I am extremely pleased with all of the press that has picked up our announcement that the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the KHS Foundation $100,000 to develop a new oral history tool, which we are calling, Pass the Word.
While our release thus far has been pretty basic – we were awarded funding, it will be used over the course of 2 years, we will hire some staff and interns and create a online statewide oral history database – there are obviously a lot more details to share.
So, let me back up a bit and give some background for this project. This is not the first comprehensive look at oral history collections in the state. In 1989 the National Historical Publications and Records Commissions (NHPRC) awarded the Kentucky Oral History Commission (KOHC) a grant to “gather and make available information on the location, size, content and accessibility of oral history interviews at repositories both large and small, public and private.” By 1990, 20,000 interviews were located at repositories throughout the state and in 1991, the published Guide to Kentucky Oral History Collections was available, which described holdings at forty-seven Kentucky repositories, this did not necessarily include public libraries that maintained “access” copies of oral history interviews. The publication contained information on the repository (who, what, when, how), the individual collection (could comprise 1 interview or 100), and the collections were indexed by subject and by interviewee.
Following the tremendous work (and very progressive, might I add) of compiling this published guide, the KOHC staff knew they needed something more flexible to help researchers find oral history collections for the state – the published guide was stuck at the completion of the survey on December 1, 1990. We turned our original survey content and some updated information into an online database. This time the indexes for subject and interviewee were key word searchable and for 1998, once again, we were very progressive in this venture. The content for this online resource has been periodically (and labor intensively) updated, working primarily with those already identified 47 repositories. As the project staff acknowledged the technological world is now so wide open and an intensive, comprehensive attempt to document collections has not been done in roughly 20 years, we are decided to intentionally devote, time, staff and resources to continue our tradition of oral history access for the state collections through one centralized point. The models previously designed are often still used.
I, for one, still reach for the 1991 published guide when people call asking about oral history collection topics or individuals – especially if it is not a part of the KOHC collection (housed and maintained in the KHS archives since 1992). We needed a better suited tool for today’s researcher (that term applies to many different breeds – family history, scholarly, educational etc…) to locate what oral histories have been completed in the state and how can they be accessed.
While this tool, this online portal, is not meant to provide instant gratification in the sense that every oral history interview will now be online and ready to play at the touch of a button – there are greater issues with that demand, some of which are financial, some of which are ethical, - BUT it will provide immediate information about each collection, hopefully each interview in that collection, each repository, if available online, a link to access it AND clear directions on the policy of the repository on how to access collections not available for listening online. It will be the first line of searching for oral history content for the entire state. A goal we share with our previous incarnations of this project.
Another thing we are adding with this web 2.0 (or are we on 3.0 at this point?) version of an oral history guide, the content will be managed by the individual collection holders, not the KOHC office. While we will maintain, provide assistance and overall monitor the site, the individual repositories can add collections as they are processed for the public, can change their own profile information, add links to more online content as it becomes available, and generally take the reigns for their own representation. We plan on spending the first 2 years of the project – the ones funded by the NEH – to develop the online site, work with repositories for initial content population (including much travel and as much hands-on assistance as we can provide and is needed) and training on utilization. While we won’t disappear after those 2 years, we will hand the primary content responsibility over to the content holders.
As you can probably tell, our primary goal in this project is to HELP RESEARCHERS LOCATE ORAL HISTORY COLLECTIONS. It has been a long-term goal of the KOHC and will continue to be one. For now, I am anxious to see what collections have been added over the last 20 years. I can tell you a few numbers off the top of my head, the KOHC collection at KHS has roughly 9,000 oral history collections to date – in 1991 we had about 3,700. The Nunn Center for Oral History at UofK currently has about 8,000 interviews in their collection, in 1991, they also had about 3,700 interviews. Just imagine what else is out there and how it could be utilized if folks know where to go to find it! I seriously get chills.
So, keep checking in, we will be posting updates to the project and would love feedback from folks as we go along. Our first step is to hire a project archivist/coordinator – we are hoping to be able to open this position up for applicants sometime in July – keep checking for this add if you are interested! Also, for the 2 internships we will have during the course of the project, we are looking at one for spring and one for summer in 2012 at the moment, while this might change, they won’t be open until we get a little bit farther into the framework of the project.
- Sarah Milligan