SJSU SLIS Lecturer Publishes Oral History Toolkit


Nancy MacKay, a lecturer at the San José State University School of Library and Information Science, recently published a five-volume set of books titled “The Community Oral History Toolkit.” The manual is aimed at researchers outside academia, such as community activists, museum professionals, filmmakers and local historians.

MacKay, who teaches courses on information retrieval and oral history for students enrolled in the school’s Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program, co-authored the books with Mary Kay Quinlan and Barbara W. Sommer. Their five-year collaboration began with a casual conversation over coffee at the 2007 Oral History Association conference.

“Almost all the literature about oral history methodology is intended for academic audiences,” MacKay said. “Community groups approach oral history differently, and there are no resources to guide them. Our goal was to create a ‘toolkit,’ a one-stop manual [five volumes] regarding best practices for community groups. It is a practical guide covering step-by-step processes, best practices, technology, and legal/ethical issues.”

MacKay is currently revising her earlier book, “Curating Oral Histories,” which was first published in 2007. As part of the revision process, she conducted a survey regarding the state of oral histories in repositories. That grew into a larger project, which she credits largely to her SLIS student research assistant Emily Vigor.

“Using commercial survey software, I posted it widely and received more than 350 responses from repositories around the world holding oral histories,” MacKay said. “I want to make this data set available to archives, oral history, cultural heritage, and preservation communities. I hope to work through our school’s Center for Information Research and Innovation (CIRI) to transfer the entire data set to an open access website available for future research.”

The project is still in the planning stage. “I’ll be presenting a paper on my survey at the 2013 Oral History Association conference in October, so I will be working on this project more intensely over the summer,” she said.

Also, MacKay will teach an oral history course (LIBR 284) at the information school this fall. “It is a fun class where we do an oral history project from beginning to end – much like the sequence in the ‘Community Oral History Toolkit,’” she said.

The Community Oral History Toolkit is available both in paperback and e-book formats through Left Coast Press Inc. Each volume in the set may also be purchased individually: