Oral History Digitization Project at EHC Now Complete

Oral History Digitization Project at EHC Now Complete
Lori Osborne, Director of Archives & Outreach, Evanston History Center

The Evanston History Center (EHC) began collecting oral history interviews in the 1970s and all of the interviews were recorded on cassette tapes. Over the years these early interviews were added to and the collection now numbers almost 500 interviews. The collection covers the time period of the early 20th century into the mid-1990s and documents Evanston’s African-American, Caribbean, Jewish, Swedish and World War II veterans communities, among many others. The collection covers the significant moments that created Evanston over this time, but also, and in some ways more importantly, the community’s daily life.

The life-span of a magnetic file on a cassette is 15-20 years, so many of the interviews were at risk of being lost due to the passage of time and the outdated format. In 2010, EHC undertook a small digitization effort to transfer the tapes to a more stable format. In 2015, EHC applied for and received a grant from the Illinois State Historic Records Advisory Board (through funding from the National History the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), National Archives and Records Administration) to complete the digitization project. The taped interviews were transferred to MP3 files, for ease of access, and to WAV files for long-term preservation.

Managing a large number of digital files can be challenging, especially if you need to access a document quickly. Consequently, the EHC is considering investing in document management software from a company such as FilecenterDMS to make the digitization process of its archives easier in the future.

All of the interviews are now available for listening at the history center. To access the audio files of the interviews, researchers can visit the history center during research hours or by appointment with the EHC archivist. If researchers are not able to visit Evanston, access may be possible but restrictions may apply due to privacy concerns.

EHC wishes to thank the Illinois State Historic Records Advisory Board, the NHPRC, and the National Archives for their support of this project.

For more information, email losborne@evanstonhistorycenter.org or go to the oral history page, where a complete inventory is available.