How To Create A Professional Oral History Listening Station on a Budget

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by Jennifer Abraham Cramer

Go ahead and imagine that infomercial voice: “Are you in a rut with your exhibition audio listening station?  Have you tried to display your oral history collections for patrons by using jumbled together technology?  Have you tried clunky computers hidden in kiosks, hair-crushing earphones hooked up to laptops, iPads and mp3 players you have to check out to patrons, tablets hooked to TV monitors, and QR Codes that require smartphones and good lighting and excellent network connections? Do you visit state-of-the-art museums like the National Holocaust Museum or the National WWII Museum and sit, filled with both awe and envy as you enjoy their high-tech, artistic listening stations, thinking to yourself, ‘We have awesome content, too.  If only we had awesome funds?’  Well, suffer no longer, my fellow oral historians and exhibitions coordinators on a budget!  Technology has caught up to our needs!  No longer do we have to suck it up and make do with consumer technology while daydreaming of a fancy museum experience.  Finally, and in the nick of time, the tablet has converged with the large-screen computer to evolve into the magnificent All-in-One Computer.  Viola!  Enter the affordable and professional listening station suitable for all of your oral history exhibitions needs.  What would normally cost thousands of dollars to build-out, assemble, and program is now a fraction of the cost.” [end infomercial voice]

Last Spring Special Collections Exhibitions Coordinator, Leah Jewett, came to me and asked me to look into a permanent and professional way to create a listening station for the exhibit spaces in Hill Memorial Library.  After daydreaming about expensive installations and kiosks and worrying that we would have to settle for 10 inch tablets or yet another “hidden” computer option, I got frustrated and googled “largest tablet ever.”  And wouldn’t you know it, the All-In-One touchscreen computer had been recently born and C-Net was all abuzz.  Once the hardware was procured, we then got to work with a curation team gathering interview excerpts from the University Athletics oral history collection and images from the University Archives photograph collection.  We added in the precision expertise of two audio engineers.  Stirred in a little elbow grease from Digital Services’ on-site computer analyst to create the interface, added a hefty helping of amazing designs from Exhibitions and Oral History, and poof!  We had an affordable, professional oral history listening station featuring the digital aspect of the “Saturday Night In Tiger Stadium” exhibit.

What do you need to accomplish this?  A supportive administration, an exhibit space, about $800-2,500 for an all-in-one touchscreen computer, fantastic oral history content, a plethora of intriguing images and/or video, and someone who can design and/or program a patron-friendly user interface for the touchscreen monitor.  Here at LSU Libraries Special Collections, we are fortunate and were able to get support from Interim Dean of the Libraries Elaine Smyth, Special Collections Head, Jessica Lacher-Feldman, and we assembled a team of enthusiastic staff to put this together.  Thanks goes to Leah Jewett, Barry Cowan, Erin Hess, Billy Mitchell, Kyle Tanglao, Wyatt Winnie, Emily Nemens, Gabe Harrell, Louise Cheetham, James Abbott, Michelle Melancon, Brian Melancon, Rebecca Stephens, and Katie Blanchard.  A large debt of gratitude also goes to the Williams Center donor endowment for the purchase of the touchscreen.

Word of this type of oral history listening station is spreading here in Louisiana and can already be seen in use in other venues.  For example, the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum, one of the Center’s newest partners, features three all-in-one computer listening stations in their recently opened museum.

We hope that if you’re on campus that you’ll come by and enjoy the Lecture Hall exhibition, “Saturday Night in Tiger Stadium: Reflections on 120 Years of Football.”


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