will give us world-wide exposure.

Computer technology helps us keep track of our collections, create information databases (like one for our Family Files), design publications and forms, keep our financial records, and visually reproduce items in our collections by scanning or digitally photographing them. The benefits are many, but there are also drawbacks.

Computer hardware and software are continually changing. With this comes the cost of upgrading, which can be difficult for non-profit organizations. Then, there are the perpetual problems with power surges and computer crashes. We become acutely aware of how much we depend upon our computers when one goes down for a day. Heaven help us if we get the “blue screen of death”.

Other technology issues are not so clear-cut. Historical societies deal in the information business. Information allows us a way to generate revenue. Part of our mission is to educate the public about Morrison County history. There is a palpable tension between the two. How much and what kind of information should we give to the public without charge, while still raising enough funds to remain a functional organization? This is currently a national debate within the museum profession.

There is an expectation that we provide Morrison County history and genealogical information on our website. Genealogists love detailed databases that enable them to conduct extensive research on the Internet. While it would be fabulous to be able to provide this service, it also takes a considerable amount of time to create and maintain such databases. So, we work within staff time limits and provide what we can.

Our website contains a list of the last names found in our Family Files. It also contains a full list of cemeteries in the county. A researcher can check these lists and decide whether to contact us for more information. We are also making past history-based newsletter articles available on-line in order to fulfill our mission.

Both the website and touch-screen kiosk provide new and exciting avenues for cyber-exhibits. Given enough time and funding, cyber-exhibits can be created that will allow us to present a larger portion of our artifact collections to the public, while preventing artifact damage caused by normal exhibition methods.

No matter how useful technology is to us in achieving our mission, it all boils down to the artifacts and pieces of paper we collect at the museum. The technology can fail or change, but as long as we have the timeless piece of paper, we can still transmit our history. Now, if we could just find a Little Falls Business College graduate to operate the multigraph machine. . . .

by Mary Warner
Copyright 2002, Morrison County Historical Society

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