Washington, DC - From hot summer days in Mississippi to windy nights in the Caribbean, the Library of Congress’ latest crowdsourcing campaign, launched Thursday, challenges virtual volunteers to explore folk and music traditions through the eyes and writings of one of America’s most famous 20th century folklorists, musicologists and oral historians: Alan Lomax.
The new campaign — “The Man who Recorded the World: On the Road with Alan Lomax” on the Library’s crowdsourcing platform By the People — asks the public to help transcribe over 10,000 pages of field notes, letters and diaries from the American Folklife Center’s Alan Lomax Collection. The campaign includes Lomax’s transcriptions and notes on performances and interviews with such artists as blues guitarist Robert Johnson, folk singer Woody Guthrie, country musician Burl Ives and blues singers Lead Belly and Muddy Waters — all of whom Lomax is credited with bringing to popular public attention. The collection also documents Lomax’s extensive travels from the 1930s to the 1960s, including his time as a Library of Congress folklorist, and the toll his years of fieldwork took on his personal life. Letters between the Lomax family, their friends and collaborators — such as Zora Neale Hurston — are also available.
“Alan was one of those who unlocked the secrets of this kind of music,” Bob Dylan once said. Now, By the People volunteers have the chance to help unlock the treasures in the Lomax Collection.
“That’s the magic of crowdsourcing. You can ride along in the back seat of Lomax’s sedan on the way to interview Robert Johnson’s mother, or browse through Muddy Waters’ record collection to see what inspired the iconic bluesman, all while helping to make these historic records searchable for others to use and enjoy,” said Kate Zwaard, the Library’s Digital Strategy Director. “We’ve heard from volunteers that participating in By the People transforms how they understand history, and it allows them to help transform how others engage with the Library of Congress. We’re excited to be using digital innovations like this to help make our vision that ‘All Americans are connected to the Library of Congress’ a reality.”
The Lomax Collection includes recordings, interviews and voices that preserve America’s cultural heritage for generations to come.
“Lomax said of himself that his greatest talent was making people feel comfortable to be themselves in front of a microphone. And because he was so good at that, we have priceless recordings, interviews and field notes that preserved the voices and traditions that help inform our cultural heritage,” said John Fenn, the Head of the Research and Programs section of the American Folklife Center. “But Alan also wanted his work to be about more than preservation. I think he would be proud to know that with this effort, people will now have the chance to explore these materials and make them useful and available in an unprecedented way.”
By the People launched in October 2018 to invite the public to explore, transcribe and tag digitized Library of Congress collections. Anyone can take part in this virtual volunteering effort from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Volunteers can register for an account if they want to access all of the features of the site, including tagging and reviewing, but those just wishing to transcribe can take part without creating an account. The project, which is generously supported by the National Digital Library Trust Fund, runs on Concordia, open source software developed by the Library to power crowdsourced transcription efforts. For more information, visit crowd.loc.gov.
The Alan Lomax Collection was made possible in 2004 through a cooperative agreement between the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, the Association for Cultural Equity External and the generosity of an anonymous donor. This collection joins the material Alan Lomax collected during the 1930s and early 1940s for the Library's Archive of American Folk-Song, bringing together the entire 70 years of Alan Lomax's work under one roof at the Library of Congress.