Dansville’s Pioneering Website Turns Ten

Launched on March 13, 1996, with the title of Dansville Community Home Page (DCHP), the Library’s project was the area’s first community website. Started at a time when few had access to the Internet, and the web was a small but growing phenomenon, DCHP was created with the intention of using this new technology to strengthen Dansville’s community and to promote Dansville beyond its borders.

The site opened with contact information for community offices such as the Town and Village, historical essays by David Gilbert, local business listings, local churches, and local clubs. An early and still popular feature is a listing of local people with their email addresses. Information about local festivals was included. And of course there was a page about the services available at Dansville Public Library.

Over the ten years since DCHP was launched, it has grown and changed. The most obvious change is the name: the board of the library agreed in 2004 to rename the website to Dansville Public Library, and this led in 2005 to a significant redesign of the site, to highlight its refocused role as the Public Library’s information resource. In the years since DCHP was started, several other community websites had been launched, including Noyes Hospital, Village of Dansville, Dansville Central Schools, to name a few. In the early years of DCHP, web pages for each of these organizations were maintained on DCHP by the volunteer staff. As DCHP shed these resources, it expanded the services it provided for the Library. Currently the website keeps a list of new books purchased by the Library. The entire Library catalog can be searched directly from the web site’s main page. And Library news is featured front-and-center on the main page.

The concept of an electronic community resource was the brainchild of Tony Witte, M.D. Within a year of getting his first home computer, Dr. Witte sought a constructive community outlet for his interest in computing. He approached Terry Dearing, Library Director, about bringing public access computing to the Library. Soon a fund-raising effort was begun to provide a computer for the public to use for CD-ROMs and to access the Internet. While the funding was being sought for the Library’s computer, Dr. Witte was exploring the concept of community networking, using computer connections to share community information. It seemed that a website would be a practical means to accomplish this, so Dr. Witte learned how to create simple web pages and links, and ‘ with the enthusiastic go-ahead from the Library board ‘ Dansville Community Home Page was born. Other volunteers joined in the effort. Stephen Beecher has been a significant contributor over the years, maintaining the business listings and, for several years, uploading select articles from Genesee Country Express.

Within the first year of operation, DCHP received an offer from the Library’s Internet service provider which at that time was ServiceTech, to host the Library’s website for free. ServiceTech’s servers allowed DCHP to create more advanced features, and in early 1998 the Dansville Community Message Board was launched. Since then over 4000 posts have been logged. Shortly after, another interactive feature became available. The Dansville Community Calendar allows community members to post their events on the Calendar for viewing by the community.

The Library lost its free web hosting after ServiceTech was bought by a succession of other companies. Currently the Library’s website is hosted by Genesee Gateway, a non-profit organization that has much the same mission that first propelled the Library’s project: to use computer technology to serve the community.

Despite refocusing the website as a library information resource, Dansville Public Library’s website continues to provide many community services beyond direct library information. To date over 8000 local obituaries are published online thanks to on-going volunteer efforts. Over 3600 local veterans are listed in conjunction with the Veterans 2000 Memorial project. Over 100 Dansville area clubs and organizations are listed on the Clubs and Organizations page along with contact information.

Dansville Public Library’s website receives an average of 300,000 unique page hits each month. And if Google, the premier web search utility is any measure, the Library’s website is Number One: a Google search for ‘dansville’ brings the Library’s website as the top listing.