Chandler first pledged to build a big new museum in 1982, but plans to improve access to the community’s history have gone nowhere ever since.
Then in just the past few months, the museum found a way to quietly grow beyond the limitations of its tiny building by creating an online exhibit called Chandlerpedia.
The wiki-style site features more than 1,000 photos, about a dozen exhibits and the archives of the Chandler Arizonan newspaper from 1912 to 1922.
While talks for a new building spanned decades, the online museum emerged quickly after discussing how to put the newspaper archives online in time for the city’s centennial this year, said Jody Crago, museum administrator. The staff realized any museum artifact could go online just as easily.
“We talked for many, many years of a museum-without-walls concept,” Crago said. “It shouldn’t be in just one facility but throughout the community and relevant in many ways. Chanderpedia does just that.”
The museum started Chandlerpedia in September but didn’t make any public announcement as the staff added material to give the site more substance. With no publicity, the Arizonan archives have logged 45,000 hits, Crago said. That’s the most popular page so far. The site can be accessed at archive.chandlermuseum.org.
The online museum is meant to supplement the physical displays of the museum without being a substitute for the still-planned larger venue, Crago said. It’s also a response to the user-driven experience that people have come to experience from the online world, he said.
Chandlerpedia lets users explore the many facets of historical events or figures, like city founder Dr. A. J. Chandler. One visit to the doctor’s page could reveal his stint as a veterinarian in Detroit, Crago said.
“Suddenly, that’s a new understanding of Dr. Chandler and his past.” Crago said. “The next time you come in, you may be in his dealings with water or his interest in solar to pump water from underground. So every time you visit, it becomes a new experience.”
Unlike Wikipedia, the museum’s site places greater limits on who can contribute. Community members need to request access before they can post entries or changes, he said, to ensure accuracy. Still, he expects hundreds of potential contributors.
Crago figures Chandlerpedia will also unearth photos, documents and stories that have remained private.
The museum staff and volunteers continue to post more items and is working to post the rest of the Arizonan’s archives through 1987. The museum has more than 6,000 images that could be posted on Chandlerpedia, though the collection keeps growing.
“It probably will never be finished and we hope that it isn’t because we always are finding new and interesting history,” Crago said. “And we want to keep documenting that.”
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