Those longing for a taste of yesteryear can now simply turn on their computers and listen to a collection of digital interviews with “old-timers” as they create a rich portrait of local history, courtesy of a new audio collection at the Elmira library. The project is a partnership of the Region of Waterloo Library and the Region of Waterloo Archives. Originally started in 1974, the oral history preservation was a joint project between the library, the Woolwich Township and Canada Trust.
“Former librarian Mary Anne Cressman took on the project knowing that a lot of old-timers had some great stories and she did not want to lose sight of that,” said Sheryl Tilley, supervisor of the Elmira library.
Tilley found 40 cassette tapes in the bottom of a cabinet in 2010 and discovered they contained interviews with local citizens. Four of those tapes had degraded and were unusable for the digital project as they were not held in an archival setting.
Recognizing the need to make the oral history of the town available to as many people as possible, Tilley contacted regional archivist Lesley Webb and requested to host the interviews on Archives Online, a descriptive database of records held in the archives.
Working together, the library and the archives created online access to the interviews for everyone to enjoy.
“For the first time these interviews are available around the world because of the digital format. So if someone is doing a genealogy study and happen to live in France they can access this information online,” said Tilley. “We have taken Elmira around the world.”
The digitization of the tapes was possible thanks to community funds donated in the memory of Cressman, who passed away in July 2010.
“This project was near and dear to (Cressman’s) heart and I am glad we were able to take the next step with it and allow more people to hear the oral history of Elmira,” said Tilley.
To listen to the voices of Elmira’s past, users can visit the library’s online catalogue, accessible from the home page www.rwl.library.on.ca, or through Archives Online at http://row.minisisinc.com. When searching the library’s catalogue, simply type ‘oral history interview’ in the search box.
CDs of the recordings are also available for purchase through the Regional Archives by calling 519-575-4757, ext. 3027. Any money raised from the CD purchases will go into transcribing the interviews and anyone interested in volunteering their time to transcribe the records are asked to contact the Elmira library.