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Public Folklore: Resources in the American Folklife Center

This research guide focuses on activities such as fieldwork, interpretation, and programming that presents folklore and folklife to the public as it is documented in the collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.


Carl Fleischhauer, photographer. Patrick Mullen visits with Jesse Hatcher on his porch during fieldwork in Carter's Mill, North Carolina. 1978. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

This guide provides an introduction to doing research on the topic of public folklore using American Folklife Center collections. For the purposes of this guide, 'public folklore' can be thought of as activities such as fieldwork, interpretation, or programming that presents folklore and folklife to the public for intertwined goals of education and entertainment.

At the Library of Congress, the Collection Policy Statement for the American Folklife Center identifies 'public folklore' as an area of distinction for our collections, noting:

Cultural expression is sometimes re-contextualized for public educational presentation. In this manner, the American Folklife Center sponsors concerts, lectures, and symposia for local and online consumption, and this documentation is added to the research archive. Similarly, the Center holds major collections of folklore programs and events created by national and regional public folklore organizations.

In the case of the American Folklife Center, its establishment within the Library of Congress places it squarely in the service of the public as unit that is charged to preserve and present folklife. More specifically, the American Folklife Preservation Act of 1976 directed the Librarian of Congress to establish a Center, and authorized that Center to “to develop and implement programs for the initiation, encouragement, support, and organization of research and training, performances, festivals, and exhibits related to American folklife.”

The American Folklore Society (AFS), a prominent professional association for folklorists and those working in affiliated fields, provides the following statement about “public folklorists”:

"Public folklorists" work primarily in government or non-profit arts, cultural, or educational organizations, such as arts councils, historical societies, libraries, museums, or organizations devoted specifically to folk arts or folklore. Public folklorists are engaged in a variety of activities, including (but not limited to) field research and documentary work, and the production of public programs or educational materials, such as performances, artists' residencies, exhibitions, festivals, sound recordings, radio and television programs, films, videos, and books.

Definition of “Public Folklorists” (AFS Folklore Wiki) External

The following guide offers general research strategies for use of the American Folklife Center collections.