Sowing the Seeds: Kinsley Library's Oral History Project

Why was I thinking about the Library Edge technology benchmarks while watching a Super Bowl ad? The connection was sparked by the RAM trucks farmer commercial. Here in Kansas, pride in farmers and their work is something people think and talk about on a regular basis. It was still terrific, however, not only to see the ad, but also to find out how warmly people responded to it.  It made me think of a pretty great digital content project about farmers that the Kinsley Library (KS) has been creating and making available.

Libraries Providing Digital Content

The second Library Edge benchmark represents a role that libraries are playing to varying degrees: “Libraries provide access to relevant digital content and enable community members to create their own digital content.”  Kinsley is a city in and the county seat of Edwards County, Kansas. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 1,457. The Kinsley Library’s Tractorcade oral history project is an impressive example of a small rural library creating and providing access to relevant digital content.


In February 1979, a caravan of farmers on tractors traveled from across the country at 14 MPH to Washington DC to advocate for fair prices. Kansas farmers were among the 30,000 who demonstrated. Kinsley’s oral history project captures the story of 14 people living in Edwards County who were involved with the movement. Joan Weaver, Kinsley Library Director, says,

The interviewees… share their stories of a journey which was plagued with blizzards and clashes with police. This nearly forgotten grassroots protest was an important and impressive event accomplished through pure determination and grit."

Creating the Oral Histories

The 14 oral histories are accessible on the library website, where complete audio recordings with transcriptions, photographs, documents, speeches, and a slide show of images can also be accessed. Joan created the videos using a Flip camera, Windows Movie Maker, and PowerDirector. Audacity was used for the transcripts. When asked how she gained the skills necessary for the project, Joan’s response is,

I have gained knowledge as I went along as I needed it.  This keeps it from being overwhelming when you are as technology-challenged as I am.  The wonderful SWKLS technology staff facilitates everything that I need to know from how to scan, make digital audios, create movies and get them on You Tube, and make 8' poster displays.  They work with me, one skill at a time as needed.  They also will be adding the technology to increase our server storage and teach me how to do all the new things that will go along with that.”

What are the challenges encountered while working on the project?

Joan says the challenges of oral history projects include time and money, 

Recording the interview is the easy part.  To make the interviews accessible, they must be transcribed and that cost money, which is what we spent our Kansas Humanities Grant on mainly.  It cost us $80 to $100 per interview.  Then I would proof the transcription by listening to the interview and making corrections.  This would take 2 or 3 hours.  Then the transcription was given to the participant to also proof.  I had a large time commitment in scanning photos from the participant collections.  With this project, I also scanned speeches and testimonies given back in 1978-79 and newspaper articles, which had been clipped and saved as the tractors drove across the country and in D.C.  I scanned bumper stickers and trade buttons.  Our most recent challenge is to increase our ability to store or backup all of these files on our server.  This will cost about $2,500 which our Library Friends group will be covering."

What are the successes and rewards related to the project?

When asked about the successes and rewards  related to the project, Joan replied,

Wow, where do I start...

I meet and get to know the most interesting people.  Everyone has a story and this group of folks were no exceptions.  Jack Wolfe, who at age 96 drove himself to the library for his interview, is a great guy.  When I saw him, I had to ask if he was a WWII vet and, of course, he was.  So I decided we needed to cover more of his life than the tractorcade.  Imagine how much fun it was to hear him say, "I was about 7 years old when I rode in an airplane with Charles A. Lindbergh!"  Then Peggy Arensman casually remarked that on one trip to DC she talked to the president.  I stopped her and asked "President of what?' and she responded, "Well, of the United States."  She met with President Reagan and then VP George Bush several times. These stories pop up all of the time.

It is an honor and a privilege to focus intently on another person's life.  It is wonderful listening to and watching people as they think back over their life and realize that they did play a role in history and other people's lives.  When we highlight their life, it tells them that their contributions to the community or country were and are appreciated.  It brings such joy and pride to them.

It builds the community and relationships within the community.  People come together to share and learn about each other.  The feeling that fills the library on open house days is beyond words. We are the hub of the community. Families also appreciate the library recording these stories.  The interviews become treasured heirlooms. Oral histories are the elaborate French dessert in my job.  They are worth all of the time, effort and expense just to savor the chocolate."

The Kinsley Library's Tractorcade oral history project was funded in part by a grant from the Kansas Humanities Council.