Today is my last day at KHS. I was hired in September 2011 as project archivist to manage development of an online database and resource guide to Kentucky oral histories called Pass the Word. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and supported by the Kentucky Historical Society Foundation, the website will provide a centralized portal that allows people to search across the collections of all participating institutions and find out where to get access to interviews and collections they’re looking for. A search for “family farms,” for example, might point you to KHS, WKU and EKU. The website includes handy links that take you directly to contact information for the folks who maintain the collections at their institutions.
The Kentucky Oral History Commission, formalized as a state agency in 1980, has funded many thousands of the interviews found in repositories across the state. In preparation for reaching out to potential participants in the website, I surveyed the archives of the Kentucky Oral History Commission and identified over 450 oral history projects created by almost 80 institutions and individuals who have received grants from the commission.
Not only did my job appeal to the archivist in me, it also appealed to the extrovert in me. I was able to connect with colleagues across departments at KHS, at state government and throughout the state. I worked with the KHS design studio to create a graphic for the title of the site. I worked with the Commonwealth Office of Technology to hammer out technical requirements and capabilities. The director of the museum staff gave me tips on writing a request for proposal. I gathered an advisory board of librarians, archivists and others responsible for caring for the state’s oral histories and consulted with them along the way.
I also got to work on the reference desk in the library, an aspect of being a archivist that I really enjoy. Despite the occasional reference frenzy, I enjoy helping people find information about their family history and talking to them about their search. You never know who you might meet, too. One day I had the pleasure of talking to a scientist who it turned out is responsible for engineering the inner lining of cans of SPAM! He was traveling through Kentucky from another state looking for one of his ancestors.
During my time here at KHS I’ve also been able to develop skills and connect with Kentucky’s history. I co-presented a workshop on using oral history in the classroom. I learned how to write a request for proposal. I helped out during National History Day. I attended talks presented by research fellows. I attended a lecture on John Jacob Niles. I ate lunch in the staff kitchen with the historians and listened to stories about the Frankfort ghosts and Civil War submarines. Not only has the intellectual engagement appealed to me, but who doesn’t love a good ghost story?
We have just completed development of Pass the Word and expect to launch sometime in August. Not only will you find collections information there, but also the latest news about what’s going on in oral history in Kentucky and across the nation. I encourage you to keep an eye out for the announcement of the official the Pass the Word launch.
I am leaving this grant-funded position (and a sixty-minute commute) for a permanent position in an archival repository just six minutes from my house. I am excited to leave the driving behind, but I’ll be leaving friends behind, too. I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank all of the KHS staff for welcoming me and sharing their expertise. It’s been an interesting and educational experience.