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OHA and Reflections on the Oral History Digitization Landscape

By Cory Lampert on November 6, 2007 7:32 AM | Permalink
October 24-28, I attended the Oral History Association Annual Meeting in Oakland, California. For those like myself, who are new to the world of oral history, the association:
...seeks to bring together all persons interested in oral history as a way of collecting and interpreting human memories to foster knowledge and human dignity. With an international membership, the OHA serves a broad and diverse audience. Local historians, librarians and archivists, students, journalists, teachers, and academic scholars from many fields have found that the OHA provides both professional guidance and a collegial environment for sharing research.
I got involved with the conference through my participation on a panel with UNLV's Director of the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project, Mary Palevsky, and History department doctoral student, Leisl Carr, who I am partnering with to create a digital archive of the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project. My paper was titled, "Managing the Transition from Large-Scale Oral History Research to Digital Archive: The Digital Librarian’s Perspective" and I talked mostly about what is involved in planning and building a digital collection from a collection of oral history research. Fortunately, my partners are very well-organized and appreciate the detailed work that goes into the process. It was not long before we realized that researchers and librarians have similar values and that the key to building a successful collection lay in creating good metadata from their rich research. I also attended other sessions at the conference and got a true sense of the diversity of oral history research. What a wide range of voices, stories, and memories are being recorded by these researchers! For example I saw presentations and met researchers doing interviews with modern day mountain men, survivors of the Holocaust, local musicians, activists in local's women's movements, former POWs, and even histories from the Freedom to Read Foundation. On occasion, some of the researchers made mention of archiving, but in many of the sessions the focus was on the interviewing methodology and research, not the process of making the research accessible. I attended the presentation, "From Secrecy to Accessibility: Bringing the Realities of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant in from the Cold (War) ", which features content on nuclear history similar to our project. Susan Becker from the Boulder Public Library (CO) did a great job with their website to create a full-text searchable archive that even has a nifty way of syncing with the interview audio/transcript time stamps. There was also a good session on "Successful Oral History Programs: Secrets to Success from those Who Know", which featured Susan Becker, the Japanese American Legacy Project, California State University, Fullerton, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and Texas Tech University. And I had hoped to attend the roundtable titled, "Revolutionizing the Repository: Accounts from Two Oral History Digitization Projects" with presenters from the UCLA Digital Library Program and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill/Carolina Digital Library. Unfortunately, the time for this program conflicted with my presentation (unlucky me!). I will be looking at the various web sites for oral history that I heard discussed during the conference. Obviously, this is a topic that is growing in interest within the community. Next years conference in Pittsburgh is being called, "A Convergence of Interests: Oral History in the Digital Age"! Sounds like it will be right up my alley!

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