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Explore CU

Sarah Christensen
Visual Resources Curator, College of Fine and Applied Arts

Merinda Kaye Hensley
Instructional Services Librarian, Scholarly Commons Co-coordinator

Sarah Shreeves
IDEALS and Scholarly Commons Co-coordinator


Betsy Kruger

Director, Digital Content Creation Unit


Alan Mette
Professor, School of Art + Design


The goal of enhanced campus-community initiatives discussed in the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative Committee’s report, Project 2012: Transforming Illinois: Re-envisioning Diversity and Inclusion[i], will be furthered through the implementation of ExploreCU. ExploreCU is a mobile application built with the innovative Curatescape (formerly Mobile Historical) tool from the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities (CPHDH) at Cleveland State University, which will transform how Champaign Urbana citizens experience their community through collaborative content creation and access to information. Using Curatescape, the University of Illinois Library will be able to deploy a branded, locally managed application that will engage mobile technology to foster community engagement.

Curatescape is designed for iOS and Android platforms, as well as mobile web browsers and desktops for those without a smartphone. It is a location based mobile app designed to “curate the city” through the use of geo-located historical texts, archival film and images, oral histories, audio files, and videos[ii]. For example, a user interested in learning about the University Library would select the library on Curatescape’s map to find media such as archival images, maps, the history of the library, or even an audio file of a librarian describing services offered. A visitor or prospective art student wanting a tour local public art would find numerous art related locations organized into an “arts” tour.

The mobile application is built on Omeka, an open source archival content management system, and is designed for simple, low-cost deployment. Its full functionality, including social media integration, can be seen by exploring Cleveland Historical either on a mobile device on the web (

Curetescape is currently being deployed in seven American cities and towns, including Cleveland, Spokane, Baltimore, New Orleans, St. Paul, and Medina. Curatescape, or Mobile Historical, as it was first known, began in late 2010 with the launch of the Cleveland Historical Mobile app. Funded through the National Endowment for the Humanities and Cleveland State University, it was built from previous work done by creators Mark Tebeau and Mark Souther which focused on touchscreen kiosks at transit stations throughout Cleveland. With the explosion of mobile technology, Cleveland Historical was a breakthrough in that it “allowed historians to tell stories and share primary source documents and multimedia presentations based on the audience’s current location, adding a meaningful new discovery layer to public history programming.”[iii] In 2012, the name was changed from Mobile Historical to Curatescape to reflect the idea that users can curate more than just history.

Adapting Curatescape to Champaign-Urbana is a fairly straightforward process requiring installing Omeka, a dedicated provisioning of the mobile source code provided by Cleveland State, and a rebranding as ExploreCU. Once these technical tasks are accomplished, the University Library is free to focus on acquiring and developing community-generated content. Rather than providing a top-down digital narrative in which the developer provide the content, ExploreCU will focus on face-to-face interactions and small workshops with community members to provide instruction for the content development process. This collaborative approach will leverage community knowledge and resources, such as photographs, homemade movies, and memories in order to create richer and more personalized information. Following the Cleveland Historical model, educators in Champaign-Urbana will have the opportunity to encourage their students to create tours in the classroom setting, thereby promising a pedagogical contribution.

While many uses of technology can degrade human interaction and communication, the ExploreCU project will have the opposite effect by re-connecting the library to its community, providing a platform on which to collaborate, and empowering individuals to become active agents of the digital era, rather than passive consumers. The University Library will transform from the stereotype of being a place of dusty books and to a place of technology and interaction. Additionally, in using the Curatescape platform, the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities will maintain any updates, bugs, and improvements to the app, which is a time consuming and costly process.  Future development promises an extension of the touring function into publishable playlists, utilizing the Easter egg concept to create ways to “unlock” additional and hidden content, and creating an interactive gaming environment.

Through collaboration between Cleveland State and the Champaign-Urbana community, the University Library has the opportunity to further its goal of creating campus community initiatives as well as furthering the University’s vision of engagement and public service. In doing so, the Library will have created a stronger bond with the community and reshaped its image to be a content creator and technology provider.

Curatescape will not generate profit, but rather will be a cultural gift to the community.


