Thousands of Local Oral History Files Saved for Posterity

Erin Schmitz, Curator Collections and Archives at Museums of Western Colorado, is looking forward to the time when she can hear the stories of the Grand Valley, actually told by the people who lived them. Through a partnership with the Mesa County Libraries, the Museums of Western Colorado is in the process of digitally saving more than 3,000 local oral history files originally recorded via cassette tape.

“These tapes hold the history of this community – sheep and cattle wars, the Uranium Boom, archaeological and paleontological excavations, military service, the story of St. Mary’s Hospital, and so much more,” says Schmitz. “It will feel like I’m actually getting to know these people when I hear their words with the clarity and quality of digital recording.”

While many of the tapes are in good condition, “We are cautious to play them in their current form,” says Schmitz. “Digitization is important because these tapes are an obsolete form of media that cannot be effectively distributed and used for research. The interviews they contain were conducted and recorded as far back as 40 years ago, so there is concern regarding the delicacy of the tapes. If flaking occurs on these magnetic cassettes, content can be lost. In some cases we have transcripts as well, but of course the goal is to preserve the oral history in audio format. In some cases, it is likely that the conversion process will, essentially be a “one and done” opportunity to preserve these recordings.”

Digitization has the added benefit of eliminating background noise associated with magnetic tape recording, resulting in a better experience for the listener. “Of course, the most important consideration is to capture and make available the valuable content these tapes contain,” says Schmitz.

The project is being facilitated through the Mesa County Libraries. Digital conversion is done in “real time” (one hour for every hour of tape) at the Library’s recording studio, then uploaded to the Marmot search system for ease of location and research.

For further information or to locate a specific oral history record, contact Erin Schmitz at 970.242.0971, ext. 2210.

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