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American Folklife Center






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Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pipkin being recorded by Charles Todd (left) at the Shafter Migratory Labor Camp, Shafter, California, 1940. Photograph by Robert Hemmig. Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant-Worker Collection. American Folklife Center. (AFC 1985/001:P9-p1)

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In the Folklife Reading Room, you will find a sampling of the many works on folk music, folklore, ethnomusicology, oral history, and material culture available in the Library's General Collections. Here you may use standard publications and a sizable collection of magazines, newsletters, posters, and other ephemera. Unpublished theses and dissertations, as well as published bibliographies and directories, are also available.

Folk Archive collection material is organized by AFS (Archive of Folk Song) and AFC (Archive of Folk Culture) numbers. The earlier system, AFS, assigned numbers to individual items, initially usually individual songs. Beginning in the 1980s, a new system was devised to assign AFC numbers and dates to collections as a whole. Collection storage areas are not open to readers, and all material will be retrieved by reference staff.

You will find that a number of reference tools available in the Folklife Reading Room are particularly helpful. These include topical guides, collection guides, subject files, and card catalogs.

Folklife Finding Aids are a series of cross-collection topical guides to particular subjects. The Folklife Center is developing a finding aid for each state, and many are now available. In addition, there are finding aids for such topics as Zora Neale Hurston, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Slave Narratives, and World War II.

Collection guides provide detailed descriptions of fully processed collections.

The subject files, consisting of largely ephemeral material, have grown over the years in response to reader requests for information and now include thousands of folders. There are entries for American Indian tribes by tribal name, and for many folk song titles, two of the most frequently researched topics in the reading room. Other titles of interest to women's history and culture specialists include Calamity Jane, Double Dutch, Fairy Tales, Festivals, Folk Dance, Gay and Lesbian Folklore, Gospel Music, May Pole, Medicine, Midwife, Needlework, Paper Cutting, Sacred Harp, Suffrage, Wedding Customs, Witchcraft, Women's Army Corps Songs, and Women's Mill Songs.

The corporate-subject files include ephemeral material on individuals, organizations, festivals, exhibits, and so forth.

Several card catalogs provide information on various collections. One lists primarily English-language field recordings, 1933 to 1950, and is organized by title, performer, and geographic region. An AFS Collection card catalog is organized by collection title, collection number, and subject. Although this catalog can be useful, it is incomplete.

Folklife Center publications frequently list, describe, or illuminate Folklife Center collections. Examples include the quarterly Folklife Center News (1977-); the five volumes of Folklife Annual (1985-90); illustrated books from many of the center's field documentation projects—such as Old Ties, New Attachments: Italian-American Folklife in the West (Washington: Library of Congress, 1992; F596. 3.I8 T54 1992) and Ethnic Heritage and Language Schools in America (Washington: Library of Congress, 1988; LC3802.E74 1988); and the published field recordings in the Library of Congress's landmark series Folk Music of the United States. Splendid performances by women playing instruments and singing solo or in groups are featured on these recordings.

Reference aids are bibliographies and directories on selected topics. These are no longer produced and many are out of date, but some may be useful. Examples of topics available include Autoharp, Ballad, Carter Family, Folk Dance, Dulcimer, Protest Songs, Shape-note Singing, and Women and Folk Music.

Computer searches are possible in the reading room, with the assistance of the reference staff, and the American Folklife Center's own database is keyword searchable for some collections. The Library of Congress's new bibliographic database provides the Folklife Center with the opportunity to catalog multiformat collections. Some written records for folklife collections are available through the Library of Congress Online Catalog. These records link to the finding aids for each collection, so researchers may read about each collection in detail.

For Archive of Folk Culture finding aids available online, see the Web page Finding Aids for Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture.

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