KYUK Station, our humble building in the center of town, is responsible for the largest collection of video and audio footage documenting the Yukon-Kuskokwim (YK) delta. For decades, this collection was entirely physical: old tapes and rows of VHS shelves at the back of the building. Now, thanks to a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, KYUK is bringing these archives into the 21st century and protecting them for future generations. KYUK Grants Manager Katie Basile has led the project for years.
“When I started at KYUK in 2016, the whole collection was just sitting in the back TV studio, and it wasn’t a humidity-controlled environment,” Basile said.
Everyone knew it wasn’t the safest way to store the materials, but the station didn’t have the resources to better protect them. A year before Basil’s arrival, the situation had begun to grow even more pressing after a fire broke out just down the street in a building in the Lower Kuskokwim school district, destroying much of their records. .
“Just knowing that it was even a remote possibility that if there was a fire at KYUK, we could potentially lose all documented audio and video history of the YK Delta,” Basile said. “We just made it a priority to get the collection out of here, secure it, and then start digitizing it and making it available to the public.”
KYUK began in 1971, but records in the archives date back to recordings made by missionaries in the 1930s and 1940s. In total, KYUK has over 8,000 in the archives.
To preserve the documents, KYUK partnered with the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, which is a project between WGBH in Boston and the Library of Congress. Three copies are made of each item in the archive: a very high quality preservation copy, a production copy that can be downloaded and reproduced in documentaries, and a copy that goes on the Library of Congress website. So far, 788 articles are on line for anyone to see right now.
KYUK goes one step further by tagging each item with the names of the speakers and providing a summary of what they are talking about, and the organization is asking for help from the community to do this. This summer, KYUK hosted weekly video screenings at the Bethel Cultural Center for the community to view materials and help identify speakers. KYUK will also post short archive clips on the KYUK Facebook page. Here’s an example of a recently released clip that we want to learn more about.
If you have any information about this clip or who is in it, please contact us by email at [email protected]
Basil says efforts like these are part of the larger mission to help Yukon Delta residents engage with this rich resource.
“We’ve been working with the Lower Kuskokwim School District a bit and we’re making all of the content available to teachers so they can incorporate all of the content into their curriculums,” Basile said.
Others are already putting the materials to good use. Basile is working with the KYUK multimedia team to produce a documentary from the archives. Two local computer scientists are creating a website with over 100 interviews with elders organized by keywords in Yup’ik and English.
“That’s probably the most exciting thing I’ve seen come out of the digitization effort,” Basile said. “Two former local children are now returning [the archives] in this incredible and rich learning tool where people can really go deeper and better understand not only the content, but also the Yup’ik language.
This new grant is the next in a series of grants that have helped KYUK continue this multi-year project. KYUK has also received funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the Council on Library and Information Resources. But the first support came from here in town.
“The first grant we ever received for this project was from the Bethel Community Services Foundation,” Basile said. “And that bit of money basically opened the doors for all of this other funding, so we’re really grateful to them.”
By the end of the 22-month grant, KYUK hopes to have digitized and cataloged over 60% of its archives. Even after all this support, there are still thousands of articles to be made available online. KYUK will seek grants to complete the project and digitally preserve these documents.