JJC, Joliet museum partnered to digitize audio reels

Digitization expands JJC library’s recent transcription of the interviews

Fifty-five audio recordings that provide firsthand accounts of life in Joliet in the early 20th century are now digitized.

Robert Sterling created the recordings in the 1970s as part of an oral history project. At the time, Sterling was a Joliet Junior College history professor. Sterling’s intention was to “preserve the memories of Joliet-area residents as a reference for future generations,” according to a news release from JJC.

“These digitized interviews provide a glimpse of this area’s past, not from the viewpoint of mayors and other leaders, but from the perspective of ordinary people whose voices and views are seldom included in the historical record,” Sterling said in the release.

The Joliet Junior College Library and Joliet Area Historical Museum collaborated to digitize more than 3,300 minutes of audio cassette reels.

“Listeners will hear about the hardships faced by individuals and families and also a broader perspective on the Great Depression and the world wars,” Amy Chellino, archive specialist with the JJC library, said in the release.

The reels had been stored at the museum. Steven Wright, museum curator, safely transported the reels to nonprofit Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago, where they were transferred to .wav files, according to the release.

Wright said in the release that several of the reels were “extremely fragile,” so their digitization required extra care and time. He encouraged people with “this type of extinct technology” to digitize it as quickly as possible.

“Had it not been done, who knows if we would have been able to save the entire interview,” Wright said in the release.

Greg Peerbolte, the museum’s executive director, said in the release that several recordings included accounts of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Digitizing these interviews during the COVID-19 pandemic “seemed to underwrite the importance of preserving this history” especially since “memories are irreplaceable,” Peerbolte said.

“While we can easily find static information from resources such as directories and newspapers,” Peerbolte said in the release, “the recollections and reactions of individuals who lived through historic events are rare and are a priceless gift to the community.”

The digitization process took about one month, and the then audio was uploaded to the website internet archive, the release said.

In the release, Sterling expressed hopes that “future generations will gain an appreciation and understanding of this area’s history as recalled and recorded by ordinary people in the Joliet region.”

Chellino agreed.

“The interactions are timeless conversations between generations and are reminders of the ephemeral moments we have in our lifetimes,” Chellino said in the release.

The JJC Foundation funded the project through the James P. and Mary Clare Sczepaniak Memorial Fund, which is designated for history purposes. The digitization expands on the JJC library’s recent transcription of the interviews, the release said.

To view the collection, go to archive.org/details/jolietjuniorcollegeoralhistories.