Reportback: Movement Archives Part 2: Getting Oral Histories In!

Practitioner Support Network
November 14, 2013
Call Facilitators:  Sarah K. Loose & Claude Marks
Participants: Kelly Anderson, Lois Arhens, Aliza Becker, Cynthia Tobar, and Chela Weber.

Issues to consider in selecting an archive for an oral history collection:

*It’s best to negotiate a signed archive agreement in advance of conducting the interviews so that legal and donor issues are spelled out. This is a long-term relationship that must be worked out carefully, but by doing negotiating in advance, you have more control.

*The issues you negotiate in advance should include everything that might be included in a release form, e.g. adequate protections for narrators, including the option for donors to remove their personal story at any time, and to agree or not agree to a series of restrictions.

*You might consider having a clause that permits the option of moving the collection to a different archive at a later time. However, this may be a disincentive to the archive’s involvement.

*Collections can be donated to multiple archives, but one archive must be the principle administrator that generally holds ownership and copyright. The relationship of the primary archive to the other archives needs to be spelled out in the agreement. There are some examples of collaborative oral history projects in which copies went to partner institutions and work and funding was coordinated in terms of funding of transcriptions so as not to duplicate efforts.

*How accessible will your collection be? After all the work you put into developing your project, you don’t want it sitting on the bottom shelf of a closet collecting dust. Does the institution have resources so that your archive can be readily accessed and/or can you do fundraising to provide them with adequate resources? Does the archive hold related collections that would increase the likelihood yours might be accessed by those looking at related materials?

*How usable is your collection by diverse constituents, including donors. Is the location easily accessed by public transportation? What are the hours? What kind of IDs and/or fees are required?  Will the project narrators feel welcome and comfortable in the space? Concern: A donor tried to obtain a copy of a photo of himself from a collection and was told he would be charged an exorbitant fee.

*Consider who is funding the archive and how government or private-corporate funding may have interests of a different kind than yours, in particular with the particular nature of the stories we are documenting.

Issues in web-based versus physical archives

*On-line portal collections offer access to anyone who can use the Internet. However, there are issues in terms of technology, ethics, and privacy that must be considered.

*Some donors will not want their interview on-line or only permit certain aspects, e.g. video, transcript, or excerpts therein. A donor may provide initial approval that might prove to be problematic at a later point, for example, a prisoner who is freed and seeking employment. Is there a provision for donors changing their minds?

*There may be legal issues in providing public access to certain information in an interview, e.g., victims of domestic violence.

*There may be technological issues in providing links to long interviews.

*We cannot assume all people have access to the Internet and may be replicating the same profound political imbalance that we’re attempting to address through our collection.

*Digital technologies are relatively recent and there is no proven way of restoring and preserving material in the digital environment. It is better to have a paper trail in addition to the digital files.  For example, older analog recordings are vastly superior to anything digital. There is no proven way of restoring and preserving material in the digital environment.

Creative comments license, copyright and other duplication issues

*A creative comments license is an alternative or in addition to a copyright that allows you to license in more gradual way and is close to public domain. For example, you might allow a license to allow duplication of information in part or in its entirety for noncommercial purposes.

*The Freedom Archives are fundamentally opposed to commodification so they have no legal document trail of any kind – just verbal agreements. They have never had an issue even though much was recorded as long as 40 years ago. It is part of the collective nature of the archive and the decision to not become involved in anything related to the U.S. judicial system.

How to increase accessibility of your collection

*Transcripts are very important so that people don’t have to look through a video to see if a particular topic was mentioned. Without a transcript or at minimum a description, the likelihood that your collection will be viewed is greatly reduced.  Collections must be searchable with key words.

*Some examples of materials people offered to share:

  • Kelly Anderson has a guide sheet on paper documentation the Sophia Smith Collection requires for collections.
  • Chela Weber recommends having interviewers fill out a form that includes an accurate synopsis/abstract of what is talked about for cataloguing.
  • Cynthia Tobar has developed a spreadsheet for the 100 Puerto Ricans campaign that is filled out during the interview and includes basic information and a brief synopsis. She then enters that information into a database. This is particularly important, as she doesn’t have the money for transcription of the interviews.