Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Library of Congress American Folklife Center: Fort Valley State College Folk Festival Collection

1. Collection Principles
Even though the look of the site is really html old school, and the information is arranged kind of awkwardly through an unnecessary series of links, this collection is one of the best I have viewed yet this semester in terms of the information it provides and the content is great. The site offers a paragraph about the collection of song recordings represented from one of, if not the, first folk music festival organized solely by African Americans, the Fort Valley State College Folk Festival, which was held from 1938 to 1943. If a user scrolls down, there are two helpful sections with a list of links, one of which is "understanding the collection," which when clicked gives the best overview of the collection principles I've seen so far. It gives a detailed history of the collection, including original recording media, who did each of the recordings, the government program that funded the ethnographic project for which the song recordings were collected. The collecting policy for the digital collection is very clearly stated as being all 104 of the surviving recordings. They really couldn't have offered any more information that one might need on this section of the collection.
2. Object Characteristics
The recordings are easy to browse by recording title, performer, and keyword, and there is a search box. There is a link under the "using the collection" section of the introductory page called "building the collection" that helps users understand what they will hear when they use the collection by offering a good description of how the audio recordings were digitized and noting that scratchiness and noise were not cleaned up at all in the digitization process. This also helps users authenticate the recordings, as the institution states forthrightly that they are as they were originally. The sound files themselves are awesome. There is also a useful link on the page that opens when you click on a particular recording called "Information about audio playback" that tells about the pros and cons of various media players (quicktime, windows media player, and so on) for using the collection and detailed instructions on how to get and use them. I used quicktime, and all of the files I opened played great. It's a really interesting, really neat collection in terms of content. Also, almost everything on the page that opens when you click the link to a specific recording is a link itself, so you can easily navigate to all the songs by that performer by clicking his or her name, for example, or the "collected by" name to get all of that ethnographer's recordings without having to go back to the search page.
3. Metadata
This collection is great on metadata. As I stated above, there is plenty of information on the history and scope of the collection, plenty on the digitization process, and there is a separate link on the intro page under "using the collection" about the rights issue, and even an interesting part where the collection creators address the "orphan works" issue we have encountered in class by stating that they tried repeatedly to contact one of the people whose work appears but that they were unsuccessful to date and welcome any contact by him or his family in the future. On each object, when you click the sound file's link, there is information about that particular recording, including performer, date, collected by, "notes" in which the musical genre is listed, format (sound recording), Library of Congress call number, and an identifier.
This is probably useful to a variety of people, like regular interested folks, middle school or high school history, social studies, or music teachers, and probably even could be used by scholars because there is so much metadata and the recordings are of a high quality. A music historian or anthropologist could easily do a project or a quick content analysis paper on what they found here. After looking over the collection and listening to some of the tunes, I was not left wondering what purpose the collection could possibly serve, as I have with others in the past.

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