Bridging the Gap with the Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony (ALOT)


By Mary Corbett, ALOT Archivist

The Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony collects, digitizes, and makes available online oral testimonies from people who presently or at one time identified as lesbian, and is supported by the Simon Fraser University Library. As part of our recent SSHRC Insight Grant, we are undertaking a study entitled “Bridging the Gap,” which aims to explore methods that an institutionally-hosted online archives (like ALOT) can employ in order to better involve and serve its community members; we’re particularly interested in better engaging our non-specialist community. Our project further investigates Anthony Cocciolo’s suggestion that building an online environment where users are “first class entities in the system” creates an “architecture of participation” that is welcoming and community-building. [1]

Since we are an online archives, our users have direct and instant access to the audio and visual oral histories that we host online. Some of our content is restricted to researchers only, but the majority of ALOT’s content is available at the click of a button. But, the ALOT site’s current form was not designed for interactivity: users can watch and/or listen to the content and read transcripts, but not much else. So, we are looking into tools and functions for our Drupal site that will allow users not only to view content, but also to be active in contributing and annotating content. We want the site to embrace many of the characteristics of a community archives, as much as any institutionally-hosted site can: we want to value and involve our community members’ knowledge, and to encourage openness, participation, and collaboration. We hope to achieve this by exploiting the unique possibilities enabled by an online environment.

We are currently in the early stages of planning and implementing changes to the site, and we are receiving invaluable assistance from SFU’s new Digital Humanities Innovation Lab. Soon, users will be able to create profiles on ALOT’s site, so that they can become visible members of the community. Eventually, users will be able to upload their own oral histories directly to the site (with requirements for necessary permissions and consent), and to participate in free-tagging the content, for classification and findability. We are also working to make content on the site more shareable on social media; to develop our collection agreements & policies so that they can accommodate a variety of scenarios; and to find ways to encourage direct interaction with the aural and visual—we are hoping to eventually move some of our efforts away from creating transcriptions and toward directly indexing the audio/video (if we can find a way to do so!).

I am eager to see how our plans play out as the project progresses, both technically and with the groups we will survey as part of the study (our first information session is on November 13th in Nelson, BC!). Ultimately, the project’s goal is to engage with and develop ALOT’s connection to the broader community, by creating an online space where members, both specialists and non-specialists, can connect and collaborate.

[1] Cocciolo, Anthony. 2010. “Can Web 2.0 Enhance Community Participation in an Institutional Repository? The Case of PocketKnowledge at Teachers College, Columbia University.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 36 (4): 304-12. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2010.05.004.