The Oral Present, Urban Library Services, and the Underserved (IMLS Grant # RE-07-14-0051) is a three-year research project investigating how to design services for community members who prefer to talk about their information needs. While the phrase oral present resembles oral history and oral tradition, the terms differ. Oral histories involve reminiscing about one’s past. Oral traditions are stories told about events that occurred at least one lifetime prior. The Oral Present Project focuses on how people talk today, in the present. Oral histories, oral traditions, and oral present artefacts may all be considered oral documents in how they convey information about the context in or about which they are uttered. However, the latter more likely involves shorter presentations, a wider range of topics or perspectives that are not recognized by an authoritative body or that continue to evolve and change.
The Oral Present Project emerges from new understandings in library and information science about oral information, categorized as informal information. Research has shown that people prefer informal information when they want to learn about something new, to build relationships (including teams), socialize with new colleagues, decide whether to adopt new technology, convey important timely information, and more. This Project recognizes these preferences and leverages them to determine ways how to better serve oral populations.