You are on page 1of 11

Running head: THE 1972 BLACK HILLS FLOOD: ARCHIVING ORAL HISTORY

Fuerst 1

The 1972 Black Hills Flood: Archiving Oral History on the Web Marti Fuerst Rapid City Public Library

THE 1972 BLACK HILLS FLOOD: ARCHIVING ORAL HISTORY Abstract

Fuerst 2

Preserving oral history becomes increasingly important as those who experienced an event as catastrophic and life-changing as the Black Hills Flood of 1972 are aging. Digital media and web technologies give historians and archivists the opportunity to not only create a digital copy of these unique primary sources, but provide accessibility to the collection for both casual users and historians alike. The Rapid City Public Library began the Rapid City 1972 Flood Oral History Project in 2004, and to date has collected 36 interviews, 40 written memories, and countless photographs, newspaper clippings, and video on the event. In 2007, a wiki was created to house and collect written memories and other material. Every year on June 9, the anniversary of the Flood, the library hosts programs and markets the project and the wiki to gather more interviews as well as share the information collected. The success of this resource and its significance to the Black Hills community stands as an example of a low to no-cost means of archiving local history, including oral histories and other primary sources.

THE 1972 BLACK HILLS FLOOD: ARCHIVING ORAL HISTORY Introduction and Literature Review

Fuerst 3

Despite the volume of information available at one’s fingertips via library databases and Internet search engines, the amount of local information available and easily accessible online pales in comparison. Libraries are taking on or fleshing out the role of an archiving institution by filling this gap and aggregating local information for their users, and due to their rich nature, the demand and popularity of oral history is increasing (Stevens & Latham, 2009). Grants and donations are available to libraries to undertake oral history projects designed to capture the experiences and stories of local residents and/or digitize existing collections (Daniels, 2009; Hall, 2000; Hurford & Reed, 2008). The focus is not just on preserving this kind of history, but also in making oral histories accessible to users, be they friends, family members, neighbors, or academics or historians. Digitizing analog recordings and making them available on the Internet or in a digital collection with metadata is presented in the literature as the best way to accomplish both of these goals (Blackburn, 2011; Daniels, 2009; Hurford & Read, 2008; Stevens & Latham, 2009). Daniels (2009) points out that “Internet access provides a wonderful opportunity to share these stories with a wider world that might not otherwise even know they exist. It is a way to honor those stories” (p. 176). Other projects seeking new interviewees have specific topics or collection types in mind, such as the Alice Springs Public Library’s endeavor to archive the oral histories of ordinary people in Central Australia (Blackburn, 2011). Projects in which existing collections were digitized involved collections with a narrowed focus. For example, among Ball State University’s collections to digitize was The Black Muncie History Project, with interviews conducted between 1971 and 1978 (Hurford & Read, 2008). The Boulder Public Library has a similar collection of oral histories which cover subjects relating to the founding and development of the Boulder, Colorado area (Hall, 2000). Jacksonville State University’s oral history

THE 1972 BLACK HILLS FLOOD: ARCHIVING ORAL HISTORY

Fuerst 4

collection cast a wider net, having grown out of an assignment given by history professor Dr. Suzanne Marshall that had students interview individuals who experienced “pivotal eras in US history, including the civil rights movement, the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis” (Stevens & Latham, 2009). With the focus of so many oral history projects on local information and with the 1972 Black Hills Flood being so significant to the landscape and residents of the area, the Rapid City Public Library’s decision to gather oral histories relating to this event and archive them online for easy access is in line with both best practices for oral histories as well as the preservation of local information.

Background and Description of Project The Rapid City Public Library’s community archive project originated in 2004 during the organization’s strategic planning process. The 1972 Flood Oral History Project was a pilot project to investigate the possibility and potential success of a larger community archive. Library staff and volunteers also conducted interviews and recorded oral histories with individuals who experienced the 1972 Black Hills Flood and its devastation. The original proposal for this portion of the project included using an audio recorder rather than video, as well as the inclusion of memories related to the 1942 blizzard. With the flood project being the pilot for the larger community archives that would come in 2009, keeping costs low was key. There was no plan to pursue grant money or other additional outside funds to finance the project, so finding the most cost-effective workflow and procedures was important. A website was created to collect and consolidate digitized resources related to the flood. A wiki was also created in 2007 using the provider Wikispaces in order to allow users to easily add their stories and photos to the project. The wiki format allowed staff with minimal to no experience editing web pages to make changes to the online resource to keep it up to date and

