Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Sunday, October 02, 2005


My glory day has arrived! I signed a contract with Left Coast Publishers on Thursday. I guess this transforms me from a writer into an author. Now it's real, and the pressure is on. And the excitement. I signed for a February 2006 deadline for my first draft, though I think I could get it together by Debember 15. This will give me some lagtime, in case this or that happens to slow it down.

One of these days (or years) I'll post about my experience with publishers and why I made the decision I did, but not until I'm quite secure as a published author.

Below is my tentative title page, and a little clip from the book:

After the Interview

Curating Oral Histories

in the 21st Century

Nancy MacKay

Left Coast Press


  • You are a librarian in a small public library. A local organization has undertaken a community oral history project and has donated 1200 tapes to your library. Most tapes are labeled and there is an inventory, but you must find a way to catalog them, make copies, shelve them and make them available to the public. Soon!
  • You are the new office manager for a large urban church. You come across a box labeled “Oral history interviews – civil rights workers – 1964-1969.” Many tapes are unlabeled, the physical condition is uncertain, yet they seem like valuable documents. What next?
  • You are a historian and have just received a grant to set up an archive – physical and digital -- on the American immigrant experience, drawing on oral history projects around the country. You have the money and you have the subject expertise, but where can you turn for guidance on the nuts and bolts of archive methods and technology?

Sound familiar? Then welcome to the world of curating oral histories. If you find yourself in a situation like any of these, you are like hundreds of professionals, myself included, who must make decisions about the administration, cataloging, preservation and access of oral histories, and have no place to turn for guidance.

Who are we -- those of us charged with the care of oral histories? Judging by the responses to my survey, we are an enormously diverse group. Our job titles range from historian to librarian to archivist to park ranger to community relations director. Some of us are volunteers working on a single community project; others of us are responsible for a large archive of which oral histories are just a tiny part.

Our educational background? Though most of us have degrees in history or library science (rarely both), many community based projects are managed by subject specialists or volunteers with degrees in English, psychology, engineering, education or social work. Increasingly, full- and part-time technical experts appear on the staff roster.

Whatever our job title, we probably feel passionately about the materials entrusted to our care. (I know because my survey shows most of us are overworked and underpaid.) We certainly understand the complexities of managing oral histories. And, though we’d rather not admit it, we very likely have a shelf or a whole closet -- as far out of sight as possible -- where our unprocessed oral histories sit neglected, waiting for some answers to our many questions.

The purpose of this book is help answer those big questions, and if you are lucky, to help you clean off your problem shelf. In a larger arena, I hope it will generate a broad dialogue among the multiple professional fields involved in the creation and caring for oral histories.


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