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Posted June 23, 2015

Out of the stacks: rebranding Chicago Collections Consortium

We hate to admit it, but we were caught unaware. When Jaclyn Grahl, executive director of Chicago Collections Consortium, contacted us in September 2014, we had not yet heard of the organization. It turns out that we were not alone. The Consortium, founded by twelve rather notable members (Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago History Museum, Chicago Public Library, Columbia College Chicago, DePaul University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago, The Newberry Library, Northwestern University, Roosevelt University, The University of Chicago, and University of Illinois at Chicago), had been flying under almost everyone’s radar during its formative stage. Now the organization was preparing to step into the spotlight.

Needless to say (but we’ll say it anyway), we were honored.

The job at hand? Jell was to develop new branding to position the Consortium on the civic cultural landscape — both connected to and differentiated from its more prominent member institutions. In other words, we needed to establish the look, feel, and voice of one of the most prestigious new leadership clubs to appear within the last couple of decades.

At the same time, we would design the user interface and experience for the Consortium’s cornerstone initiative: a breakthrough, silo-busting, online portal that would allow anyone anywhere to search across all member archives. For example, for the first time, it would be possible to locate through a single website search all the photos or letters related to the World's Columbian Exposition, regardless of which institution houses them.

(The online portal is set to launch in late fall — we’ll keep you posted with updates.)

Each project, considered separately, was enticing. But the opportunity to develop both projects simultaneously was exactly the kind of challenge that we were seeking at the time. It seemed like the perfect next step after working on related projects like the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, and two photo-research-intensive histories of Chicago (Sounds of Chicago's Lakefront and Inspired by Nature). As we admitted to the Consortium, given our academic bent and a love of all things Chicago, we couldn’t imagine not being integral to the endeavor and its success.

At the Annual Members Meeting today, the Consortium (rechristened “Chicago Collections” for short) rolled out its new branding and website. Jaclyn also took the opportunity to announce plans for the online search portal (now named “Explore Chicago Collections”) and its inaugural exhibit “Raw Materials: Uncovering Chicago’s Historical Collections” (August 7–November 15, 2015 at the Harold Washington Library).

After many months of working behind the scenes, today’s brand rollout is an exciting one, not only for Jell and for Chicago Collections, but perhaps even more for the City of Chicago and the surrounding region. No other major metro area in the US hosts such an innovative alliance of world-class libraries and museums, collaborating to share the wealth of their collections with students, teachers, amateur historians, and scholarly researchers.

It has been wonderful working with — and learning from — everyone at Chicago Collections. We owe special thanks to the following (in alphabetical order!): Allan Berry; Charles Blair; Mary Case; Kate Flynn; Jaclyn Grahl; Tracy Seneca; and Esther Verreau.

One last item for now: since we began working with Chicago Collections, it has continued to grow, adding new members such as Alliance Française de Chicago, Chicago State University, Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo, The Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, Lake Forest College, Northern Illinois University, Oak Park Public Library, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Theatre Historical Society of America.


The online portal — Explore Chicago Collections — is now live. Read more about Explore’s launch celebration at the Harold Washington Library Center.