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Preserving the history of Birmingham Black Radio: a discussion of preservation, outreach and collaboration

Robert Barnet Riter (School of Library and Information Studies, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA)
Bob Friedman (Birmingham Black Radio Museum, Birmingham, Alabama, USA)
Kimberly McDade (Julia Tutwiler Library, University of West Alabama, Livingston, Alabama, USA)
Jeff Hirschy (School of Library and Information Science, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA)

Global Knowledge, Memory and Communication

ISSN: 2514-9342

Article publication date: 18 October 2021

Issue publication date: 10 January 2023




The Birmingham Black Radio Museum (BBRM) is a community museum and archives located in Birmingham, Alabama (USA) dedicated to preserving and presenting the history of Black radio. The BBRM fulfills this mission through educational programming, providing access to physical and digital materials and supporting emerging curatorial professionals. Through a reflective analysis of the BBRM, the authors discuss the relationship between preservation, public programming and professional outreach, the partnerships that enable these functions and how conceptions of community responsibility have informed the organization’s management strategy. The BBRM provides a context for isolating the factors which inform the emergence of community memory institutions, the challenges associated with managing decentralized information environments and considers how mentorship can operate as a form of capacity building. An examination of the BBRM provides a view of one institution’s approach to engaging community partners and audiences in achieving its primary goal of documentary preservation.


This analysis is informed by historical, case study and autoethnographic methods. Emphasis is placed on examining BBRM’s historical origins, primary functions and community mandates. Specific attention is given to examining operations, resources and strategies. Commentary and discussion are grounded by the professional experiences of BBRM staff and collaborators.


The operations of the BBRM, and the experiences reported by BBRM staff, are similar to those documented by findings in the community archives and museums literatures. Community mandates and institutional identify have strongly informed the BBRM’s mandates, strategies for engaging the public and establishment of strategic partnerships.


This reflective analysis documents the operations of one specific community memory institution. Though the experiences documented in this paper are common to many community archives and museums, this study contributes an additional data point, further contributing to the body of evidence necessary to support a more nuanced understanding of the role and function of community memory institutions and their management.



Riter, R.B., Friedman, B., McDade, K. and Hirschy, J. (2023), "Preserving the history of Birmingham Black Radio: a discussion of preservation, outreach and collaboration", Global Knowledge, Memory and Communication, Vol. 72 No. 1/2, pp. 69-81.



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