Photo of a Native American Woman from the State Library and Archives of Florida

State Library and Archives of Florida, Tallahassee, FL

Grant Program:
National Leadership Grant

Title of Project:
Digitizing the Florida Folklife Collection

Joanna (Jody) Norman



The State Library and Archives of Florida received a rich collection from the Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs that was virtually unusable because there were no finding aids for it. The collection consists of 150 cubic feet of administrative, survey, and fieldwork files, as well as tens of thousands of audio and video recordings, and photographs dating from the 1930s through 2001 of folk musicians, craftspersons, storytellers, folklife interpreters, and Native Americans. Parts of the collection were in obsolete formats and were at risk of deteriorating. Access would be further limited with a planned reorganization of the Folklife Bureau and the resulting loss of institutional memory.

Through the IMLS National Leadership Grant project, the State Archives wanted to generate greater awareness of the Folklife Collection and the archives in general among folklorists and specialists, teachers, and the general public. The archives needed to begin to address both access and preservation concerns about the collection.

Because the majority of people interested in the collection were searching for individual items, the State Archives realized it needed to create an item-level finding aid, in this case a database that people could use to search in various ways. Materials from the collection were digitized and added to a new Folklife Collection Web page that is part of the Florida Memory Website, where all of the digital resources of the state archives can be accessed.

The project aimed to create an index providing item-level access to approximately 35,000 photographic images and approximately 6,000 audio recordings, to create catalog records and digital images of 10,000 of the most significant and representative indexed photographic images, to identify audio recordings that are deteriorating and need to be digitized, and to create four educational units using digitized materials from the Folklife Collection.

The program received assistance from Florida State Folklorist Tina Bucuvalus to investigate appropriate vocabulary for folklife terms to use in cataloging, indexing, and retrieval of items in the collection. Staff also conferred with American Folklife Center (AFC) Director Peggy Bulger and her colleague Michael Taft regarding standards for digitizing sound recordings, and selected for use the AFC’s ethno-thesaurus of folklife terms. To promote the collection and new finding aid, the archives produced two promotional CDs with samples of the music from the collection and several postcards featuring a selection of the photographic images. The materials were sent to more than 300 folklorists and historians nationwide and were distributed at conferences, workshops, and festivals.

The project is set to exceed its many goals. It will soon complete the digitization of 10,000 images, and it has indexed two records series for the finding aid database and will soon begin the third. Awareness of the Web site is growing; since the site went live in February 2005, traffic has quadrupled. It now receives more than 500 visitors a month. (Four hundred visitors a month listen to the music on the CDs page.) The folklife CDs are among the most effective promotional tools the archives has ever created. They are helping to build new audiences among younger people who are generally not aware of the archives’ resources.

Community Change
This collection documents a unique, invaluable record of living traditions of Florida’s people, and ultimately America’s people. It documents the way they work, play, eat, entertain, communicate, celebrate, commemorate, and live together. And it traces the evolution of cultural traditions in Florida.

Florida folklife groups have been aware of the collection, but many presumed the materials were lost. As a result of the project, they now know where to find the collection and how to access it. The project Web site offers the public a heightened sense of the state’s heritage. Teachers have begun using the project teaching units on the accomplished black writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, the oak basket maker Lucreaty Clark, and longtime net maker and Fernandina resident Billy Burbank III. Teachers have provided enthusiastic feedback to the archives. The Folklife Collection is an important tool to help their students understand state history.

Joanna (Jody) Norman, Archives Supervisor
State Library & Archives of Florida
500 South Bronough St./RA Gray Bldg.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250

Judith Ring
Florida State Librarian
500 South Bronough St./RA Gray Bldg.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250

Educational Units:

Two Music CDs:

The first CD spans 50 years of Florida folk music, from "Shove It Over," a WPA recording of a work song performed by Zora Neale Hurston, to "Orange Blossom Special," performed by Gamble Rogers and Will McLean.

The second CD, entitled "More Music from the Folklife Collection," features selections from well-known artists such as Don Grooms, Etta Baker, Bill Munroe, Doc Watson, and Jean Ritchie.

Final Report (PDF, 78KB)

The Florida Folklife Digitization and Education Project is also featured in the Digital Collections and Content Registry.

National Leadership Grants for Libraries