THE 1972 BLACK HILLS FLOOD: ARCHIVING ORAL HISTORY

Fuerst 5

manage submissions. As a non-profit organization, the Rapid City Public Library qualified for a “plus” account through Wikispaces. This gave the flood wiki features such as no advertising and more storage space without having to pay a yearly subscription fee. The project also utilizes tools like Flickr, Google Maps, and most recently Vimeo to make the resource more dynamic while remaining cost effective. Free Flickr and Google accounts provided the project with photo slideshows and maps, and a paid Vimeo account provided a way to make the oral history videos easier to view and access. All of these tools are extremely user friendly, making it easy for staff to perform tasks related to the project without having to have extensive knowledge of web design or coding languages. The University of Louisville’s Oral History Center relies on grant money to purchase licenses, server space, and maintenance for tools like CONTENTdm in order to protect against downloading and alteration out of respect for the oral histories (Daniels, 2009). In contrast, the Rapid City Public Library is able to have the same file protection with Vimeo for approximately sixty dollars a year rather than multiple thousands. Vimeo is also intended to handle audio/visual content, whereas CONTENTdm would require customization to render such files user-friendly (Daniels, 2009). Using CONTENTdm requires additional training in writing metadata for items in addition to staff time. The staff on the Wiki Team have begun this year to work alongside the Rapid City Public Library’s Knowledge Network team (the more fully realized community archiving project) to upload items such as transcripts, photos, and reports to the Rapid City Public Library’s CONTENTdm server. Audio and video files are not hosted here, however, allowing staff to embed them for easy access on the wiki resource. Staff time quickly became an integral part of the project. The first interviews conducted were sent to Linn Productions, a video editing company, to be edited and returned in both a

THE 1972 BLACK HILLS FLOOD: ARCHIVING ORAL HISTORY

Fuerst 6

digital and DVD format. To alleviate this cost, staff later took on editing as part of the interview procedure. In 2010, interviews were limited to fifteen minutes in order to both keep interviewees on topic as well as shorten the necessary editing time. In 2011, after some technical difficulties with the library server, the interviews were transferred to the video hosting site Vimeo. Vimeo has no time limits on videos and has a vibrant, supportive community that includes other documentary type film producers. The site also allows the staff to collect viewing statistics on videos in order to ensure that the website and interviews are presented in the best possible way. This move also reduces staff time as the flood project team members are able to take raw interview footage, edit it, and post it to the website without having to involve the website committee staff or the information technology website. All interviewees sign paperwork giving the Rapid City Public Library the right to publish and utilize the recordings as they see fit, so long as there is no commercial gain. This has allowed the library and project staff to make these histories available to the public as well as cut them together into more dynamic “teaser” videos to promote the collection. Project staff has an enormous amount of respect for the interviewees and their stories and takes special care in decision making regarding the digital files to ensure that the integrity of the file is preserved.

Community Involvement Interviews and Memories To date, thirty-nine interviews have been conducted with thirty-five currently available on the wiki. Sixty-five written memories have been added to the wiki. For the thirty-ninth anniversary of the flood, the Rapid City Public Library hosted a casual outreach event in the lobby where the wiki resource and physical library materials were displayed and explained to

THE 1972 BLACK HILLS FLOOD: ARCHIVING ORAL HISTORY

Fuerst 7

passing users who showed interest. As part of this, the Wiki Team staff set out cards for users to share their own memories of the flood, along with where they were at the time. These “Share a Memory” slips were later added to the wiki and the map. While these memories proved to be a great deal shorter than those shared directly via the wiki, but it also provided a way for library visitors who were eager to tell staff their stories to share them in a way in which they could be archived. The slips were collected over the course of June, and twenty-four memories were collected in total.

Physical Materials The Rapid City Public Library has an agreement with the Rapid City Journal to digitize any information in their publication that pertains to city history, including articles on the 1972 Flood. The library also has items produced by the Journal for the various anniversaries of the flood available in the South Dakota Collection, as well as bound copies of various reports from agencies investigating the development of the flood, its effects on the area, and the development of the flood plain. Library users as well as local companies, such as Montana Dakota Utilities have donated photographs, audio recordings of news broadcasts, films, newspaper clippings, and scrapbooks. These items are being digitized and added to a collection facilitated by CONTENTdm and housed within the Black Hills Knowledge Network project that is a joint effort between Rapid City Public Library and other regional organizations and libraries.

Programming After three years, having outreach on the anniversary of the flood and during the month of June has become a marketing staple, and is done in conjunction with programming related to

THE 1972 BLACK HILLS FLOOD: ARCHIVING ORAL HISTORY

Fuerst 8

the flood, such as guest speakers and panel discussions with survivors. In 2011, a total of 139 people either attended the programming or stopped to speak with staff at the display and investigate the resources there. In 2010, sixty-two people attended the anniversary flood program.

