July 6, 2017 Library Begins Release of Occupational Folklife Interviews

Port of Houston Subject of First Project, Others to Follow From Across the U.S.

Contact: Gayle Osterberg (202)707-0020
Website: Working the Port of Houston

The Library of Congress today announced it has put online the first installment of a major oral history project documenting the diverse culture of contemporary workers around the United States. The Occupational Folklife Project (OFP), a multi-year initiative of the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress, launches today online with a collection of interviews from the Port of Houston.

The “Working the Port of Houston” collection features interviews recorded during 2011-2012 by folklorists at the Houston Arts Alliance, who documented river pilots, marine firefighters, longshoremen, tugboat operators, port engineers, union organizers, owners of port-related businesses and other workers who keep one of America’s busiest ports humming. The interviews are supported with digitized field notes and photographs.

“Working the Port” was made possible by an Archie Green Fellowship from the AFC. These research fellowships have been awarded to recipients for similar documentation projects across the United States over the past seven years.

Other projects expected to be available online before year’s end include interviews with hairdressers and beauty-shop owners, big-top and circus workers, home health care workers in Oregon and New York, ironworkers in the Upper Midwest and “ranger lore” collected from workers in the National Park Service.  

As AFC Director Betsy Peterson notes, “With the launch of the American Folklife Center’s innovative Occupational Folklife Project, researchers and members of the public will have direct access to hundreds of hours of fieldwork. They will be able to hear the actual interviews and see fieldwork images that previously could be accessed only by visiting the Library in Washington.”

The OFP began in 2010 as a multi-year collecting project to document the culture of contemporary American workers during an era of economic and social transition.

To date, dozens of fieldworkers across the United States have recorded more than 600 audio and audiovisual oral history interviews with workers in scores of trades, industries, crafts and professions.

The interviews, which average 50-60 minutes, feature workers discussing their current jobs and formative work experiences, reflecting on their training, on-the-job challenges and rewards, aspirations and occupational communities.

The OFP joins other seminal AFC fieldwork projects from decades past on the Library’s website. The Library recently began transitioning 17 field survey projects AFC staff conducted from 1977 through 1997 into a new, mobile-friendly format. The first collections in the new format feature a wide range of surveys from Chicago, Montana and South Central Georgia. Others will follow during the next 18 months.

The OFP is among collections newly available online during the past year. Others include the papers of U.S. presidents Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and William Henry Harrison; the papers of Sigmund Freud; a collection of more than 4,600 newspapers from Japanese-American internment camps; a collection of web-based comic books; and 25,000 fire insurance maps from communities across America, the first installment of 500,000 that will be accessible online.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.


PR 17-100
ISSN 0731-3527