Navajo Nation Library To Digitize 1960s Oral History Archive

The Navajo Nation Library (NNL) is working to secure the funding necessary to digitize and catalog thousands of hours of stories, songs, and oral histories of the Navajo people, originally recorded in the 1960s by the Navajo Culture Center of the Office of Navajo Economic Opportunity (ONEO).

The tapes hold personal accounts by Navajos of their daily lives in the rural towns of the Navajo Nation, as well as songs, legends, stories, and religious music, including a recording of the sacred nine-night ceremony.

The 300 reel-to-reel tapes are extremely fragile, caused by aging. The digitization process needs to happen as soon as possible, says NNL program supervisor Irving Nelson, as it is only a matter of time until they deteriorate to the point where they can’t be transferred to another medium.

You can read more in an article by Lisa Peet in the Library Journal at:

My thanks to newsletter reader Linda Herrick Swisher for telling me about this story.

While this is good news for the Navajo Nation, it also should serve as encouragement for other groups to do the same: digitize old recordings before they become unusable. Unlike tape records and other analog media, digitized recordings can easily be copied time and time again with no loss of quality. The result is that valuable recordings can be preserved for centuries.


Very interesting. Were these recordings made in Navajo or in English?


    Linda Herrick Swisher January 26, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    I would imagine, in both languages, depending on the speaker. A quote from the original article says, “Hearing the language spoken in context will be of critical importance for linguists, Gwyneira Isaac, director of the Smithsonian Institute’s Recovering Voices program, told Arizona PBS affiliate Cronkite News.”


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