Oral Histories and Audio recording – Bag of Tricks

I saw a meme the other day that said, “I’m sorry I didn’t answer my phone when you called. I don’t use it for that.” It got me laughing pretty hard. It is funny the way things have changed with phones – should we even call them that anymore?

When I think about how I use my phone, very little of it has to do with making phone calls. I take pictures, use maps to find my way around, listen to audiobooks and podcasts, read the news, check social media, browse the web, and text. But make calls? Hardly ever.

Some folks say this usage is related to age, more specifically generation. I am a Gen X. I have seen research showing Millennials use their phones for calls even less than Gen X. One of the ways I like using my phone to text is with the speech to text feature. I press the little microphone icon in the text app and talk. Mostly Siri understands me, though there are the occasional names she never seems to get right.  While I don’t phone folks, I do use my voice to send messages to friends. Strange, I know. Ironic even.

Nowadays we use our voices to send texts, to ask Siri questions, or to have Alexa turn down the lights or play music. Heck, in my niece’s lifetime, phones with rotary dials have only been novelty items, and she has never seen a real working one. It is fun to think about the sorts of things that have changed in a lifetime, generation, or even a decade. Who would have thought even 20 years ago that a phone would be so many things other than a way to make a call. And the next 20 years could be transformational in other ways. Hard to guess.

I remember some years ago listening to a woman in my town, Essie, talk about her life. She was over 100 years old and remembered walking from Kansas to Colorado behind a covered wagon as a child. She remembered cars becoming a thing, and radio, TVs, computers, women wearing pants. These and many other things still exist in people’s memories, in their lifetimes, and in their experiences.  Even stuff that isn’t historic – experiences, life choices, big moments, all provide a perspective that is important.

Oral histories are the passing on of knowledge, memory, and experience by word of mouth. They can take the form of anything from folklore, myths, and stories passed from person to person, to a formal interview about a particular event with someone that is recorded and kept in an archive as a historical resource. They’re a way of gathering, recording, and preserving a diverse range of personal experiences that generally are not well documented in written sources or traditional history. Their personal nature makes them a great primary source for people wanting to discover more about a certain event or era, providing insight into the impact events had on the people alive and involved. We all have stories to tell. Oral history listens to these stories.

And now we are back to phones being used for non-phone activities. Recording people’s stories can be done on a smartphone. Then you can email it to yourself, download it on a computer and edit it with Audacity or another audio editing software. Saving digital audio doesn’t take a lot of space. A portable hard drive with a good capacity can store quite a lot of audio. Learning Audacity isn’t hard either. You can check out the Audacity User Manual for more information.

Audacity is definitely a good addition to your Bag of Tricks. As we talked about in other parts of this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy for better serving patrons and can also give you a bit more confidence. While I suggest that you create your own Bag of Tricks, I have an example Bag of Trick to get you started at https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

Next month, the Colorado State Library will be circulating a Digitization Resource Kit with instructions and hardware. Part of the Digitization Kit will be about collecting oral histories. Other parts of the kit will handle the digitization of documents, photos, and ephemera. Check out our circulating kits at https://cslkits.cvlsites.org

Kieran Hixon