Museum, Library Share Beach Experiences

By Sally Yoder

Take 18 University of South Florida honor students, combine them with the staff of the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum and the St. Pete Beach Library in a semester long project, and you have a winning combination.

This unique class taught by Professor Catherine Wilkins, is an Honors Capstone college course based at Tampa’s USF campus. Students get hands-on experience recording oral histories, producing documentary photography, digitizing visual and print artifacts, cataloguing and creating a historical archive, and doing group research and community engagement.

Honor students from the University of Florida, Tampa campus attend class at the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum. They make the trek to St. Pete Beach to learn about historical archiving and other related skills in a real-life setting at the museum and the St. Pete Beach Library.

There are 17 seniors and one junior. Only two are from Pinellas County and a third are from out of state. Their majors are as diverse as computer science, sociology, communication, biomedical sciences and history. Classes are divided between the museum, the library and the campus and go through May.

At the museum the class is helping digitize items they selected from the collection. They are also identifying and exploring social, political and environmental issues that affect the beach cities to help develop histories on things like climate change, hotel workers or immigration.
They have also interviewed volunteers, listened to stories of island history, plus put together their own exhibit created from the museum’s collection.
The museum volunteers look forward to continued work with the honor classes. It is an excellent way to educate coming generations about preserving local history while helping to digitalize parts of the collection.

“We are privileged to be a part of the USF Honor program and welcome the opportunity to help these students in digitizing some of our extensive historic collection,” says Spencer Lucas, president of the Friends of the Museum. “Our volunteers tell me how exciting these young folks are to be around, and we thank Professor Wilkins and Library Administrator Betcinda Kettells for including the museum in this wonderful project.”
At the library the students are learning to place selected digitized items on the Pinellas Memory historic website.

“As information is increasingly accessed through digital means it is very exciting for the St. Pete Beach Library to partner with the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum and the University of South Florida to undertake a collaboration to digitize materials in the Museum’s collection,” says Kettells. “Pinellas Memory connects people to the county’s unique historical documents and this collaboration makes available for the first time materials that represent south county. Additionally, challenges to the current lifestyle from environmental changes and aggressive community development will be easier to track as the project digitizes more documents, maps, photos, and oral histories. Businesses, tourists, genealo- gists and more will benefit from the ease of access to our local history.”

“This project is a great opportunity for the students to gain experience working with partners outside of campus,” says Wilkins. “They are learning to listen and respond to others, as well as share their own expertise and opinion in a helpful way.”