The Library of Congress and the Chicago History Museum are collaborating on a major project to digitally preserve and catalog thousands of unique and endangered sound recordings in the Museum’s Studs Terkel Collection of book interviews and WFMT radio programs.
Louis “Studs” Terkel, revered as one of the nation’s leading and most prolific oral historians, amassed a wealth of stories in his more than 50 years as a radio host, scholar and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. He compiled a vast collection of recorded oral histories and interviews that reflect his broad expertise and eclectic interests in music, literature, art, history and politics.
“The Studs Terkel Collection exemplifies both the challenges and the rewards of recorded-sound preservation,” said Eugene DeAnna, head of the Library’s Recorded Sound Section. “At the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, we are excited to partner with the Chicago History Museum to provide the resources necessary for preserving this great collection and making it accessible to a broad and diverse audience of listeners.”
The collaboration will result in the creation of digital preservation copies of the approximately 7,000 tape recordings of Terkel’s interviews and broadcasts on WFMT radio in Chicago. His recordings, which he and the radio station donated to the Museum in 1998, offer a remarkably rich history of the ideas and perspectives of both common and influential people living in the second half of the 20th century.
“For Studs, there was not a voice that should not be heard, a story that could not be told,” said Gary T. Johnson, museum president. “He believed that everyone had the right to be heard and had something important to say. He was there to listen, to chronicle, and to make sure their stories are remembered. This partnership with the Library of Congress will do just that.”
Terkel was born in New York on May 16, 1912. His family opened a rooming house in Chicago in 1922, where he gained his fundamental knowledge of society and politics by listening to an eclectic mix of people who helped shape his view of the world. Terkel was the first Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the Chicago History Museum, which named the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History in his honor in 2005. Terkel died in October 2008 at the age of 96.
The digital preservation work will be undertaken at the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation (www.loc.gov/avconservation/) in Culpeper, Va., where engineers will transfer the audio to high-quality preservation files and store them on the facility’s digital archive system. Upon completion of the multi-year effort, both the Library and the Museum will hold complete sets of the digital audio, which will be individually cataloged and accessible for public listening at both institutions. While the work is taking place, there will be limited access to the recordings at the Museum’s Research Center.