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National Folklore Archives Initiative

The AFS has received final approval from the National Endowment for the Humanities of its proposal to undertake the second, 2015-2017 phase of the National Folklore Archives Initiative (NFAI).

The NFAI, supported by funding from the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program of the NEH's Division of Preservation and Access, will over a period of years document and provide access to information about folklore archival collections held by folklore programs at academic institutions, community-based cultural and ethnic organizations, non-profit organizations, and state government-based arts and cultural agencies in the United States.

Folklore archival collections—unpublished multi-format collections of materials created in the field that document traditional cultural expressions and knowledge—comprise one of our nation’s most valuable cultural resources, but scholars, public humanists, teachers, students, and community members can access these materials only with difficulty.

The purpose of the NFAI is to make the intellectual content of folklore archival collections widely accessible by addressing four major challenges:

1. These collections exist in a wide variety of institutions, many of them not formal archives or libraries, and thus there has been no systematic national accounting of the universe of folklore archival repositories. This universe needs to be surveyed, in part so that its least-well-known members can be initially described as a first step toward making their collections accessible.

2. In order to make these collections accessible, the repositories that hold them must use shared cataloging templates designed for the needs of multi-format folklore archival collections.

3. Repository- and collection-level information about the broadest range of these resources needs to be incorporated into a national union catalog to make them accessible to scholars, educators, and members of the public.

4. Individual institutions in the field of folklore studies do not by themselves have the means to build and maintain a national infrastructure to coordinate this work.

The NFAI project includes five interrelated activities (all overseen by project directors Steve Green of the Western Folklife Center, Andy Kolovos of the Vermont Folklife Center, and Tim Lloyd of AFS, and carried out by library and archival specialists from around the country):

1. Cataloging development: We have designed a customizable cataloging template and descriptive structure (with a user handbook), interoperable with existing content standards, to define the core elements needed to implement simplified content guidelines for folklore archival collections.

2. Database development: We have developed an online database that incorporates the cataloging template and descriptive structure just mentioned. We and our archival partners are populating this database with data from the survey and test cataloging activities (#s 3-4) described below. Ultimately, we will re-package the database to become the initial version of an open-access, Web-based resource of information about folklore archival repositories and collections across the US.

3. Survey: We have completed a national outreach effort to gather data about the folklore archival collections, many of them "hidden,” of a universe of several hundred folklore programs at academic institutions, community-based cultural and ethnic organizations, non-profit organizations, and state government-based cultural agencies across the US as a first step toward improving their preservation, discoverability, and access, and ultimately enabling their use and study through participation with the NFAI.

4. Test cataloging: We are providing modest financial support to 25 folklore archival repositories across the country (including those at academic institutions, non-profit organizations, and state government agencies) to catalog, at the collection level, a selection of their folklore archival collections, using our database and under our guidance.

5. Sustainability planning: We are developing an organizational infrastructure to manage, govern, support, and sustain the NFAI for the long term, as we expand the reach of its database, engage and train more repositories in cataloging, and explore options for new collaborations.

For more information on the NFAI effort, please contact AFS Executive Director Tim Lloyd.

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American Folklore SocietySister Society: SIEF
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