Digital Materials Statistics for the flood wiki are tracked in order to determine page views (comparable to circulations) and number of visitors (door count) accessing the site. Contributions are also tracked in order to record the growth of the resource over time. In the summer of 2011, the team began the process of consolidating the resources on the library website and the wiki in order to better manage and gather statistics for this resource.

Statistics for the Rapid City Public Library's 1972 Flood Digital Collection
5000 4000 Axis Title 3000 2000 1000 0 Views Visitors Edits

Figure 1: Usage data for the Rapid City Public Library’s online collection of 1972 Black Hills Flood resources from September 2007 to July 2011.

Each year on the anniversary of the flood, there is a noticeable spike in usage of the library’s online resources. As more items are added to this collection, including memories, oral histories, and digitized newspapers, photos, etc., the team only expects this and the general upward trend to continue.

THE 1972 BLACK HILLS FLOOD: ARCHIVING ORAL HISTORY

Fuerst 9

Future Plans In addition to continuing to solicit for interviews and stories to add to the wiki, the Flood Oral History Project has some detailed plans for the future to grow the resource. These plans include providing curriculum resources to the South Dakota Department of Education, coordinating with the University of South Dakota’s 1973 Oral History Project, and specific outreach to Native American communities in the Black Hills. Ensuring that educators in the Black Hills have access to and are aware of the available information on the 1972 Flood which then can in turn use in their classrooms is an important library role. The importance of primary sources in the study of history is well recognized, and so the Oral History Project, along with Rapid City Public Library’s digitization of documents and articles from the early 1970s pertaining to the flood and its aftermath are valuable resources to any educator. The Oral History Project has plans to develop a digital packet to introduce educators to the resources available on the wiki as well as provide them with some information on the 1972 Flood to create lesson plans with. The University of South Dakota is working with the South Dakota Oral History Center to collect interviews from individuals in the Northern Plains. In 1973, the South Dakota Oral History Project, collected a volume of interviews specific to the 1972 Flood. Currently, the Rapid City Flood Oral History Project has one of these recordings, but the collection exists on analog tapes rather than digital files. The Rapid City Oral History Project is investigating coordinating with the University of South Dakota, to digitize these audio recordings and house them , making them more accessible to both their own users as well as users in the Black Hills and around the world.

THE 1972 BLACK HILLS FLOOD: ARCHIVING ORAL HISTORY

Fuerst 10

Lastly, the impact of the flood on the Native American community of Rapid City and the surrounding area was devastating. To ensure that these voices and stories are heard, the Rapid City Public Library’s Outreach department will be using its contacts within these communities to not only inform about the resource but also encourage participation in the project. At the same time, the Wiki Team has been combing through the primary sources available on the flood, primarily the Rapid City Journal, to locate articles that discuss the disaster’s effect on the Native American community.

Conclusion Using online tools such as wikis and social media sites to provide the framework for a digital collection of oral histories and primary documents removes the need to know a coding language or involve information technology personnel, thus giving staff more flexibility in regard to workflow as well as providing users with the ability to collaborate and expand on presented resources through comments and contribution forms. These tools – Flickr, Google Apps, wiki hosts, Vimeo, etc. – can be easily utilized to supplement an existing digital archive as well as help amateur archivists and historians collaborate with one another to better share and expanding on existing knowledge. Digital collection management software like CONTENTdm is useful, but users can both build and view dynamic collections of primary documents and oral histories with much more cost-effective means.

THE 1972 BLACK HILLS FLOOD: ARCHIVING ORAL HISTORY References

Fuerst 11

Blackburn, F. (2011). Geeking out: Quick and easy oral history. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 24(1). Retrieved from Library Lit & Inf Full Text. Stevens, K.W. & Latham, B. (2009). Giving voice to the past: Digitizing oral history. OCLC Systems & Services, 25(3). 212-220. doi: 10.1108/10650750910982593 Hurford, A. A. & Read, M. L. (2008). Bringing the voices of communities together: The Middletown digital oral history project. Indiana Libraries, 27(2). 26-29. Retrieved from Retrieved from Library Lit & Inf Full Text. Hall, W. (2000). Oral history fast forward: From audiocassette to digital archive. Colorado Libraries, 26(4). 9-10. Retrieved from Library Lit & Inf Full Text. Daniels, C. (2009). Providing online access to oral histories: A case study. OCLS Systems & Services, 25(3). 175-185. doi: 10.1108/10650750910982566