Thursday, August 30, 2012


A producer may be involved at any stage of an oral historydigital indexing project, and can focus on concise published content that features parts of a collection even as comprehensive annotation and indexing proceeds. Production can begin immediately after an interview is recorded or long after an interview was performed. Naturally, finding the best segments to produce from older footage is more convenient when the content is annotated and/or indexed.

Producers work in a variety of different ways, but fundamentally their role is to identify content they wish to work with, redact that content as part of an editorial process, and reproduce the material in edited videos, podcasts, segments for radio, etc.  The producer uses the content of the audio/video resource, brings additional research and vision, and adds other historical recordings, music, images and other documents to create palatable products to audiences.  Annotation and indexing is crucial for creating access to oral history audio and video, but production and publication is important for spreading awareness of and exposure to the collection. Even as we attempt to preserve and create better access to oral history collections, ultimately we want to see them be used for the education and enjoyment of others, and producers are crucial players in that effort. 

Return to Oral History Digital Indexing Roles.


As with any published document, an editor is needed to assure consistency and quality. An editorial role is also important to unify inconsistencies that may emerge between different annotators of the audio and video by dictating a style and giving feedback until the desired “voice” is achieved. The work may be as much managerial in nature as it is an editing role.  In general, the editor should be the master of all the text created in the annotation/indexingprocess. The editor would not be expected to have heard every minute of the original audio or video, but they would be expected to have read most or every word annotated within the collection.  In a larger project, the editor might delegate editorial tasks to trusted personnel, but ultimately there should be one person at the top of a hierarchy who is ultimately responsible for all published content.

For newly developed controlled vocabulary, there is also an editorial role associated with approving new terms. In the context of a custom/local controlled vocabulary being developed from scratch, the editorial process occurs as proposed terms are agreed upon and finalized.  In the case of updating, amending or expanding on an existing standard or local controlled vocabulary, content management systems like CONTENTdm have features that cue and allow a librarian to approve specific terms that have been added. In that case, the librarian who has the authority to approve or disapprove of a term being added is acting as an editor as well.

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.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Annotation is a key step upon which indexing is built, and the role of the annotator is to link the content of the audio or video with meaningful text. Annotation is itself a form of indexing—creating text that directs a user to content of interest—that simply takes a linear form, similar to a transcript. The basic skill is listening to a recording, and composing text that summarizes the content. Although annotation seeks to lighten the tedious burden of word-for-word transcription, it still takes significant time to complete (at least 1 ¼ hours per hour of interview, sometimes up to 2+ hours or more if a great deal of detail is desired). Annotation proceeds faster with practice and with increasing familiarity with the content. Familiarity with the content from the outset (whether because of personal background/interest or because the annotator conducted the interviews) is typically an additional advantage. Because annotation is the foundation upon which the indexing is built, consistency of style, density, and overall quality of annotation is strongly recommended. Generally, annotations that are shorter but consistent are better than a highly varied collection of sparse and detailed annotation written by different people in different styles. When there is more than one annotator, an editor is an essential player in the indexing process. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Digital Indexing of oral histories begins with the work of interviewer.  In an ideal digital indexing project, the role of the interviewer may continue throughout the process of indexing, and in some cases right through to editing and production. In other cases, the interviewer cannot be involved, for example in older, archival collections. In any oral history, a key responsibility of the interviewer is to know their subject and have conducted thorough background and contextual research.  An interviewer is by default a steward of the recordings, and is thus on some level responsible for seeing through certain follow up steps after the recording is made.  In a project that includes indexing, an interviewer is well positioned—because of their familiarity with the content—to be an annotator and indexer of the material they recorded. This is not imperative, and sometimes has the downside that they are not as objective as a less familiar annotator might be. However, the original interviewer—especially at a time shortly after the interview was conducted—has the potential to most efficiently annotate material, taking advantage of their own memory of the recorded event. When someone besides the interviewer does the annotation, they have the disadvantage of being unfamiliar with the content. 

Phone: 800-554-1047 - E-mail:
Web Site Copyright © 2011 The Randforce Associates, LLC