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Posted November 6, 2015

Celebrating the launch of the Explore Chicago Collections website

Last night, we celebrated a website launch. But it wasn’t just any website. This one was a year in the making, at least as far as Jell’s involvement goes. If you count all the prior analysis and planning by Tracy Seneca and her technology team at Chicago Collections, this website was actually a three-year project — prepping for two years in the test kitchen before it was even ready to go into the oven.

The site? Explore Chicago Collections, a groundbreaking, silo-busting search engine to help researchers, teachers, students, and amateur historians find all things Chicago, regardless of the local institutions at which they reside. (As we mentioned in a June 2015 news story, the Explore search portal is the original cornerstone initiative of Chicago Collections, a nonprofit consortium of the region’s most prominent schools, libraries, and museums.)

With a single search, you can now locate photos, letters, maps, and books spread across the collections of 17 institutions. (Go ahead: try searching for your favorite Chicago topic. Columbian Exposition. Jane Addams. Harold Washington. Daley. Bridgeport. Uptown. Grant Park. Architecture. Fun, isn’t it?)

The celebration was hosted by the Chicago Public Library, a consortium member, at the Harold Washington Library Center’s Cindy Pritzker Auditorium. Executive director Jaclyn Grahl invited three speakers to provide their takes on Explore’s launch. Chicago Tribune reporter and WGN radio host Rick Kogan recounted the magical sense of discovery he enjoyed while using Explore to help his daughter complete a school project. Alderman Edward M. Burke, a noted history buff, discussed the social value of preserving and sharing Chicago history and culture. Donald J. Waters of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (a major supporter) expressed gratitude and praise for the consortium members who contributed to the project’s success.

Following a brief panel discussion, audience members drifted out of the Auditorium, picking up commemorative posters and bookmarks, which we had designed specifically for the event. We then migrated to a separate party area to toast our many talented and visionary collaborators at Chicago Collections. We are eager to see where the consortium will head in 2016.