Oral tradition

The management

The work of management of oral materials in libraries is a task not yet entirely defined, and having many drawbacks. While specialized archives have concisely defined tools, libraries are severely deficient.

For starters, it is necessary to write a summary for each interview tape (in addition to the transcription of the whole). Information can be taken from the transcripts themselves. Summaries quickly show the contained information. They are important if we are going to keep the information in an archive or a library, giving the workers and the users an idea of the general contents.

When managing all this collection, it is important to keep the order. In principle, it is necessary to maintain a list of tapes/records that includes relevant information (numbering, names, dates...). Supplementary information can also be recorded, as whether the tape/record is a copy or an original, if there is a signed consent, if it was transcribed, translated and verified, etc.

On the other hand, a file can be created for each interviewee, which is a good way to organize the information. Informed consents, pre-interviews, pre-interview comments, annotations, translations, ideas, tape summaries, transcripts, letters, notes, maps, photos, clippings can be grouped in this way.

From the librarian point of view, the classification of the material is complicated: a single sound support can contain several testimonies which, in turn, may include several themes of a very different nature. The indexing of content is also complex, considering that, among current norms, there are no descriptors that categorize realities other than Western. A concrete example is the indigenous and rural worldviews, whose description in Euro-American terms is difficult to achieve without sacrificing much of the content. In these cases, the use of free language or the construction of own thesauri is advisable.

Spatial organization is not free of problems and possible confusion: each sound document will have one (or several) written counterparts, which should be physically linked, but which should also be spatially organized according to the existing intellectual classification codes.

Dissemination is perhaps one of the major drawbacks, since, although we always work with the express authorization of the interviewees, in many cases cultural collections belonging to societies and groups with rights over their knowledge: diffuse, ill-defined, barely recognized rights. Therefore, be very careful when requesting authorization, specifying exactly and in detail the use that will be given to these materials, and informing users of them –in libraries and archives– that such information belongs to certain individuals, and that their rights of authorship must be recognized.

Finally, it is necessary to consider the problems associated with the conservation of materials. Typically, in developing countries, tapes and paper documents are used, elements that are extremely sensitive to variations in humidity, dust and temperature. The use of new digital technologies will, over time, eliminate these disadvantages and improve, to a large extent, the testimonies collected. Multimedia provide enormous storage space on small, easy-to-preserve surfaces. They also allow the rapid and safe reproduction of the contents, and their dissemination, movement and publication through electronic communication channels. But perhaps the most important thing is that these elements facilitate the inclusion of high quality sound records accompanied by the entire gestural and social context, which gives the document an added value. The possibility of including transcriptions and translations, reports, history and other complementary materials in the same medium definitively indicates the role that multimedia will play in the near future, when the technologies for its production and use are available to all researchers and centers documenting orality.

It should be noted that few curricula in Library Schools include mandatory resource management and oral records. Without such education, coherent programs related to the management of oral traditions are unlikely to be pursued.

When considering a working agenda on library and oral tradition, the following points should be taken into account:

  • What roles should be played in relation to oral tradition, and what initiatives should be taken?
  • What instruments, methodologies and techniques do we need to acquire or develop to make oral resource management viable?
  • What elements do we need to incorporate into libraries? What strategies should be designed to train human resources?
  • What links should be made between libraries and classical research centers (historical, sociological, anthropological) to harness resources and share knowledge, and design joint strategies?
  • To what extent can new information technologies be included in the work of collecting and disseminating oral documents? What training is necessary? What structures?
  • What connections should be made with radios and Internet networks for an optimal dissemination of contents?
  • What steps should be taken in relation to the copyright of oral records? What has been defined? What remains to be defined?
  • What is the role of popular, public and community libraries in this process? What are the connections to be made?

The sum of the options outlined –brief examples of a reality yet to be discovered– shows that there is a great pending work, loaded with problems to be solved. And this task is the responsibility of information professionals, current managers of human memory: it is their duty to recover, preserve and disseminate, in a clean, balanced and secure way, the memories of millions of human beings who neither had nor have the possibility to codify them in writing to survive their disappearance.