Thursday, August 23, 2012


The role of indexer entails two parts of the indexing work. There is developing the index—i.e., brainstorming and organizing the customized controlled vocabulary to be used, and then actually applying the index to the content, which could be referred to as coding. As with all the other roles discussed here, this work may all be done by the same person. 

Developing an index, or more specifically the controlled vocabulary used as the index, may include contributions from anyone familiar with the content of the oral history interviews and the subject area in general. The annotator is typically best equipped to provide the most specific and topical input relative to the material that has been annotated. However, the controlled vocabulary is based not only on the very specific content of the collection but outside factors as well. Existing thesauri such as TGM and LCSH can be drawn upon to develop the controlled vocabulary. Also, the users--the anticipated audience of the collection—should be explicitly defined and considered when choosing terms (e.g., a local term for an object might be more appropriate than what LOC calls it.)  Developing a controlled vocabulary is particularly challenging in an on-going project, as the terms chosen and the architectural structure of terms (e.g., hierarchy) will necessarily change as more material is added. Ideally, the controlled vocabulary is developed after all interviewing and annotation is complete, though sometimes this is not possible. Developing the controlled vocabulary works best as a collaborative, iterative process (including drafting, debating, and test application) aimed at a comprehensive taxonomy that represents the whole collection.

Applying the controlled vocabulary is another task of the indexer, or more specifically the coder.  Coding is sometimes done by more than one person, and often done by someone different than the person who composed the annotation originally. Frequently, the coder applies the controlled vocabulary based on the annotation summary only, not by actually listening to the original recorded passage, which has certain advantages and disadvantages. The key challenge with this job is maintaining a reasonable amount of “intercoder reliability”—i.e., that two indexers/coders independently will assign the same vocabulary term to the same passage. Some inconsistency and subjectivity is expected in this process—just as two people would not index a book in exactly the same way. Ideally, one person, such as a lead indexer or the editor, should oversee the indexing/coding and develop some means of quality control of to assure a reasonable amount of consistency.

Return to Oral History Digital Indexing Roles.

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