Thursday, September 10, 2009

University Libraries’ Provide Leadership in Developing Digital Oral History Collections

Updated and revised from an article by Susan G. Akers, former Marketing Communications Manager, now Executive Director of the Indiana Library Federation

Narratives in every culture serve to educate, preserve customs, entertain, or instill moral values. The evolution of technology has changed the tools available to storytellers. Ball State University Libraries’ fast growing digital oral histories collections ensures that future generations will be able to hear important stories and voices.

The topic of digitizing oral histories has become so popular that Ball State Libraries’ personnel frequently are invited to speak at conferences and seminars to share information and provide how-to’s, often drawing capacity crowds. This past summer, Amanda A. Hurford, Digital Initiatives Multimedia Developer, spoke at the American Library Association’s annual conference in California. Last fall, Amanda and her colleague Maren L. Read, Assistant Archivist for Manuscript Collections, were co-presenters at the annual meeting of the Oral History Association in Pennsylvania on the theme of oral histories in the digital age. John B. Straw, Assistant Dean for Digital Initiatives and Special Collections, has presented programs at five conferences in the past two years and James A. Bradley, Head of Metadata and Digital Initiatives, is in regular demand to discuss building digital repositories.

Keeping and Sharing our Stories through Digitization
The University Libraries have made several oral history collections available through the Digital Media Repository, http://libx.bsu.edu. For example, the Middletown Digital Oral History Collections allow students and scholars to hear interviews documenting the history of Muncie, Indiana, and read accompanying transcripts. The collections include:

• The Black Middletown, Other Side of Middletown, and Black Muncie oral histories consist of interviews with African-Americans in Muncie from the 1970s through 2000.
• Middletown Jewish Oral History Projects I and II offer interviews with members of Muncie’s Jewish community.
• The Muncie Catholic Churches Oral Histories present interviews with members of three parishes.
• The Muncie Labor Oral History Project Collection consists of recordings, transcripts, and photographs with discussions covering union activities, the importance of unions in the lives of workers, and the future of unions.
• The Muncie Economic Development Oral History includes interviews with local civic and business leaders involved in past and current efforts to address long-term economic change in Muncie and Delaware County, Indiana. Many of these projects were grant-funded. BSU Libraries has been awarded more than $100,000 in grant money from the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) in the past five years to develop digital collections.

From Audio to Video
As audio oral histories continue to be digitized and made available, the University Libraries are also making video interviews available through the Digital Media Repository. Researchers can now find video interviews with veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Dessert Storm in the DMR. These digital video collections include:

• Cantigny First Division Oral Histories consisting of forty high definition video interviews with veterans of the U. S. Army’s First Infantry Division, commonly known as the “Big Red One.”
• 376th Heavy Bombardment Group Oral Histories including audio and video oral histories with veterans serving as part of this U. S. 15th Air Force group based in North Africa and southern Italy during World War II As more collections are developed, Ball State University librarians and archivists will continue to provide leadership in issues related to the growing area of digitizing oral history.

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