If you are daunted by those boxes of cassette tapes in your collection, read about the project of the Sharon (Connecticut) Historical Society. They have followed a roadmap that brought them from a situation in which they were not sure what was in those boxes of tapes to making those very interviews available online at the Connecticut Digital Archive. There were many steps, all doable, if approached one step at a time. I am happy to say we helped them along the way, mostly by providing small grants and helping them find people to do the work.
First Step: Learn what you have
First, director Christine Beers hired two former SHS volunteers who inventoried the collection, which turned out to include 32 interviews on cassette tapes.
Doing an inventory takes the mystery of out the project, makes it a known thing. Not only that, the inventory helps you chart your progress. Learn what you have, and then plot out the next steps, always documenting your work for the person who might stumble onto it after you have moved on to another place.
Second: Digital copies and safe storage
Next, they hired an intern who came each week – even if only for a few hours – to work on making digital copies. This work is time consuming, and that is one reason the task gets put on the back burner. The intern, Cherise Hutchings, was dependable and interested in the project.
Third: Prepare for the archive
The next step was to prepare the digital copies for the archive. We work with a few archives, and Sharon was the first of our collaborators to show us how it works with Connecticut Digital Archives. We also work with University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Special Collections and University Archives, and we are beginning to work with the Digital Commonwealth. Each archive has its own requirements. (Some archives request particular metadata information, transcriptions, file formats, etc.)
When one of our oral history collections shows up in a statewide archive, and online, we celebrate! Imagine, from boxes of unknown content to publicly available stories. The stories people told are no longer hidden away in boxes. (Or as the modern version of the same thing, on an old hard drive.)
We are working with four towns, Sharon, Kent, Salisbury, and Sheffield, Mass., each with a different situation regarding their oral history collections. This work is one of the main reasons behind the founding of the Oral History Center six years ago.
Thank you, Christine Beers, SHS Director, for shepherding the project.
And thanks to the Connecticut Digital Archives, too.