‘Encyclopedia of Cleveland’ Seeks New Voices to Share City’s History

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Nearly every Clevelander knows where West Side Market is, but do you know where Central Market was located?

Or why Tom Johnson is the only Cleveland mayor honored with a statute in Public Square?

Since it was first published in 1987, people looking for the answers to those kinds of questions have turned to the “Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.” Now it’s housed online and looking to the community for help.

Longtime editor John Grabowski, who has been with the publication since the beginning, wants to expand the number of articles, pictures and videos by adding a team of up to 20 volunteer editors who will direct teams of writers and researchers in both updating current entries and adding new material.

Grabowski said the return to having community input brings back the Encyclopedia to its roots.

“That’s the way (the late) David Van Tassel (the original editor) started the ‘Encyclopedia’ in 1980. He gathered a large number of people into a series of what he called ‘task forces’ focused on a particular topic. They were asked to tell us what should be in the ‘Encyclopedia.’ Once we made a decision, they were asked if they would volunteer to write. All of that work was edited and went into that first hard copy in 1987,” Grabowski said.

The massive changes to the web since the information first went online is very much a driving force in reshaping not only how information is gathered but how it is shared.

“When we first entered the website in 1998, it was still pretty much Web 1.0. Now, it is Web 2.0, which is the interactive web, which makes Wikipedia what it is today. Essentially people who interact with the web now do it not only sitting at a desktop, but also on their devices. We’re also looking at the way information is being generated, including reputable blogs and news websites. This is the way people communicate. We need to have more of a back and forth, as well as a scholarly and community involvement,” Grabowski said.

However, Grabowski emphasized that no matter how the content is generated, one thing is paramount. “In order to maintain reliability at the very top, we call it a ‘firewall,’ before something goes up it is going to be fact-checked.”

Grabowski says expertise in a particular subject is crucial for those who volunteer to edit articles.

“We’re looking at somebody who knows the literature and knows the topic. If we get somebody, for example, in women’s history, they need to be able to look at those things we have in the ‘Encyclopedia’ and who can tell us the scholarship or interest has changed in this subject that we might have missed the first time.”

When it comes to writing history, Grabowski says that community contributors bring something different to the table than academics.

“They offer a knowledge set, especially of some of the details, that scholars may have to dig out to write about,” he said. “That shows us that a lot of people love Cleveland deeply and know a lot of things about it,” Grabowski said.

Hear Grabowski talk about how the “Encyclopedia of Cleveland History” uses Twitter and Facebook to share Cleveland history, as well as the importance of keeping entries up-to-date.



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