Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sharing Guampedia

Sharing Guam: Guampedia aims for understanding of island
By Lacee A.C. Martinez
Pacific Sunday News
August 24, 2008

Shannon Murphy and her staff of two are practically missionaries. But it isn't religion they're hawking. Instead, the trio is spreading the good word about Guam and behind them are more than a hundred others following in their path.

To deliver their message, Murphy and company are relying on the Internet and the Guam Humanities Council project Guampedia, an online encyclopedia about the island.

"We think it will make for a better understanding about the depth and history about the people here," says Murphy, Guampedia's managing editor who holds a hefty passion for Guam and its people.

The project, which launched in April, today houses just under 500 entries examining subjects through seven eras in Guam's complex history and evolving current state.

"We felt there was a need for a better understanding throughout the world about Guam," she says. "More than half of the Chamorro people don't live here anymore, too. This way they'll have access to information about Guam wherever they are in the world."

The Council jumped on board with the project in the year 2000 when the National Endowment for the Humanities began offering grants to create online encyclopedias around the country.

"We had to spend two years developing the content, figuring out what kind of software," Murphy says. "We had to hire someone to do all the software and do all the programing."

Seven years and over half a million dollars spent later, Murphy continues to run the Guampedia ship with current assignment editor Tanya Mendiola, media archivist Nathalie Pereda.

"It was ingrained and embedded in our minds that we're writing for a global audience," Mendiola says. "That's proven true because we've had people from as far as Sweeden, Portugal and South Africa and as close as Agana Heights sending us comments, saying it's an interesting resource or it's a good resource."

Access to information about Guam is one of the key components to the project, says Murphy, dispelling misunderstandings about the island among the world community and allowing residents to make better decisions.

Although there are hundreds of articles still waiting for completion, the amount and type of information already published on the site is amazing, the team says. The articles range from ancient cultural practices to everyday events to even the post-war era, a part of Guam's history that Murphy believes most people aren't familiar with.

"How could you make decisions about Guam if you're only acting on what you know from the last 50 or 60 years?" Murphy asks. "There have been so much more that's happened. There are aspects of Guam's history where Chamorros did help chart Guam's history."

Aside from funding, the challenge has been developing entries from scratch, since there isn't just one complete resource about Guam.

"It's just the three of us working here, we have to contact all these people to do the writing and find all the images," Murphy says.

Guampedia's content has been developed by more than a hundred experts, scholars and writers in their respective fields, many of whom have written Guam's history books and who continue to document the island as it grows.

Everything from old magazines to movies and photos has been shared from a variety of sources, including libraries, local and federal agencies, the Archdiocese of Agana and private collections.

"We're trying to lead them back to the libraries, back to the (Micronesian Area Research Center)," Mendiola says. "We want people to use this as a resource tool, to lead them back to the museums to go and look up things."

Entries also include a list of suggested resources for readers once their interest has been sparked by the entry.

The current lineup reads about 1,500 entries with accompanying media, including photo and video. The project, however, is designed to be ongoing and dynamic as technology changes and funding is made available, Murphy says.

"We decided that we can't wait for everything -- we want to share it," Murphy says. "We've waited to this point where we have enough to share. If we waited until we have the whole thing, it will be like Texas -- 10 years before they finish it. The important thing about Guampedia is that it's not a book where you can just finish it, publish it and it's done."

Entries are treated to a series of stringent reviews to ensure they are thoroughly researched and as accurate as possible. That's coupled with giving users the ability to give feedback and submit corrections.

"Our whole mission is to be credible and that's why we ask for feedback so we can write back and we'll check it," Murphy says. "If they're right, then we'll change it."

For now, the mission of Guampedia continues to grow in the small corner of an Hagåtña office, slowly linking the world to Guam information about our tiny island with its deep history.

With the move of thousands of Marines, their families and additional workers, the project plays an even more vital role in bringing awareness to the world about Guam and its people, Guam Humanities Council program officer Dominica Tolentino says.

"Guampedia is an important educational resource -- it's a local project with global reach designed for anyone with an interest in learning about Guam," Tolentino says.

"(It) makes a significant contribution to the work we do in the humanities, and especially towards fostering cross-cultural understanding through an appreciation of the diversity of cultures, languages, history, religion and other areas that are a part of life on Guam."

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