New Online: Occupational Culture of Home Health-Care Workers

This post by Stephanie Hall of the American Folklife Center was first published on the center’s blog, “Folklife Today.”

Home health-care worker Nargiza Turanova (right) being interviewed with assistance from a translator (left).

An important new oral history collection documenting the lives and careers of home health-care workers in Oregon is now available on the Library of Congress’ website. The American Folklife Center recently announced the release of “Taking Care: Documenting the Occupational Culture of Home Health-Care Workers.” This fieldwork is part of the center’s Occupational Folklife Project and the seventh such collection to be put online.

In 2014, Professor Bob Bussel and his colleagues at the University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center in Eugene, Oregon, received an Archie Green Fellowship from the American Folklife Center to conduct oral history interviews with workers who provide home-based care for the elderly and the disabled throughout the state of Oregon. Bussel and his team worked closely with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 503, to record 35 in-depth interviews with home health-care workers, an occupation that was not previously represented in the American Folklife Center archive.

The collection’s interviews with the health-care workers took place primarily in the workers’ homes and at the offices of SEIU Local 503 in Eugene, Portland and Salem, Oregon, as well at as the office of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Interviews were conducted primarily in English, although a few were conducted in Russian. Interviewees ranged from long-time home health-care workers to individuals who had more recently joined the profession. Many interviews also touched on the role of their union, SEIU, in training individual workers, establishing professional standards and enforcing equitable pay and benefits.

“Taking Care” is part of the multiyear Occupational Folklife Project of the American Folklife Center to document workers in contemporary America. Over the past eight years, supported by the American Folklife Center’s competitive Archie Green Fellowships program, more than 40 researchers and research teams throughout the United States have received funding to document oral histories with workers in a wide variety of trades. Interviewees include ironworkers, hairdressers, electricians, domestic workers, longshoremen, funeral home employees, trash collectors, gold miners, racetrack workers, tobacco farmers and many more working Americans from all sectors of contemporary society. Through the project, oral histories of hundreds of American workers — stories about their skills and work routines, legendary jobs (good and bad), respected mentors, flamboyant co-workers and more — are now part of America’s national record. These oral histories not only enrich our current understanding of our fellow Americans, but will also inform scholars and researchers for generations to come about the lives of contemporary workers at the beginning of the 21st century.

As American Folklife Center director Betsy Peterson noted, “With the launch of AFC’s innovative Occupational Folklife Project, researchers and members of the public will have direct access to hundreds of hours of compelling fieldwork. They will be able to hear the interviews and view fieldwork images and documentation that previously could be accessed only by visiting the Library in Washington.”

Learn More

 

African-American History Month: First Pan-African Congress

This is a guest post by Ryan Reft, a historian in the Manuscript Division. It coincides with the centenary this month of the first Pan-African Congress. The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line, author and civil rights pioneer W.E.B. DuBois famously wrote in “To the Nations of the World,” […]

African-American History Month: A Forgotten Tribute to President Abraham Lincoln

This is a guest post by Lavonda Kay Broadnax, digital reference specialist in the Library’s Researcher and Reference Services Division. Abraham Lincoln was fond of poetry: He wrote poems, read them, received them and was the subject of many. So states “Abraham Lincoln and Poetry,” a unique example of the numerous guides the Library makes […]

Rare Books: “A Child’s Garden of Verses”

This is a guest post by digital library specialist Elizabeth Gettins. It coincides with the posting of additional illustrations from the Library’s 1895 edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses” on the Library’s Pinterest site. Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94) spent his childhood in the cold and damp of Edinburgh, Scotland, his dedicated […]

Inquiring Minds: Celebrating Black Musical Theater

For going on a decade now, theater historian Ben West has been making regular trips from his home in New York City to the Library of Congress. His mission? To cull through unpublished manuscripts, personal papers of Broadway authors, copyright drama submissions and more to tell the story of the American musical. Last September, West’s […]

African-American History Month: The Struggle for Civil Rights Past, Present and Future

This is a guest post by Lavonda Kay Broadnax, digital reference specialist in the Library’s Researcher and Reference Services Division. A few weeks ago, we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his work as an activist. Some 100 years before King’s powerful entry into the civil rights movement, however, the fight for civil rights […]

Did Galileo Own the Library’s Copy of ‘The Starry Messenger’?

Asking intriguing questions can be a great way to encourage research and creative thinking. The answer to this particular question was at first disappointing. Two experts, a historian and a rare book librarian, both said that although Galileo wrote “The Starry Messenger,” he did not himself own the copy of the book now in the […]

Omar Ibn Said: Conserving a One-of-a-Kind Manuscript

This is a guest post by Sylvia Albro, a senior paper conservator in the Conservation Division. Earlier this month, the Library released online the Omar Ibn Said Collection, including Ibn Said’s autobiography, the only known extant autobiography written in Arabic by an enslaved person in the United States. A wealthy and educated man, Ibn Said […]

Inquiring Minds: Opening a Treasure Chest of Unfinished Stories

In fall 2005, Joe Manning agreed to help his friend, author Elizabeth Winthrop, with a task that had become something of an obsession for her: discovering the story of a little girl staring intently out of a 1910 picture taken at a Vermont cotton mill. Winthrop had encountered the image in an exhibition of child-labor […]

Omar Ibn Said: Transcribing Documents from the Unique Collection

This is a guest post by Adam Rothman, a professor of history at Georgetown University and an expert on the history of slavery and abolition in the Atlantic world. Last fall, he was a distinguished visiting scholar at the Library’s John W. Kluge Center. Here Rothman writes about the Omar Ibn Said Collection, which the […]