What to Do With the Results
||At the American Folklife Center,
folklorists Stephanie Hall and Catherine Kerst examine the Library
of Congress's American Memory Web site, which includes numerous
presentations based on documentation from Folklife Center field collections. Photo
1995 by James Hardin
So, you spent some time in the field. You took notes and you have a list
of names, a pile of tapes and disks, and a sizable quantity of videos,
slides, photographs, and negatives. In addition, you managed to pick up,
for example, a few maps, posters of events you documented in the community,
a program booklet or two, a votive candle, a piece of homemade needlepoint
that was offered as a
In connection with its study of cowboy life,
called the Paradise Valley (Nevada) Folklife Project, the American
Folklife Center produced a book and exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution,
in 1980, both with the title Buckaroos in Paradise. American
Folklife Center photo
gift by an appreciative informant, assorted expense
receipts, a number of letters, and drafts of your preliminary field study
plan. You are also, perhaps, five pounds heavier, because everyone wanted
to feed you. You can lose the weight, but the collection should be safeguarded
and carefully preserved.
The information and material you have collected satisfies or further
stimulates your curiosity about your family, the immediate community, or
the particular subject of your investigation. But it may also be of interest
to others. Community centers, local and regional museums, and state and
local historical societies often maintain folklife collections, and some
academic institutions house archives of folklife materials. Organizing
and labeling the diverse parts of your collection will make it more useful
to you and to others. The staffs of these institutions and organizations
may be willing to talk with you about how to handle your material and will
be able to say whether or not your work is suitable for deposit at their
If you plan to place your collection within an institution, always contact
that institution ahead of time to make sure that they are willing and able
to take your collection and properly care for it. Ask for specific instructions
on how they wish you to document and prepare your collection for donation.
Preserving Your Collection and Developing an Archive
The need to adhere to archival standards in organizing and preserving
folklife materials has become increasingly recognized by professional and
nonprofessional collectors nationally. Although a detailed presentation
of specific archival techniques is far too extensive to present here, a
few fundamentals will assure a good start. The care, processing, and proper
storage of materials must be an integral part of the planning, budgeting,
and carrying out of any field documentation project. Such treatment ensures
the preservation and accessibility of the valuable collection you created.
Tribal member Maxine White works with American
Folklife Center staffer Laurel McIntyre at the 1999 harvest festival
powwow, Macy, Nebraska. White reviewed documentation made by the
Center at the 1983 Omaha powwow, and helped to identify people who
were photographed at that time. Photo by Alan Jabbour
To protect your collections, here are a number of suggestions:
l. Use acid-neutral (archival quality) paper, files, and envelopes. Acid-neutral
storage sleeves and boxes are expensive, but for long-term storage they
are worth the cost.
2. Use archival quality, PH-neutral slide and negative protectors made
of either paper or polyester.
3. Do not store negatives and photos in the glassine sleeves provided
by photographic developing companies.
4. Use soft pencils or indelible pens for labeling photos, slides, and
5. Avoid paper clips, rubber bands, glues, and other metals and adhesives,
which may result in damage and rust or leave sticky substances on your
materials. Avoid stick-on labels, which leave a residue and may fall off
6. Protect materials from magnetic fields, heat, sun and bright lights,
humidity, and insects and rodents.
In the American Folklife Center's collection
processing area, Veterans History Project processing technicians
Sandra Savage, Judy Ng, and Rachel Mears examine materials submitted
by World War II veteran Clifton Davis, from Paris, Ohio. Each item
will be logged, numbered, and carefully housed in acid-free folders
and containers. Photo by James Hardin
7. If you are using a tape medium, fast-forward a few revolutions before
recording and stop recording before the tape runs out.
8. Store materials away from overhead water pipes and areas where there
is a risk of fire or flood. Do not store materials near refrigerators,
television sets, and other electric equipment.
9. Remember, electrical equipment produces heat, and the popular tendency
to rest a recording on a nearby speaker should be avoided since powerful
magnets in speakers will damage magnetic recording tape.
Plan your labeling and numbering system in advance, and organize materials
as you go to avoid unwieldy backlogs or even loss or subsequent mislabeling
of materials. Consider establishing some of your file folders in advance
to facilitate the handling of your paperwork. Sample file headings might
include: Planning, Collected Publications and Ephemera, Letters, Budget,
Equipment, Tape Logs, Photo Logs, Field Notes, Consent Forms, Maps, and
Publicity. Administrative files should be preserved, since they include
information on origins, goals, and overall planning and carrying-out of
Archivist Stephanie Hall carefully places color
slides from the American Folklife Center’s collections in preservation
housing for storage in the Archive of Folk Culture. Photo 1995 by
If you plan to donate the collection to an archival institution or use
it for your own long-term research, it is a good idea to store your paper
and printed materials in acid-free folders, which you label and number
consecutively. A list or inventory of all components of the collection,
along with a brief description of the project -- prepared while the goals
and activities of the project are fresh in your memory -- will prove
helpful as years pass and will be indispensable to the archivist or librarian
who might catalog the materials.
Proper management of project materials involves time, attention, and patience.
Careful labeling and logging and the systematic assignment of numbers for
cross-referencing purposes, however mundane the tasks may be, will pay
off by rendering your materials accessible and useful.
Professional archivists and folklorists with specialized experience and
interest in archival techniques should be consulted whenever necessary.
For larger projects, consulting fees should be considered in fiscal planning
and grant requests. Software packages designed to store and retrieve vast
amounts of data, are now available. They render the tasks of typing, indexing,
cross referencing, and gaining access to research data much easier.