In my current role as special collections coordinator and university archivist, conducting or coordinating oral history projects is not an institutional priority but is something I support and facilitate beyond my core job responsibilities as opportunities arise. I have conducted interviews for several projects within University Archives, but more often I support various oral history projects which students, faculty, and staff on campus conduct, some of which are ultimately deposited in University Archives. I provide training on oral history theory and methodology, support project planning and interview preparation, and oversee processing, preservation, and dissemination workflows for such projects.
Mission and Nature of Collections
The Rod Library’s mission is to empower and inspire our community to discover, imagine, create and innovate. The collections support teaching and research at a regional comprehensive university which emphasizes student success. Specifically, Special Collections & University Archives (SC&UA) collects, preserves, and provides access to rare, valuable, and delicate collections of books, manuscripts, and institutional records. SC&UA includes several distinct book collections as well as the University Archives and the Manuscripts Collection. Within SC&UA, there are legacy oral history projects centered on local and community history, and recent oral history projects focus on institutional memory. Digitized and born-digital oral histories are made available online through our institutional repository, and legacy interviews not yet digitized are made available in person in the SC&UA reading room. Most interviews have some item level description in public facing, online finding aids and/or records in our institutional repository. The metadata and description shared with researchers emphasizes interview context and content, such as interview summary. Additional project and planning information and more sensitive information, such as interviewee contact information, is stored internally.
Staffing Limitations and Strengths
Staffing in SC&UA is limited, with three full time employees and several student employees each semester. Unit priorities are processing, collection management, reference services, and library instruction. Oral history-related work is not explicitly included in anyone’s job description, and I am the only person with experience planning, conducting, or archiving oral history interviews in the unit. While this lack of resources prevents us from creating robust descriptions or products like time stamped indexes, the oral histories in our collections are minimally described in online finding aids and in institutional repository records at the project and interview level.
Researcher Characteristics and Needs
Researchers at my institution are primarily students, faculty members, alumni, and local community members. They are particularly interested in institutional history. Most patrons who access digitized and born digital oral histories online do so without any direct contact with SC&UA staff. Some of our patrons conduct research in person but are increasingly interested in virtual or distance research options, such as requesting digitized copies of interviews originally recorded on cassette.
Newer interviews are required to have a completed interview agreement form and informed consent with clear indication of any use or access restrictions before they are deposited in the archives. Interviewees have the option to close their interview for a set amount of time. To my knowledge, there are minimal privacy or restricted access concerns in the legacy oral history projects in our collections. If there are no restrictions noted, legacy interviews are accessed in person in our reading room, and they may be digitized upon request and shared directly with the patron making the request. We track restrictions internally and provide restriction information in the online finding aids and in institutional repository records. Sensitive information, such as interviewee contact information, is stored internally as well.
Size of Institution’s Oral History Collection
There is no formalized oral history collection within SC&UA. There are several small, separate collections within the University Archives and the Manuscripts Collection, with fewer than 100 oral histories in total at present.
Percentage of Institution’s Collections that are Oral Histories
Oral histories make up a very small fraction of our holdings in SC&UA, totaling less than 1% of the entire collection.
Type of Institution