How It All Started...

By the fire

    Tell me a tale of the timber-lands --
      Of the old-time pioneers;
    Somepin' a pore man understands
      With his feelins 's well as ears.
    Tell of the old log house, -- about
      The loft, and the puncheon flore --
    The old fi-er-place, with the crane swung out,
      And the latch-string thrugh the door.
(illustration and poem produced by Dick Taylor;
from the premiere issue of Voices)

TRUTH to tell, the exact date that the Kansas Collection and Early Kansas Imprint Scanners (EKIS) workshop were born has been lost to time. EKIS began sometime in 1994 and the Kansas Collection in spring of 1995, though the two weren't under the same management until later that year.

Over the last several years, Lynn Nelson has created and enabled others to create a variety of websites in Kansas, ranging from medieval history to Kansas life and history. Among these early sites was Kansas On-Line, which housed a number of electronic texts about Kansas. EKIS volunteers prepared these texts, though at that time EKIS was more a concept than a full-fledged website. Steven Chinn was the first EKIS manager, and when Steve began the highly recognized Heritage site in 1994, many of the texts in Kansas On-Line were used to help start Heritage. Kansas On-Line faded away at that time, but left a legacy in both Heritage and the small Kansas Collection site that Lynn Nelson had also founded.

It is difficult to overstate how much Lynn gave to EKIS in those early days, in order to see it successfully launched. He did all the early scanning, both of text and graphics, as well as a good part of the early transcribing, editing, coding, and other work involved in presenting these materials on the Web. This tremendous amount of work gave EKIS its start, and now many people are involved in doing the work Lynn once did himself (with help, we should add, from one other person who prefers to remain a silent partner in this respect). By the way -- a little EKIS trivia! -- the name he chose, EKIS, is a Spanish word meaning 'X.'

Then the first EKIS manager, Steve Chinn, helped coordinate the early volunteers, transcribing some texts himself and coding the materials for presentation on the World Wide Web. But in July 1994, Steve started Heritage, an amazingly diverse and broad site of web resources about Kansas. Even though Steve's approach was to create many different areas within Heritage and then enable others by encouraging them to coordinate one of these areas, managing all of this rapidly began to absorb most of his time.

In May 1995, Lynn recruited Dick Taylor to manage EKIS. Dick was a newcomer to HTML and web development, but in a surprisingly short period of time built EKIS into a fully functional website. His love of history and the technical skills he quickly developed gave EKIS its character and fit perfectly with its mission: to preserve the voices of the past so that we can hear them today.

Many volunteers were working on the major Cutler's History of the State of Kansas project, coordinated by Bonnie Bunce, and initially Dick spent much of his time helping with this project. In the space of a few weeks, however, John Matthews had volunteered to transcribe a Cutler's chapter, then started helping code the work done by volunteers. John soon became an associate manager with Bonnie, responsible for preparing Cutler's chapters for the Internet. So many volunteers from around the world donated their time and effort in the beginning, such as Lee Weller, Janet Duncan, Barbara Rentenbach, Percy Thomas, Charlie Kirschner, Marilyn Dell Brady and Don Dowdey, and through the years many more volunteers have given their time and hard work to EKIS and KanColl.

By July or August of 1995, Dick realized that a showcase was needed for the various EKIS projects, and at the same time the Kansas Collection needed a site manager. Dick took over management of KanColl as well as EKIS. This arrangement allowed both sites to grow, since EKIS had a place for all the work being produced and KanColl had a ready source of materials to be added to the Collection.

But in early December 1995, the sites ran out of additional space on their server. Volunteers were still turning out work, but there was nowhere to put it! Texts were stashed on any server they would fit and except for Cutler's History, installation of materials slowed to a snail's pace. By June 1996, the new server became available, and work began on moving back the electronic texts and graphics that had been scattered among several other servers.

With virtually unlimited server space, more and more texts could be transcribed for the Internet. The sites prospered, so much so that Dick had trouble keeping up with all the details involved in managing them. In July 1996, he recruited Susan Stafford as a "gal Friday," to help with coordinating volunteers, handling administrative details, and assisting with web design for the works being transcribed.

Since then, several volunteers have gotten involved in web design for KanColl, including Connie Snyder, who went on to coordinate the major EKIS project of transcribing and installing Cutler's History of the State of Nebraska in the Kansas Collection as a companion volume to the History of the State of Kansas. Teresa Lindquist began helping with the renovation of some of the older KanColl selections, which had been transcribed in the very early days of the World Wide Web when for example browsers wouldn't support colors and background graphics. Judith B. Glad innocently volunteered to help with scanning some graphics for EKIS, and became an EKIS mainstay with her brilliant scanning work. When Bonnie Bunce needed to take a break from the all-absorbing Cutler's project, Bob Mills agreed to serve as interim coordinator for the project with John Matthews. And when Connie DiPasquale, who had earlier donated a story about Orphan Train riders, was asked if she had any more material, the Orphan Trains gallery in KanColl was born, proving to be one of the most visited areas in the Collection.

In November 1996, Susan created the Kansas Collection's online magazine, Voices, and in December the first issue was published in KanColl. Susan Chaffin has become a regular contributor to the magazine, providing extraordinarily well written and meticulously researched articles, and was recently named associate manager for acquisitions at KanColl.

New volunteers and contributors continue to enrich both websites. One of the most recent of the contributions, featured in this issue of Voices, is Mary Ann Sachse Brown's wonderful children's book about Kansas settlers, The Cow from Grasshopper Falls, with engaging illustrations by Roy Lee Brown.

Through all of this, EKIS and KanColl have remained dedicated to preserving the voices from the past, and letting them be heard again today. While the Collection includes several works about Kansas history, it specializes in first-person accounts and reminiscences. The poem and illustration above capture the heart of EKIS/KanColl, and explain why these volunteers work so hard, without any funding or other financial support, and why contributors donate old letters and diaries and many other materials. The past has so much to tell us, and we are hungry to hear these stories, to know the past and connect with it. So, as EKIS and the Kansas Collection begin another year, we invite you to spend it with us, listening to the stories, seeing the sights -- going back in time when things were both very different and, we find, very much the same.

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