ORONO, Maine — Legend has it that the Maine Folklife Center hatched from a shoebox under the desk of University of Maine professor Edward “Sandy” Ives. Half a century ago, that box held just a few audio recordings of Mainers describing their way of life and way of making a living.
By Wednesday, that collection had grown to more than 3,000 one-of-a-kind audio recordings, 325,000 pages of interview transcripts, 10,000 documentary photographs and other materials, all maintained by the Maine Folklife Center, which Ives founded in 1958.
That collection will find a new, safer home at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Ives died in 2009 at age 83. In his more than 40 years as a UMaine professor and more than half a century doing research in the field, Ives compiled one of the most impressive collections of folklore in the country, according to David Taylor, a former student of Ives’ and the head of research and programs for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress announced Wednesday that it would invest more than $650,000 to take on the collection, digitize every interview and record, and preserve the originals in carefully controlled conditions at the library.
“We consider this one of the best regional folklore archives in the country,” Taylor said. “Within that, it expresses the distinctive character of our people — your people, my people — of Maine and the Maritimes.”
The archive features recordings of Acadian fiddle tunes and dialects, fisherman describing what lobstering was like before lobster traps were common, loggers describing how they entertained themselves in the evenings after they had to stop cutting wood, and just about every way-of-life in between in the Maritimes.
“This is an acquisition not just for the Library of Congress, but it is an acquisition for the nation,” Taylor said. “It is a national treasure for all Americans to use to better understand the regional culture of the Northeastern United States and Maritime Provinces of Canada.”
The archive is available for viewing and searching upon request at the Maine Folklife Center, housed in South Stevens Hall at UMaine. Once the Library of Congress finishes the digitizing process, the recordings, documents and photographs will be available online.
Pauleena MacDougall, director of the folklife center, said she was relieved that the Library of Congress decided to take on the collection.
“This opportunity will greatly enhance accessibility of this material to people around the country,” MacDougall said. “And also, I just feel very relieved that this material is going to be so well cared for into the future and I won’t have to worry about it,” she added with a chuckle.
Information and some recordings can be found at www.umaine.edu/folklife.