Palos Verdes Library District: Bringing the Oral History Program into the Digital Age

Palos Verdes Library District: Bringing the Oral History Program into the Digital Age

Monique Sugimoto, Archivist and Local History Librarian, Palos Verdes Library District 

The Palos Verdes Library District’s (PVLD) oral history program started with the 1976 Bicentennial celebration and a desire to capture the voices of our own community’s forefathers. Since then, with changes in technology, we have seen an evolution in the way we record, archive and disseminate the voices of our community. A timeline of the PVLD oral history program illustrates how our program has evolved. 

Origins of the PLVD Oral History Program

The first PLVD recordings, in the 1970s, were made on audio cassette tapes.  Transcripts for these recordings were not created until the 1980s, and while they brought another mode of accessing the content, the cassettes and transcripts mostly sat on the shelf and were infrequently used.

During these early years, neither the transcripts nor the audio recordings were included in the Library’s catalog.  Patrons learned of them only by visiting the Local History Center and speaking with the local history librarian or docent. 

Since then rapid technological developments, including the creation of the Internet, have changed all that.  

Use of Digitial Technology for Preservation and Access

In the 1990s, a preservation project digitized oral histories onto CDs, and set the stage for the next large change in PVLD’s oral history program. 

In the early 2000s, the Local History Center posted the names of the interviewees along with a brief synopsis of the interview’s content on its webpage.  The webpage allowed patrons to learn of the recordings without having to physically visit the Local History Center.  

This effort was followed by a project to enter the interviews in the Library’s main catalog, which also made the records available through the OCLC’s WorldCat, allowing us to reach a worldwide audience. 

Using the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS), developed by the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries, the Local History Center has been synchronizing the digitized audio with the transcripts and indexing the interviews.  Once the process is complete, a link to the synchronized data is made available in the MARC record for the interview in the Library’s catalog.  The links take users to a dedicated website where they can listen to and search through the transcript and audio files.  

OHMS has allowed us to bring the voices of the narrator out of the confines of the Local History Center and to let patrons listen to them wherever they are.  

Engaging with Community through ListeningStation

In 2016, the Library participated in “California Listens,” a project sponsored by the California State Library and Berkeley-based StoryCenter, to help build the capacity of California libraries to record and use recorded conversations.  

With additional training in digital storytelling and a specially designed iPad called the ListeningStation, we have added a new component to our oral history program that allows us to capture and share audio and video recordings and easily manage oral histories, conversation and interviews in a single tool.  

The ListeningStation allows us to download recordings and even share them immediately with the participants.  Future improvements to this will include a transcription capability, making distribution, organization, transcription and editing of recordings seamless.  

More than anything, however, the ease of use of the ListeningStation has allowed us to engage with our community in novel and creative ways.  From digital storytelling workshops in which community members write, record and create their own videos, to recording conversations and interviews on themed topics such as immigration or “women & power,” we are introducing a new mode of story gathering and sharing with our community.  

As we move further into the digital age, the Local History Center is looking forward to discovering what lies ahead with further advancements in digital technologies.


Below interviewees are Mr. and Mrs. Kwon; Interviewer is Joe Lambert of Story Center; Rosa Kwon Easton, daughter of the interviewees, at left. Photo by Monique Sugimoto.