Preserving History

I’m a big fan of volunteering (see Get Involved) and I recently attended a volunteer appreciation lunch at my local PBS station for Station’s Archived Memories (SAM). As the name suggests, SAM archives items connected to Rocky Mountain PBS (RMPBS). A completely volunteer driven organization, SAM has become a model for other stations looking to preserve their unique histories. For the past 17 years, SAM volunteers have created a large collection of materials that shed light on the history of Colorado.

My (small) role is transcribing and proofreading interviews with current or past volunteers and employees. Through these oral interviews, I have gotten a behind-the-scenes look at how the station works and as a lifelong PBS viewer, this has been fascinating. A common thread throughout the interviews is the motivation behind volunteering or working for public television.  Many interviewees describe a friendly coercion at the beginning that blooms into a solid dedication to the station.  Another theme is the fulfillment that comes from working alongside like-minded people towards a common goal. The luncheon piqued my interest and curiosity in not only SAM but similar organizations.

Source: RMPBS Stations Archived Memories Power Point Slideshow, created Fall 2014

RMPBS is over 60 years old, its inaugural broadcast was January 30, 1956. SAM’s purpose since its inception in 2000 has been to collect, identify, and preserve the history of the station. This includes images, videos, and memorabilia associated with the all aspects of the station, from programming to outreach. Articles and media related to the evolution of the station’s logo, popular programming, and other fun facts are available on the RMPBS website. Below is a breakdown of all that the volunteers have accomplished (as of July, 2017):

  • 59,979 Photographs have been archived and electronically preserved
  • 16,383 Station documents have been archived and electronically preserved
  • 3,801 Memorabilia items have been archived and electronically preserved
  • 203 Oral History interviews have been conducted and electronically preserved
  • 14,569 Local production videos and tapes have been inventoried
  • 776 Rocky Mountain PBS local productions have been preserved to DVD
    Source: Station’s Archived Memories Volunteer. Retrieved December 1, 2017 from

Of course, broadcast preservation is important to all stations. A 1997 Library of Congress Report highlighted this need:  “…public television has been responsible for the production, broadcast, and dissemination of some of the most important programs which in aggregate form the richest audiovisual source of cultural history in the United States,” a loss of which “….would symbolize one of the great conflagrations of our age, tantamount to the burning of Alexandria’s library [for more on that] in the age of antiquity.”

In 2015 the Library of Congress, WGBH Boston, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting combined efforts to create The American Archive of Public Broadcasting’s (AAPB) online archive.  While many archives are only available on-site, the AAPB has digitized hours of programs from over 100 stations (including from RMPBS). There is even a Transcript Game on the site, where people can correct mistakes from radio/television program transcripts. Special collections highlight beloved PBS programs, such as American Masters and Ken Burn’s Civil War Documentary. Louisiana, Minnesota, and WGBH Boston also have digital archives.

These websites contain amazing primary and secondary resources for educators, students, historians, bloggers (!), sociologists…anyone curious about a community’s evolution. Check out these resources curated by dedicated archivists!

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