The objective of ExploreCU is to use mobile technology to create an informational resource about the community, for the community. In doing so, the University Library will position itself as a leader in terms of coordinating a town wide project and effectively utilizing community resources and current technology.  

Champaign Urbana is home to a thriving arts community. The College of Fine and Applied Arts awards over 730 degrees annually. In addition, the community enjoys numerous public sculptures, galleries, museums, arts festivals, theaters, and arts organizations. However, information about the arts is not readily accessible. The idea for this project began with the Visual Resources Center (VRC) digitizing and cataloging the public sculpture on campus. While there is some information about these sculptures in Muriel Scheinman’s “A Guide to Art at the University of Illinois: Urbana-Champaign, Robert Allerton Park, and Chicago,” the guide does not include any art acquired after its publishing date in 1995. Aside from Scheinman’s book, it was found to be extremely difficult to find any information about the art on campus. Additionally, the book is not entirely comprehensive, and neglects to include any architecture. The ExploreCU project aims to not only bridge the information gap between the students, scholars, and visitors of the University and the public art collection on campus, but also expand to include communities beyond campus and into fields of study such as history, architecture, and agriculture. The University Archives, for example, as well as the archive of the Urbana Free Library and the Champaign County Historical Museum are rife with Champaign Urbana history, but are not organized in an easily accessible, geo-located application.


The University Library currently offers several services for visitors to the library and the general community, such as in person visits, library tours, subject specialists, the annual Edible Books Festival, and the One Community Together stage at the Sweetcorn Festival. In addition, the Library has undertaken several mobile app projects, such as the Undergraduate Library’s wayfinding app and the mobile catalog. Within this context, ExploreCU will serve to enhance the existing library activities of community engagement and mobile app development. This project will also highlight existing library collections, such as the University Archives or the Sousa Archives, by making digital materials accessible through a geo-located mobile application.

Literacy, in all its forms, permeates library instruction and services. ExploreCU will serve as an extension of instruction and service activities by providing a platform for students, scholars, and community members to develop and add content. The American Library Association states in its Presidential Committee’s final report on information literacy[iv] that “To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and has the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” In order to create a comprehensive record about a specific location, contributors must develop their information literacy skills. Similarly, consumers of this application will be able to develop visual literacy skills by reading and listening to analytic descriptions of familiar public artworks.

ExploreCU not only fits within existing library activities such as community engagement, mobile application development, digital content creation, and literacy development, but also strengthens them by serving as the platform to engage all of these activities at once.  


A graduate hourly from the Library and Information Science program will be hired in order to assist in sorting through community contributed data and to ensure standardization, so that the finished product has a consistent look, feel, and tone. The graduate hourly may also assist in training volunteers, performing research, and assisting with marketing and publicity.

Fees for permission to use text from Muriel Scheinman’s “A Guide to Art at the University of Illinois: Urbana-Champaign, Robert Allerton Park, and Chicago,” 1995, Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Using text from this book would eliminate the need for extensive research for approximately 60 works of art, giving the project a significant start.

Events held to help publicize the ExploreCU project, as well provide instruction on how to contribute and answer any questions. is used as the preferred content management system for Curatescape, and interfaces well with Cleveland State’s source code infrastructure. Cleveland State has offered to host for a fee of $250, as support for the application at the University Library is unclear. However, Curatescape is moving towards as its preferred content management system to avoid hosting issues. Once Curatescape is fully functional with and the Library has an license, we will be able to migrate our content from Cleveland State’s hosting system.


The Library, through the Scholarly Commons, is currently pursuing an unlimited campus license

to (see is a hosted instance of Omeka through George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media that will limit the need for Library IT and the Medusa Repository team to support yet another digital content system. The Scholarly Commons will support access and assistance with for the campus. This license will allow students, faculty, and the Library to use Omeka for course work, research projects, and exhibits of digital content. Once Curatescape is integrated with (a priority for Cleveland State), staff in the Scholarly Commons will work to migrate the content from the hosted instance at Cleveland State to the Library licensed site. We believe that Curatescape will provide an engaging and important test case for and set an example for a broad set of uses for this resource.



