Archives Captures National Award for FolkLife Web site

February 19, 2008

Archives Captures National Award for FolkLife Web site

VALDOSTA - The Archives Department at Valdosta State University was recently named the 2007 Brenda McCallum Prize winner by the American Folklore Society for the creation of the South Georgia FolkLife Web site.

The annual prize is given for exceptional work dealing with folklife archives or the collection, organization and management of ethnographic materials. It is typically awarded to an individual or an institution “for noteworthy products of documented activities that provide education, techniques or services to those who collect, organize and preserve folklife materials,” according to the American Folklore Society.

VSU’s Archives Department created the Web site to display the digitized information collected through the South Georgia FolkLife project, initiated in 1996 by Laurie Sommers, who sought to document the folk life of South Georgia and the 41-county VSU service area. Sommers conducted countless interviews and conducted extensive research until funding for the project ended in 2005. Deborah Davis and the VSU Archives Department stepped in to assist in securing two grants from the Georgia Council for the Arts in order to continue Sommers’s work and transform the project’s results into a digital collection.
“I remember searching for the work of a former folklore collector in a library during my research, but no one remembered anything about it,” Sommers said. “I really saw the writing on the wall then and knew we had to preserve the information, so it would not bear the same fate.”

Archives staff member Mike Holt, student assistant Stacey Wright and students from Media Services and many others worked tirelessly to digitize and catalogue the multitude of papers, notes, photographs, videos and outdated audiovisual materials, under the direction of Sommers, who planned the organization of content. A student working toward a Bachelor of Arts in History and Anthropology, Wright possessed the meticulousness needed to work with the paper artifacts. Holt, a graduate student working toward a master’s degree in History, created a new model for an online searchable database that truly simplifies information retrieval. Jack Fisher, acquisitions librarian for VSU, also assisted with the large databases.

“Visitors can actually access the artifacts and information in the database without having to visit the Archives Department at all,” Davis explained. “Of course, we would still love them to come in and access the whole collection, which is much larger than what is available online.”

James Hornsby of the VSU Art Department created the style and design, while Archives Web manager and student of Philosophy, John Taylor, worked within Hornsby’s template to build the site, which boasts about 500 pages. Separated into logical categories and exhibits, the information is easily accessed and attractively displayed. The site also holds more than 80 video and audio clips.

Sommers and Davis both said they hoped the site would materialize as a vital resource for educators, historians and others in search of information on South Georgia’s folklife. The hard work certainly paid off. The South Georgia FolkLife Collection now serves as the primary, if not solitary, Web presence for South Georgia folklore and history. The collection of materials preserves an era of human existence that might have been lost, if not for the dedication of Sommers, Davis and the Archives staff.

“We knew the collection would come (to Archives), but we didn’t know it would take on such a presence,” Davis said. “We are thrilled to have the collection in a safe, viable format that will go forward.”

The American Folklore Society took notice of the collection in 2007, it the Brenda McCallum Prize, given in honor of a late folklife archivist. In claiming this prize, the VSU Archives staff stands among the best in the country, including former winners from the University of California Los Angeles, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Smithsonian Institution and many others. In addition to a small cash prize, Sommers and the Archives staff will enjoy national recognition among their peers.

The South Georgia FolkLife collection is online at . For more information, call Davis at (229) 333-7150.