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TL v58n2 Volunteer Voices: Coming Soon to a Library Near You
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 58 Number 2



Volunteer Voices: Coming to a Library Near You!


Nancy Kemp
Education Coordinator
James D. Hoskins Library, Knoxville, TN

Program Abstract: Tennessee libraries anxiously await the debut of "Volunteer voices," a free digital collection of primary sources collected across the state. The stars of this new program are actually the images themselves. Learn how to encourage research for all by using Tennessee's own rich heritage.

Audio File of this Program



The twenty-first century has provided new, unique and uncanny ways to communicate, to research and to learn. This new approach, offered by technology, has certainly put a new spin on libraries and their staff members’ responsibilities to their customers. However, before plans are developed for a Jetson type of library facility, tools to connect the learner to technology for research must be utilized. Volunteer Voices is one of those tools.

A grass roots, state-wide initiative funded in part by an IMLS grant, Volunteer Voices has created a free access database of images from across Tennessee, illustrating the state’s rich culture and history and its unique place in US history. Partnering institutions include the University of Tennessee, East Tennessee Historical Society, The Brentwood Library, C.M. McClung Historical Collection, Memphis Public Library and Information Center, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Tennessee State University, University of Memphis, and Vanderbilt University, representing a cross-section of the three regions of Tennessee and types of repositories.

Four primary audiences were targeted in the initial grant objectives including information professionals, researchers and scholars, life-long learners and K-16 teachers and students. Images were selected from over 100 information, archival and cultural institutions with a specific connection to Tennessee’s Social Studies curriculum standards.

Promoting the use of this digital collection, the use of primary sources to match the curriculum and hands-on training with K-16 educators has been a unique focus of Volunteer Voices. Recognizing that the use of primary sources may provide an enigma, and that the use of 21st century technology may also intimidate some educators, Volunteer Voices is available to librarians or media specialists to connect the information and the user.

Primary sources in general, but Volunteer Voices, in particular, offer educators a way to teach outside the textbook. “Textbooks, for many reasons, turn students off, but working with letters, posters or photographs becomes exciting,” said Joan W. Musbach in the Organization of American Historians, Winter Magazine, 1989. Students’ attention, these days, can’t be captured with only textbooks. These “digital natives”, according to “The Report of the 21st Century Literacy Summit” must be reached by 21st century communication—computers, wikis, and pod-casts. They have grown up with computers, video games, the Internet and cell phones. They have always been a part of their lives and are as natural and familiar to them as radio was to the previous generations.

As futuristic as these words seem, even George Jetson would appreciate the learning process of old-world subjects, like history or language arts if images were viewed using the LCD. Students would relish the lessons and the research projects if they could search online for reliable, valuable primary sources. Volunteer Voices offers these options.

To some, preserving historical documents digitally and including them on a free access website seems impossible. Volunteer Voices has made this all possible. It’s a 21st century tool that offers a glimpse of the “voices” from the past and enables the researcher in all of us to find our own piece of history in the stories that the images inspire.


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