Biggest Little Birthday Party launches new Reno Historical App

Mobile app coordinated by University of Nevada, Reno’s Special Collections features a special University section

Biggest Little Birthday Party launches new Reno Historical App

Mobile app coordinated by University of Nevada, Reno’s Special Collections features a special University section

As part of its 146th birthday, the City of Reno announced the development and completion of a new Reno Historical App, a free digital application that puts Reno history at a user's fingertips. Developed by Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Nevada, Reno's Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, the mobile app provides an interpretive view of the city through the past 146 years.

The app allows users to explore the people, places and moments that have shaped the city. In addition to learning about the history of Reno through layered, map-based, multimedia presentations, users can also experience curated historical tours of the city, including an entire tour focused on the University campus.  

Many partners and supporters have made the Reno Historical App a reality, including the Nevada Historical Society, Nevada Humanities, Historic Reno Preservation Society, City of Reno and Regional Transportation Commission. Content was provided by community organizations and interested individuals.  

Writers on the project included professional historians, community members and students. Curation was completed by an editorial board comprised of knowledgeable local history experts and led by local historian Alicia Barber who has been a significant contributor and promoter of this project. Barber taught for the University's Department of History from 2003-2013, and directed the University's Oral History Program from 2009-2013. The Program is now called the Shared History Initiative.

"Engaged, professional and enthusiastic volunteers were essential to this project," Donnie Curtis, head of Special Collections & University Archives, said. "There are a lot of people in love with Reno history, and a lot of individuals have some very good collections of historical materials, supplementing what Special Collections was able to contribute. These personal collections will be especially important in sustaining and growing the project."  

The University Libraries offered an institutional base for the project, providing infrastructure (technological and otherwise) and management of the project. It also applied for and received grant funding in order to make the project possible.  

"The project's aim is to make history more accessible and historical materials available in the format people are now digesting information," Kathlin Ray, dean of University Libraries and Teaching & Learning Technologies, said. "It also allows us to renew and make new connections within the community and learn more about the history of Reno."  

The app has been in development for more than a year and currently has information built on more than 70 historical sites. The project will continue and more sites will be continuously added. The app will feature more than 1,200 image files, about half from Special Collections & University Archives, and, of those, approximately half were already digitized and half were scanned by University students for the project.  

"While Special Collections has more than 200,000 wonderful historic photographs, we didn't have many (or any) photos or other content for some of the sites," Curtis said. "We had to reach out to partners and history buffs to fill in the gaps. Everyone we approached was extremely generous in supplying digital files or letting us borrow photos for scanning."  

This Saturday, May 10, the Biggest Little Birthday Party will continue with a special event from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Riverwalk and Virginia Street Bridge. The event will include a special walking tour to use the new Reno Historical app. Visit to learn more about the app or to download it for free to an iPhone or Android device. 

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