This is a guest blog post by Michael Adams, Local Studies Librarian, Ku-ring-gai Council
In 2016, Ku-ring-gai Library applied for, and received, a grant from the NSW Seniors Festival to conduct a video oral history project for Ku-ring-gai residents over 60. The project, titled Tell Your Story, took place during Seniors Week in March 2017. 16 interviews were filmed, uncovering a wide variety of stories and experiences. Interview highlights included Gwen, a 92-year-old Gordon resident who has lived her entire life on the same street; Michael, a Polish-born local who came out to Australia on a soccer sponsorship and who played for the Socceroos in the 1960s; and Lydia, who escaped from the Ukraine with her family during the Second World War after spending time in a German concentration camp.
The project was conceived as a collaborative endeavour, with Library staff encouraged to take part regardless of their position. Under the guidance of the Local Studies Librarian, staff contributed in a number of ways: conducting interviews; selecting participants; transporting interviewees to and from the Library; and in organising the launch event for the ensuing exhibition. The enthusiasm for the project across the Library service was most pleasing, and helped to foster a very real sense of team.
Interviews were recorded over a four-day period at Gordon Library during Seniors Week in March, with one of the Library study rooms used for filming. After completing the interviews, the audio files were sent out for transcription (completed externally by Sydney Transcription Services). Each participant was given a copy to clear up any errors in the transcription.
With the audio and video equipment already held by the Library, grant money was spent on transcription, the printing of exhibition material, catering for the exhibition launch, and on video editing software.
Early on in the planning of this project, it was determined that the audio would be recorded separately to the video. This decision was made for two reasons: to ensure the best possible sound was achieved; and to enable the interviews to be accessible as audio-only files, and thus go into the Library’s regular oral history collection.
The Library was in possession of a Canon Legria HF M31 camcorder. Although this model is seven years old, after a comparison with the specifications of newer model cameras (RRP $1000-$1500) it was deemed to have all the features necessary for completing the project. As such, the purchase of a new camera was deemed to be an unnecessary use of grant and/or Library funds. After the completion of the project, this opinion stands, and the Library would be happy to use this camera going forward. Similarly, the Library already held audio recording equipment: the Zoom H6 recorder (RRP $600). This is an excellent product, and industry standard for the recording of oral history.
The Library allocated grant funds to the purchase of video editing software. The chosen product was Magix Movie Edit Pro Premium (RRP $260). This software was chosen as it was of a professional standard, compatible with PC, and did not require an Adobe-style annual licence to purchase. After using the product in merging the audio and video files, and to create a 30-minute film to accompany the exhibition (see below), this software is recommended. It is perhaps less intuitive than one would like, and requires some time to get used to, but offers a wide variety of effects and features to aid the editing process.
History Week in September 2017 was earmarked as a suitable occasion to launch the project. This gave the Local Studies Librarian almost six months to turn the interviews into a visually enticing exhibition to be displayed at Gordon Library. At the interview stage, each participant was asked to bring along some photographs to give a visual snapshot of their lives: these were scanned by the Library and returned. These images, in addition to photographs from the Library’s collection, formed the basis of the exhibition, accompanying themed interview excerpts. In cases where the photographs received did not match the stories being told, the Local Studies Librarian reached out to interviewees for additional images to display.
The exhibition was launched with an event hosted by Mayor of Ku-ring-gai, Jennifer Anderson. Interviewees were invited to bring along family and friends, and were each given a presentation copy of their interview, containing video, audio and printed formats. The exhibition launch also included a screening of the 30-minute film produced by the Local Studies Librarian. This film, entitled Tell Your Story: Life in Ku-ring-gai, is available to watch on YouTube. It was created using the Magix editing software, with interview highlights, curated around particular themes, set to music. Care was taken to ensure the music used was not in copyright. To this end, the Local Studies Librarian selected pre-1922 music pieces, and then found licence-free performances of the chosen pieces on a website called MusOpen. Acknowledgement of the performances was given with a credit sequence at the end of the film.
The reception to this project has been tremendous, with the enthusiasm of the Library staff who participated matched by the candour and openness of the interviewees. In the aftermath, the Library has received uniformly positive feedback from those who took part, strengthening our belief that this was a project of wide-ranging community benefit in addition to providing the Library with a wealth of important historical material. The project has also drawn interest from local media outlets.
The Tell Your Story project will now be a regular part of the Library’s annual events calendar, and will continue to be held during Seniors Week. With the equipment already held by the Library, ongoing costs are minimal, comprising only staff resources and the procurement of transcripts. Planning is already underway for the 2018 instalment of Tell Your Story, with twice as many staff members as in 2017 registering to take part in the interview process.
Being a community-focused organisation, it is important that the Library identifies opportunities to engage different sections of the Ku-ring-gai community. A project like Tell Your Story highlights the innovative and creative work done by public libraries, and, even more importantly, provides senior citizens with a voice and an opportunity to ensure their stories are heard and retained.