Access Archives Featured General — 01 January 2016

As the Director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries and the principle creator/designer of OHMS (Oral History Metadata Synchronizer), I am a  strong advocate for enhancing the way we provide online access to archived oral histories.  This year I have had the privilege of lecturing and working with oral historians and archivists all over the world.  When we reach the Q&A portion of the program, the hands usually go up and, invariably, a question is posed pertaining to how I balance putting our oral history interviews online and potential privacy risks.

Over the past few years, I have encouraged interviewers to fill out the Nunn Center’s Interview Information Form soon after the conclusion of the interview  to capture some base-level descriptive metadata about the interview before the interview gets accessioned into the archive.  As part of this documentation process, we have recently begun encouraging interviewers to consider 6 questions to consider, in order to document content that may prove to be a privacy risk to the interviewee.  There is a massive amount of personal detail revealed in even the most mundane oral history project or interview. We talk a great deal about “informed consent” when we discuss oral history and ethics, however, I have begun to think a great deal about “informed accessioning” from the archival perspective  These six questions identify any potential red flags that we will want to know about when accessioning interviews into our collections.

Additionally, we have woven consideration of these six questions into the OHMS indexing workflow.  Each person who indexes an interview for the Nunn Center is asked to consider these questions before marking an interview as completed and ready to go online.

I have written (in much more detail) about the use of these questions in the article “Informed Accessioning: Questions to Ask After the Interview” for Oral History in the Digital Age, but I figured I’d include the questions in a post here as well.

The six questions the Nunn Center asks interviewers and indexers to consider are:

  1. Does this interview contain personal information such as a physical address, healthcare information, a phone number, a social security number, or anything else that potentially poses a future privacy risk?
  1. Does this interview contain confidential or sensitive information (about anyone) the Nunn Center should consider prior to making this interview available online? Examples would include discussions of personal tragedies, medical conditions, sexual abuse, or violence.  Consider this, if this interview were your story, is there anything you would not want made publicly available or discoverable via Google or other search engine?
  1. Does this interview contain criminal allegations against another party?
  1. Does this interview contain potentially slanderous or libelous language pertaining to another living person?
  1. Does this interview reveal institutional, trade, or corporate secrets?
  1. Does this interview use culturally insensitive language?

I am so proud that OHMS is able to enhance access to so much of the Nunn Center’s collection and, now, the collections of oral history repositories around the world.  “Informed consent” is a critical value to our profession and practice.  As we become more efficient in our archival processes and workflows for providing access to our oral history collections, these 6 questions offer an efficient opportunity to slow down for just a moment strive for informed accessioning as well.  Once again, to read more about these 6 questions, check out my article “Informed Accessioning: Questions to Ask After the Interview” for Oral History in the Digital Ageand download the Nunn Center’s Interview Information Form if you want to take a look at the questions in situ.


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Douglas A. Boyd

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