Where There's a Will, There's a Way: In-House Digitization of an Oral History Collection in a Lone-Arranger Situation

  • Mary Elizabeth Downing-Turner Fort Hays State University


Analog audio materials present unique preservation and access challenges for even the largest libraries. These challenges are magnified for smaller institutions where budgets, staffing, and equipment limit what can be achieved. Because in-house migration to digital of analog audio is often out of reach for smaller institutions, the choice is between finding the room in the budget to out-source a project, or sit by and watch important materials decay. Cost is the most significant barrier to audio migration. Audio preservation labs can charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars to migrate analog to digital. Top-tier audio preservation equipment is equally expensive. When faced with the decomposition of an oral history collection recorded on cassette tape, one library decided that where there was a will, there was a way. The College of Education One-Room Schoolhouse Oral History Collection consisted of 247 audio cassettes containing interviews with one-room school house teachers from 68 counties in Kansas. The cassette tapes in this collection were between 20-40 years old and generally inaccessible for research due to fear the tapes could be damaged during playback. This case study looks at how a single Digital Curation Librarian with no audio digitization experience migrated nearly 200 hours of audio to digital using a $40 audio converter from Amazon and a campus subscription to Adobe Audition. This case study covers the decision to digitize the collection, the digitization process including audio clean-up, metadata collection and creation, presentation of the collection in CONTENTdm, and final preservation of audio files. The project took 20 months to complete and resulted in significant lessons learned that have informed decisions regarding future audio conversion projects.



General Articles