Cleveland State provides the source code to build the app, including updates, bug fixes, and improvements for a low cost. As estimated cost of developing a mobile app is approximately $35,000, utilizing Cleveland State’s code ensures the best possible value.


Total: $13,450



The cost of ExploreCU is mostly front loaded, due to initial publicity events, source code fees, and graduate assistant. Once this project has generated community interest and content is actively being added to Omeka, the cost will be minimal. In addition, community-based research has been gaining recognition over the past two decades as it has been a proven and sustainable method of conducting research projects. Generally, the longer the project, the more tightly linked and more involved the partners are in each stage of the research process[v]


Once Curatescape is up and running, the only resources needed will be Omeka, community connections, and some staff time to ensure quality control. Ongoing costs such as updates and bug fixes will be fully covered by Cleveland State. To help sustain Curatescape, two new partners have joined this project. From the College of Fine and Applied Arts, Alan Mette will help to support FAA's ongoing commitment to this project. As the Executive Associate Director for the School of Art + Design and member of the Board of Directors for the Public Arts League of Champaign, Alan is well positioned to cultivate and maintain community connections. In addition, Betsy Kruger, Director of the Library's Digital Content Creation Unit, will help to identify many of the community collections that will make Curatescape unique. 


Curatescape will be framed as a pilot project, giving both the library and FAA time to reassess the sustainability of the project at the completion of one year. It will also be an ideal time for both parties to revisit the ongoing commitment to the project, as well as to potentially bring in new partners such as the 40 North 88 West arts organization and the local public libraries. 


While it will be an ongoing process to identify and research public collections and historically note-worthy locations, the estimated time to develop a deliverable product is 1 year. This will allow enough time for publicity, organizing volunteers, training volunteers, and implementing the Mobile Historical framework with the assistance of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities.   


We anticipate that this app and website will generate strong interest from this community, and its success will be measured both by the number of mobile app downloads, page hits, records created, collaborators, and by user feedback.



After one year, the outcome of ExploreCU should be an Omeka based website, a mobile application available in both iOS and Android markets, approximately 80 fully developed, multi-media locations, and approximately 5 tours. In addition to these benchmarks, the project will be considered successful if community partnerships are maintained.

Failure would encompass a lack of progress made in terms of the research completed for the locations, as well as a lack of community interest. As a community partnership will be the driving force behind ExploreCU, it is essential to develop this partnership. Without community support, this app will become unsustainable.


In addition to the Champaign Urbana community, the University Library will partner with Cleveland State, the Visual Resources Center at the College of Fine and Applied Arts, and Alan Mette of the School of Art + Design to support ExploreCU.

In partnering with Cleveland State, the University Library will receive not only the source code for the mobile application and technical know-how, but also the experience of experience of consultant Mark Tebeau, the creator of Curatescape. Mr. Tebeau has been generous in sharing his knowledge in creating a sustainable workflow, engaging the community, resolving technical issues, and on many other matters. He has a vested interest in seeing Curatescape succeed. Partnering with Cleveland State, rather than developing an in-house application, will save the Library money and time.

ExploreCU falls into the context of the Visual Resources Center’s mission, which is to support the needs of the College through access, instruction, and support. The VRC is also committed to expanding this mission to include the entire campus, or community, whenever possible. The VRC will organize digital files related to the project and work to integrate them with Omeka and the mobile application, while the Library provides support for instruction, community engagement, and publicity. As a result, both the VRC and the Library are utilizing their strengths to form a meaningful partnership.



[i] Chancellor’s Diversity Initiatives Committee (2007). Project 2012 - Transforming Illinois: Re-envisioning Diversity and Inclusion. Retrieved from:


[ii] Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State (2012). Mobile Historical. Retrieved February 29, 2012, from


[iii] Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State (2012). Mobile Historical. Retrieved February 29, 2012, from


[iv] Presidential Committee, American Library Association (1989). Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report. Retrieved from:



[v] Savin, Beth (2004). Community–university partnerships: Linking research and action for sustainable community development. Community Development Journal, 39 (4), 372-384.

doi: 10.1093/cdj/bsh033