I am the director of an oral history program at a public library. We are based out of the Metadata Services division within a Technical Services department, but work closely with our colleagues in the library’s public programming department and in our 60+ branches to coordinate our live events. Being situated within Metadata Services gives us the advantage of close coordination with colleagues who have cataloging and international language expertise. Our team is responsible for coordinating the capture of new interviews (in-person and remote; audio-only and video), training interviewees, and processing completed interviews to set live on the web for public use. We also lead curation efforts such as the production of a podcast using the oral histories as source content and editing selections for exhibitions and broadcast.
Mission and Nature of Collections
We are the public library system for our county and our archives division limits its collection development to local history materials pertaining to that area. We have developed a local place name controlled vocabulary and our catalogers often create name headings for local authors who self-publish. The oral histories we collect must be with interviewees who have lived, worked or gone to school in Queens. Equally important to our collecting mission is our educational mission and therefore, the vast majority of the interviews in our collections were created by community volunteers who have attended our training sessions and engaged with interviewees of their own choosing. Most interviews are life histories, but there have also been thematic projects that have produced interviews on special topics such as local LGBTQ+ Activist History and the Queens Public Library’s organizational history.
Staffing Limitations and Strengths
Researcher Characteristics and Needs
We field many research requests for oral histories with information about specific neighborhoods in Queens. Place name information is therefore very important to capture in a uniform manner. We have a set of local place name headings for neighborhoods in Queens that we apply to our records for the interviews as subject headings. We store the interviewee’s contact info and the location where the interview was recorded, separately. This way, when a researcher is looking for an interview about Astoria, Queens, they won’t end up with search results that include an interview with someone who recorded their interview in Astoria, but never mentioned it in their interview.
To maintain the privacy of our interviewees, we keep contact information out of public documents like transcriptions. We do capture sensitive data such as birth dates, addresses, and family names. We keep that information in a database and on a spreadsheet that are both saved on a shared folder accessible to a limited number of staff members. We anonymize our data when we publish reports on the demographics of our collections. Those demographic reports include interviewee age, profession, gender identity, neighborhoods discussed, languages spoken, and country of origin.
Size of Institution’s Oral History Collection
Percentage of Institution’s Collections that are Oral Histories
less than 1%
Type of Institution