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The New York Folklore Society has taken a leadership role in the area of folklore collections and archives.



Archival Services

Folklorists and other cultural specialists and dedicated members of communities and groups have been bringing to light an enormous range of cultural expressions that have been little known outside the communities—sometimes even the families—where they were created. By recording stories and songs, interviewing the bearers of family and community traditions, documenting festivals, family and community rituals, performances, objects of beauty and use and the like on tape or film, and writing about their observations, they have been creating a unique and priceless documentary heritage of people’s living traditions. This documentation can and should become an enduring resource for generations to come.

But documentary heritage is a delicate and fragile thing, far more so than the traditions it documents. If not properly cared for (preserved and appropriately stored), paper, film, tape, or computer disks can deteriorate and become useless or be destroyed altogether. And if not properly administered (labeled, filed, cataloged, described) precious documents and the information contained in them can be lost for good, because no one knows they exist or where they are.


With funding from the Documentary Heritage Program in 2005–2006, we have expanded our technical assistance to include direct support for folklore collections and archives by “circuit rider” archivists, who consult and assist in processing folklore collections throughout the state. Receiving archival support in this grant year was the Alan Lomax Archives, Buffalo State College’s Vietnam-era veterans collection, City Lore, Crandall Library Center for Folklife, Long Island Traditions, and the Madison County Historical Society, as well as the folklore collections of the Arts Council for Greater Rochester, the Dutchess County Arts County, and the Tri-County Arts Council. We worked with archivists Pamela Cooley, Nancy Johnson, Albert Fowler, and Heidi Bamford. A one-day Symposium on New Archival and Ethnographic Techniques brought together folklorists and archivists to discuss archival issues relating to folklore collections on Friday, June 9, 2006.
Cover of  Working with Folk Materials in New York State

Cover of Folklore in Archives
Beginning in 1991, with funding from the New York State Documentary Heritage Program, (DHP) the New York Folklore Society began a project to assess the condition and location of archives throughout the state.

In Phase II, a folklorist-archivist dialogue (1992–1993) focused on interdisciplinary exchanges between folklorists and archivists and the development of a manual, Working with Folk Materials in New York State: A Manual for Folklorists and Archivists, that would encourage folklorists in the field to document their collections in ways that would be efficient, following a standard format.

In the third phase of the archives project, archivist/folklorist teams surveyed the entire state, region by region, beginning in the Capital District, North Country, and New York City (1994–95), then Central and Western New York (1995–96), and Southeastern New York and Long Island (1996–97).

In Phase IV, recognizing the particular and challenging problems archivists face when dealing with folklore collections, NYFS developed and published Folklore in Archives: A Guide to Describing Folklore and Folklife Materials, a cataloging manual for use in New York and throughout the country.

Phase V concerned the statewide access to folklore archives. Two archivist/folklorist teams provided expert guidance and facilitation for the development and implementation of plans to make 10 especially significant folklore collections accessible to community and scholarly researchers statewide.

. . In this far-reaching project, the New York Folklore Society has created a real BUZZ in the folk arts community about archives— along with the means to take action. They have also created an echoing buzz in the archives community about the value of folk collections, and they have given archivists the knowledge and tools to meet effectively the needs of these unique and valuable collections.
1999 Award for Outstanding Support of Archives form the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York

Preservation and Access to Sound Recordings
In 2000, through a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts/New York Council for the Arts Technology Initiative, the New York Folklore Society explored the situation surrounding the preservation and access to sound recordings in New York State. Our work with archivists and sound recording specialists has led us to develop a proactive role in the preservation of sound recordings and the creation of digital access copies. Following the landmark symposium “Folk Heritage Collections in Crisis” at the American Folklife Center in December, 2000, the New York Folklore Society pursued work in this area.

“The New York Folklore Society’s publications on folklore and archives have been important tools for staff, particularly as increasing precision was required by the creation of bibliographic records for the collection in the University Libraries’ and national online catalogs. These publications have also offered insight into future acquisitions considerations and decisions by the department and evaluation of rights issues.”
—From How the Norman Studer Papers Came to the University at Albany by Amy C. Schindler, in the Fall-Winter 2003 VOICES membership magazine.

READ Nancy Johnson’s advice about applying for Documentary Heritage Grants in her Archival Questions column of Voices.



Oral History Collection
& Ethnographic
Documentation Services

Find out about our instructional workshops


In nearly every community there are individuals who care passionately about and work hard to collect or safeguard the cultural and historical documentation of their communities and groups. Often such people, known in the contemporary folklore field as “community scholars,” are very knowledgeable about local history and culture and intimately connected with their communities, but they are usually untrained in planning and carrying out the systematic collection and stewardship of records. Furthermore, they are unlikely to be attuned to the nature and importance of folklore records—the documentation of their communities’ expressive culture.

With support from the Documentary Heritage Program in 1998, the New York Folklore Society initiated a community documentation project in August of that year, with training and mentoring initiated in the Finnish community first, followed by the Hungarian community in late 1998 and early 1999. Additional support was granted in April, 1999, by the Central New York Library Resources Council for continuation of the Finger Lakes project to specifically survey institutional records of the Finnish community such as the Finn Hall and Spencer Cooperative, and to produce a guide.

SEE A Survey of Finnish and Hungarian Archival Resources in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State.

Two New York City Projects (the Latino community of East Harlem and the African American community of Brooklyn) were initiated in 1999.

The community scholars of the Urban Think Tank (UTT) began a project in 2001 with the New York Folklore Society to document Hip Hop, identifying collections that were important to the development of the Hip Hop culture. Archivist Nancy Johnson describes this project in her Voices column, Documenting the New: Hip Hop as Archives.

The collection summaries that Nancy produced are available here.

Dancing at Camp Woodland
July 14, 2012
9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
University at Albany SUNY
Campus Center Assembly Hall
1400 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY
Folk Festival
July 15, 2012
1-4:00 p.m.
Parish Hall
Phoenicia, NY

Activities included:

•The Norman Studer Papers were available for review, including Camp Woodland archive: materials such as correspondence, diaries, student writings, audio recordings, 16mm films, photographs, and an extraordinary collection of reel-to-reel audiotapes capturing local Catskill informant interviews and regional and national folk singers performing at Camp Woodland folk festivals.

Oral history interviews of Camp Woodland alumni by Ellen McHale, New York Folklore Society, and Dr. Gerald Zahavi, University at Albany Professor of History, who will be recording alumni memories of camp.

•Panel Discussion on the Norman Studer Vision of a Living Democracy

•Panel discussion of historical period that Camp Woodland existed, the oral history/folklore of the Catskill area and the role of the SUNY archive in preserving the Camp Woodland Archive.

•Sessions to sing the songs collected in the Catskills and other songs sung at Camp Woodland.

NEW YORK FOLKLORE SOCIETY ♦ 129 Jay Street ♦ Schenectady, NY 12305 ♦ 518.346.7008 ♦ Fax 518.346.6617 ♦ nyfs@nyfolklore.org