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Posted November 19, 2013

Celebrating stories of citizen soldiers, Pritzker Military aims for national reach

Exactly one year ago today, we received a call from Ken Clarke, President & CEO of the Pritzker Military Library. Turns out, that call was something of a life-changer — at least, for most of us here at Jell. (We didn’t know it at the time, but big changes were afoot for the Library as well, including a name change! More on that below.)

Some back story is in order: The Library had just turned nine years old, and was celebrating its second year in its gorgeous new home on Michigan Avenue across from the Art Institute. We had worked with Ken at the Safer Foundation and followed his career path, so several of us visited the Library shortly after it opened to get a tour. (If you haven’t been there yet, make time. The restoration of the Monroe Building, recognized by the AIA in 2012, is extraordinary, and the Library itself offers stunning views, fascinating exhibits, and comfy reading areas.)

Ken and Colonel (IL) J.N. Pritzker (the Library’s founder) shared a vision: to build a new website — a very special, state-of-the-art site — as a key step in repositioning the Library as the country’s preeminent center for military narratives, resources, and research.

The Library’s position in Chicago was already solidifying. The number of visitors to the physical facility had been increasing steadily, and local media attention was growing. But given the gravity and breadth of its mission — to collect, celebrate, and share the stories of U.S. citizen soldiers — the Library simply needed to shine on a much larger national stage.

The new site not only had to surpass all other military-themed sites, it had to be competitive with every major American library and museum website. (Yes, that’s a tall order!) We needed to design a compelling digital destination that would appeal to very diverse audiences around the country, including veterans of numerous wars, family members, history buffs, and academic scholars.

We began by interviewing the entire Pritzker Military staff, sizing up the Library’s diverse activities and assets, and appraising the many challenges.

Ideally, the site would offer a seamless search across all the Library’s offerings: books, exhibits, television broadcasts, podcasts, realia, posters, photography, and fine art prints. (This alone required some herculean database integrations.) Anything you think might be purchasable — tickets to events, podcasts, signed books, posters, gift shop merchandise, DVDs, memberships — would be available for sale online. And, of course, we had to underscore the benefits of membership (e.g., hefty discounts!) and help drive growth.

A couple of other small details: The site had to be completely responsive (so yes, please give it a spin on your phone or mini-tablet). And the pending name change (evident throughout the beta site) had to be kept completely under wraps until the 10th Annual Liberty Gala, held just three days ago.

So how did everything work out? We’d say very well, but we’d like you to be the judge. Visit Pritzker Military Museum & Library and let us know what you think. How does it compare to your favorite museum or library site?