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State Barn Survey Preparations Underway

How many barns are there in Indiana? How many are still in use? And of those left, where are they located, what types do they represent, and what do we know about their original uses and cultural roots? Unfortunately, the answer to all of these questions is “Your guess is as good as mine.”

To get the answers, the Indiana Barn Foundation is planning a statewide survey to aid us in our advocacy efforts. It is difficult to promote barn preservation when we know so little about the ones we have. Moreover, how can we measure our success without a reliable inventory? And why do we want to save our barns for future generations? Because they are an integral part of our rural landscape, yes, but also because barns tell our story: settlement history, ethnic and cultural origins, agricultural practices, commerce and work traditions, and family and community histories—stories we do not want to lose.

In March, at our meeting for county representatives, we began the process of articulating the survey process. We now have a form that surveyors can use that helps identify barn styles, materials, roof shape, and other physical attributes, as well as ownership and location by county and street address. I presented a slide lecture on barn typologies, and we used the session to train those present in the use of the forms, but several challenges emerged.

One is the magnitude of the undertaking— few Indiana counties have reliable barn surveys, and surveying 92 counties with county reps means that each county will need several volunteers to scour the countryside. To date a little less than half of our counties have IBF reps, and few of those have more than one or two. Additionally, we will need a system for gathering each county’s survey information and recording it electronically—a process known as data entry. For this we will need to design a database that is sophisticated enough to allow us to access our collected data in different ways, add to it over time, and make it available to the public in a simple, but useful manner. So we have both a personnel problem and an information problem to solve.

Early discussions determined that we should conduct workshop-training sessions in several regions of the state. These will assist in recruiting more county reps as well as in training them to organize surveyors and learn to use the survey forms. Individuals from the several regions will be trained to present the slide show to their area constituents as part of the training effort so every surveyor is familiar with Indiana barn types.

To date we have a small committee, and have recruited a few volunteers, who will help design the database, and we have begun planning for a regional system of workshops, but much remains to be done. Anyone interested in becoming a county rep or regional trainer should contact the IBF. We need all the help we can get.

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