Recently, Randolph Hollingsworth asked if I would be interested in indexing a collection of oral history interviews from the “Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project.” The interviews selected for Randolph’s project focus on women in the community from a variety of different backgrounds, and many discuss conditions in Lexington before and after the Civil Rights Movement. One of the goals of the project is to provide greater access to the stories these women have to tell; stories that were often overlooked by traditional mainstream media sources. (For more information on this project, check out Randolph’s blog post here.)
Indexing is the process of making an oral history interview more accessible to users through the addition of searchable keywords, subjects, summaries, and other information. This enables users to locate points of interest within an interview, saving them the time it would take to listen to the interview in its entirety. Indexers use OHMS, the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer, a system which allows textual information to be assigned to audio or video recordings at a fraction of the cost of creating transcripts. (For more information on the OHMS system please visit www.OralHistoryOnline.org.)
To index an interview, an indexer listens to the interview, breaking it down into 5-10 minute segments based on common topics. Each segment is given a title based on the topics covered. Within these segments keywords and subjects are chosen based upon the topics covered in the segment and upon the interviewee’s own words. The indexer writes a summary for each segment, informing the users of the content of each section. Additional information, such as GPS coordinates, links to other websites, and partial transcripts may also be added, depending on the needs of the project.
Beginning to index a new oral history project is usually the most difficult part. It takes time to learn and understand the purpose, tone, and topic of the project. Sometimes the best place to start is by listening to an interview to get a feel for the types of questions asked, the main subjects of the interviews, and the pace or structure of the interview. Though these can vary between interviews within the same collection, the interviews generally follow a similar pattern and it can be useful to listen to one interview to get a feel for the entire collection. While listening to the interview I like to write down important words or phrases that the interviewee uses, the main topics of the interview, and any keywords or subjects that I think may repeat throughout the collection. From this list I can begin creating my keywords thesaurus and my subjects thesaurus. The keywords thesaurus is generally less formal and is made up of names, places, and other topics mentioned in the interview. The subjects thesaurus is made up of Library of Congress approved subject headings. These are generally more broad and cover the overarching topics within the interview. As I listen to more interviews within the collection I add the new keywords and subjects for each interview to the list, while also checking each interview’s content against the existing list. This ensures that I am using the same version of a word throughout all interviews within a collection, maintaining consistency for users.
For the Blacks in Lexington project I also added GPS coordinates to many of the segments. These coordinates allow users to see a map of the locations mentioned within the segment, for instance the Lyric Theater, or the Charles Young Community Center. This gives users a better sense of the community discussed within the interview. This collection in particular has been challenging in regard to locations due to the fact that the landscape of Lexington, especially the East End area, has changed greatly over the years. In a future post here I will be chronicling these challenges and my efforts to find maps depicting the streets of Lexington from the 1940s to the present.
As this project progresses I am learning more about my hometown of Lexington as well as some of the people who have lived and made history here and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with everyone at the KYWCRH.