Public Media for Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
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KYUK to receive $350,000 grant to digitally preserve and catalog decades of archival material

Jane Green hooper bay
KYUK

The 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 (Y-K) Delta. For decades, that collection was entirely physical: old tapes and VHS lining rows of shelves in the back of the building. Now, thanks to a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, KYUK is bringing that archive into the 21st century and protecting it for future generations. KYUK Archive Grants Administrator Katie Basile has been leading 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.

Everybody knew this wasn’t the safest way to store the materials, but the station didn’t have the resources to better protect them. A year before Basile arrived, the situation had begun to feel even more pressing after a fire broke out just down the road in a Lower Kuskokwim School District building, destroying a large portion of their archives.

“Just knowing that that was even a remote possibility that if there was a fire at KYUK we could potentially lose the entire audio and video documented history of the Y-K Delta,” Basile said. “We just made it a priority to get the collection out of here, secure it, and then start to digitize it and make it accessible to the public.”

KYUK started in 1971, but the materials in the archive go all the way back to recordings done by missionaries in the 1930s and 1940s. In total, KYUK has over 8,000 in the archive.

To preserve the materials, KYUK has 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: an extremely 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’s website. So far, 788 items are online for anyone to view right now.

KYUK is going a step further by labeling each item with the names of the speakers and providing a summary of what they’re talking about, and the organization is asking the community’s help to do this. This summer, KYUK has been hosting weekly video screenings at the Bethel Cultural Center for the community to view the materials and help identify the speakers. KYUK will also post short archival clips on KYUK's Facebook page. Here’s an example of a clip recently posted that we’re wanting to learn more about.

If you have any information about this clip or who is in it, please reach out to us by email at multimedia@kyuk.org.

Basile says that efforts like these are part of the broader mission to help the people of the Y-K Delta engage with this rich resource.

“We've worked with the Lower Kuskokwim School District a bit, and we are making all of the content accessible to teachers so that they can incorporate all the content into their curricula,” Basile said.

Others are already putting the materials to good use. Basile is working with the multimedia team at KYUK to produce a documentary using the archives. Two computer scientists from the area are building a website with over 100 Elder interviews organized by Yup'ik and English keywords.

“It's probably the most exciting thing I've seen come out of the digitization effort,” Basile said. “Two used-to-be kids from the region now flipping [the archives] into this incredible, rich, learning tool where people can really dig in and get a better understanding not only of the content, but of the Yup’ik language.”

This new grant is the next step in a series of grants that have helped KYUK pursue this years-long 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 right here in town.

“The first grant we ever got for this project was from Bethel Community Services Foundation,” Basile said. “And that bit of money basically opened the doors for all 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 their archives. Even after all this support, there are still thousands more items to be made available online. KYUK will be pursuing grant funding to complete the project and digitally preserve these records.

Will McCarthy is a temporary news reporter at KYUK. Previously, he worked as a furniture mover, producer, and freelance journalist. Will's written for the New York Times, National Geographic, and Texas Monthly. He holds a master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley.