Agriculture is central to the story of Illinois. The state is blessed by some of the best soils and weather conditions in the world. From Illinois' earliest settlement to the present, agriculture was and still is the state's most important enterprise. But the legacy of agriculture in Illinois goes well beyond that: farming has been a way of life for generations of Illinoisans, and therefore plays a central role in the state's rich cultural heritage as well. Even Chicago, which emerged in the late nineteenth century as a transportation, industrial, and business center, owes its existence and vibrancy to the Midwest's abundance.
School District Reorganization
Over the past several decades, Illinois family farms have experienced a revolution of sorts, steadily growing in acreage as they also become more specialized. One result of this trend has been a steady depopulation of many of the state’s small towns and rural areas; which in turn has led to the need to reorganize or consolidate school districts. Few things are more traumatic for otherwise vibrant communities than losing a piece of their identity when a cherished school is closed. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library volunteer Philip Pogue, himself a career educator, has chronicled that story in an important collection of interviews conducted in 2010 and 2011.
The A-V Barn is the result of collaboration between the ALPL Oral History program and the Illinois State Museum. This collection of seventy interviews encompasses nearly every aspect of agriculture as it is currently being practiced in Illinois. The collection also includes many fascinating stories about the early days of agriculture in Illinois.
The Illinois State Museum's A-V Barn website allows patrons to search the collection using an innovative new audio/video-indexing process. All told, the A-V Barn collection includes over 140 interviews, including roughly 70 audio interviews from Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois Springfield collections, and the 70 new video interviews conducted exclusively for this project in 2008 and 2009. Altogether, the A-V Barn collection includes approximately 300 hours of interview material. All audio and video interviews have been painstakingly ‘indexed' by subject and theme, using a process similar to film editing. Because of this indexing process, patrons can search the entire collection by subject or keyword. The search engine won't just point patrons to a specific interview; it will generate a list of interview clips based on patrons' search requests, allowing them to watch or listen only to that material most relevant to their search. No longer do you have to wade through hours of audio or video material hoping to find what you're looking for.
The A-V Barn project was funded via a generous National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.