Case Study: Interviewer-Generated Metadata
by Doug Boyd
In the old days, interviewers conducted the interviews, stored them in a box of cassettes for some time, and, eventually, deposited the interviews into an archive where the archivists took over the responsibility for curation, preservation, and future access. In the analog world, it was common for a box of cassettes to sit on a shelf for decades before curatorial or preservation measures were taken. Because of sheer practicality in the analog context, professional archivists typically focused their descriptive metadata efforts on the collection level. Accessing oral history in an analog context proved labor-intensive. Relatively speaking, this yielded a low demand for archived oral history materials. The Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries used to report annual use of 500 interviews in a calendar year. The digital revolution has transformed access in exciting ways for the Nunn Center, yielding thousands of uses of online interviews per month. However, discovery of these interviews- and the content embedded in them- is primarily dependent on the creation of good descriptive metadata.
Collection-level description involves a general description of multiple interviews that have been grouped according to the archival theory of original order. In an oral history context, original order typically means that interviews remain grouped by the oral history project that originated the project. The individual oral history interview contains a massive amount of information. Complete dependency on generic collection-level description for oral history typically fails future users in expediting discovery of rich and useful content in these interviews. Future discovery of content in an oral history interview is solely dependent on the creation of comprehensive descriptive metadata associated with the interview. One of the most effective and efficient methods for generating good item-level metadata in an archival context is to rely on interviewers to generate metadata.
As a policy, the Nunn Center has begun to accept interviewer-generated metadata. This information then becomes the basis for interview-level archival descriptive metadata created upon accessioning an interview. As the director of the Nunn Center, I often interact with interviewers, project managers, or community groups embarking on an oral history project. When we are fortunate to be able to interact with an oral history project early in the process, we can assure that the interviews that we accession are accompanied by a release form and a form that we call an Interview Information Form.
The Interview Information Form is very basic in concept and is certainly not a new idea. However, making this a high priority for interviewers by stressing the need in every single training session that I conduct has begun to succeed in ensuring that a high percentage of our interviews that now being accessioned have an initial description being created. I suggest that every interviewer take notes during the interview. I also suggest that they factor extra time in for the interview and, on their way home from the interview, stop by Starbucks or their local coffee shop, reflect on the interview process, review notes taken during the interview, and fill out the Interview Information Form.
I offer the Nunn Center’s current version of the Interview Information Form as a potentially useful model for capturing descriptive and technical metadata in the field prior to interacting with an archive. Obviously, we cannot interact with all anticipated interviewers prior to conducting their interviews or to the donation of materials. The result of accessioning interviews with no descriptive metadata is a skeletal catalog record dependent on the collection or project title, collection or project description, and the interviewee’s name to connect future users to the content in the interview. Whether they utilize the Nunn Center’s form or simply write down crucial information about the contents of the interview, inclusion of some interviewer-generated descriptive information is paramount to the timely creation of useful archival description. Included in the form is technical information about the digital interview. This can easily be extracted during the archival process. What cannot be automated, at this time, is the description of the concepts and themes being discussed in the interview. The implementation of this simple form has transformed our workflow and our ability to fulfill our primary archival function of connecting future users to content in our archived oral history interviews.
Citation for Article
Boyd, D. A. (2012). Case study: interviewer-generated metadata. In D. Boyd, S. Cohen, B. Rakerd, & D. Rehberger (Eds.), Oral history in the digital age. Institute of Library and Museum Services. Retrieved from http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/2012/06/interviewer-generated-metadata/.
Boyd, Douglas A. “Case Study: Interviewer-Generated Metadata,” in Oral History in the Digital Age, edited by Doug Boyd, Steve Cohen, Brad Rakerd, and Dean Rehberger. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2012, http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/2012/06/interviewer-generated-metadata/
This is a production of the Oral History in the Digital Age Project (http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu) sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Please consult http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/about/rights/ for information on rights, licensing, and citation.