I am a certified archivist with a background and training in history and cultural heritage preservation, as well as a graduate degree in archival administration. Since 1999 I’ve worked with oral history archives, analog and digital, in different repository types and archival institutions. In my current role I coordinate multiple oral history projects and engage with interviews and collections at all points of the oral history lifecycle, including planning; remote and in-person interviewing; immediate post-processing; arrangement and description; preservation and access; and small curation projects. In my role as an academic archivist and librarian I facilitate primary source instruction on how to discover and understand oral history for research, and for that I am guided by the frameworks offered by Linda Shopes and others on interpreting and making sense of oral history as a historical source. I also am called on to instruct students, academic staff, and faculty on preparing oral history projects for long term preservation as archival projects that will have use beyond their initial research purposes.
My vantage point working at a global institution where oral history is an active and taught research methodology as well as community memory opportunity, and from being a member of the International Oral History Association network, allows me to understand a variety of issues, approaches, system biases, constraints and foci for oral history projects, both my own projects and other colleagues’. This has also informed what I believe is “important to know” about oral history collections and influences my descriptive, administrative, and preservation metadata selections.
What matters to me is that practitioners, including me and my collaborators, are collecting metadata not just about the interview content and the technical components of the recordings, but also information surrounding the interview – all toward facilitating sufficient and greater understanding. As the archivist and interviewer, I will not always have access to users to be able to directly communicate that “extracurricular” knowledge I carry around in my head – especially as we prepare to provide a platform for self-browsing and access to interviews, meeting the demand . I care about finding a way to capture and carry metadata across preservation and dissemination platforms in service to self-guided users, future users, and my successors.
Mission and Nature of Collections
Our Library has a strong teaching and research mission across the University and our global network, as well as an institutional commitment to be a leading research institution for historical knowledge about the SWANA and Mashreq ( مشرق) regions. Documenting the University’s institutional knowledge, research, and community memory is also part of our mission, and oral history plays a central role through focused projects, exit interviewing, and our ongoing community Memory Project. Most if not all of our collections are digital collections, either born-digital that we have created/transferred ourselves, or materials that have come to us on external/removable media. We are in a position to acquire and accept analog collections but digitized analog oral history makes up a very small part of what we preserve.. Beyond oral history, our archival and special collections holdings include a variety of manuscript, book, map, photographic, and film collections to support our teaching and research mission.
Staffing Limitations and Strengths
As a department in a small academic library, we have a limited staff of two archivists, one reading room supervisor, and three to four student assistants each semester (who need to be trained). We have some assistance from specialist colleagues in other departments and occasionally are in a position to hire a staff assistant or graduate research fellow. The youth of our institution — NYU Abu Dhabi opened its doors to the first undergraduate class of students in 2010, and Archives and Special Collections opened in 2014 — has allowed for us to set up workflows and procedures early on that accommodates mapping gathered/created metadata into different systems (e.g., ArchivesSpace, Preservica, MARC cataloging). Having an agnostic set of elements to make sure we are capturing as much as we can, even if to be able to map later, is right now very valuable. Our connection to other campuses in the Global Network also is a strength of our institution, although we do operate locally and independently.
Researcher Characteristics and Needs
Students, internal operations, community members broadly, and future researchers are the target audience for the institutional oral histories we’ve created and acquired. For faculty, researchers, and students at NYU Abu Dhabi oral history is part of many course syllabi — both as primary sources to access and explore, and as a methodology for assignments. Internal researchers contact us via email to request access to view materials in our onsite reading room, but increasingly request online access. We also serve external researchers and scholars from across global regions and who seek remote/online access to our collections, as travel is increasingly prohibitive. Until we have an online access system in place, the finding aid becomes the primary means for discovering and understanding the collections, and the catalog record is a second important resource for discoverability. The ability to self-browse, view, and engage with our oral history collections is forthcoming but not yet active, which means researchers receive a lot of information about collections through communication and exchange with the archivists, in addition to descriptions.
Instruction in how to understand oral history sources as sites of shared authority, memory, intangible culture, and historical resources is also an aspect of our primary source literacy outreach, for which we emphasize the importance of evaluating oral history using metadata.
We offer the option to our interviewees to restrict their interview sessions for a period of time. This reflects the young nature of the institution with many living persons involved in institutional events and moments being active employees and/or community partners. As a global institution collaboratively administered by two governments, there are multi-country privacy, rights and licensing issues that we must also consider with every project and collection. Our approach is to be as open as possible, as closed as necessary. Many institutional record-keeping interviews are meant for internal use only and are disseminated via authenticated access. For all of these reasons, metadata and descriptive records will need to provide for a way to track rights changes over time, internally as well as for public facing records.
Size of Institution’s Oral History Collection
We currently are preserving less than 1,000 interviews in our overall collections, but our programs are ongoing and we manage for growth.
Percentage of Institution’s Collections that are Oral Histories
Oral histories account for about 25% of the holdings, noting that percentage does not necessarily equate to use and attention. Often an oral history interview is the first point of entrance in understanding the origins and impact of programs, departments, moments and events in the institution’s history.
Type of Institution
Academic research library