At the beginning of July I attended the ‘Oral History and Sound Heritage Conference’ hosted by University of Leicester Library.
Although presented by CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) Local Studies Group, the conference was intended as an opportunity for those working with oral history and sound collections across libraries, museums and archives to get together and share their experience.
I was keen to attend this conference having conducted a number of oral history interviews as part of my role as Project Archivist for the ‘Working Together’ project based at the National Co-operative Archive in Manchester. This project aims to capture and preserve the heritage of the workers’ co-operative movement 1970s-1990s, with a key part of this focusing on recording the memories and experiences of individuals involved in the movement. As this was my first time working with oral histories I felt that hearing from those with experience in the field would be really beneficial.
Welcome and introduction to collections:
The day started off with a welcome to the venue and an introduction by William Farrell to the Local History Collections held at the University of Leicester. It was fascinating to hear about the different collections held, including 37 000 items focusing on the historic counties of England.
Unlocking Our Sound Heritage:
This was followed by a presentation from Sue Davies, the Project Manager for the ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ project. This presentation provided a great introduction to the project, which is a partnership between the British Library and a number of consortium partners across the UK including the University of Leicester. The aim of the project is to preserve rare and at risk sound recordings from collections across the UK and make these accessible to a wide audience. It was really interesting to hear about the reasons for the project development, as well as how collections were identified to be included in the project.
Later in the day we heard from other members of the ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ team working in both cataloguing sound collections, and establishing information rights. It was fascinating to get an insight into the different roles existing within the project, as well as the work involved in conducting such a multifaceted project.
Running an oral history project:
Another engaging talk was given by Colin Hyde, from the East Midlands Oral History archive. Based on his extensive experience Colin provided advice on the practicalities of setting up and running oral history projects, both small and large. I found it especially useful listening to his advice about working with participants and volunteers, and ensuring that everyone is at ease with the interview process. This talk allowed me to reflect on my own work conducting a small oral history project, and I picked up a lot of tips I’ve been able to utilise since.
Oral history and communities:
In the afternoon, Stephanie Nield (Leonard Cheshire Archive), Jennie Vickers (Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre, University of Manchester), and Mariana Ou (Marx Memorial Library), gave a series of presentations on their experiences engaging with different communities in oral history projects. Here the importance of working in partnership and establishing trust with those involved in the oral history projects was a clear theme. It was great to hear talks from these widely different institutions and projects.
Tour of the Library:
Alongside the talks we were also given the opportunity to go on a tour of the Leicester Special Collections, as well as see the Sound Heritage Project facilities developed at the University of Leicester for their role as a partner in the ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ project. It was also great to take a look at examples of different recorders used for recording oral histories and sound recordings over time, from reel to reel, to modern day Zoom Handy recorders.
Overall the conference was a great chance to hear from those involved in capturing and preserving oral histories and sound heritage from a number of disciplines and institutions. I was able to pick up some useful tips and advice that I have been able to utilise in my own oral history work, as well as understand how my own project fits into the wider environment of sound recording heritage in the UK.
Philippa Lewis, Project Archivist, National Co-operative Archive.