Oral History: It’s the Moments that Matter

One of the most powerful things about archived oral histories is each recorded interview contains hundreds, if not thousands, of moments filled with meaningful content that possess near infinite potential for engaging future researchers in unforeseen ways. One of the great challenges to tapping this great potential has always been that of discovery and usability. The majority of archived oral histories sitting on physical or virtual shelves remain difficult to discover and, without transcripts, very difficult to use.

As an archivist, I believe that we must aggressively shift our workflows and practices to accommodate the users of archived oral history. We must develop an information architecture that empowers future users/researchers to triangulate to these moments. A few years ago the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries launched SPOKEdb, an online catalog that makes the metadata records of all of our collections browseable and searchable. By placing these records in an online (search engine optimized) framework we are connecting users to the collections and, in certain cases, to the interview level. However, the myriad of possibilities contained in the moments in individual interviews remain mysterious.

I lead the team that designed and implemented a free and open source system called OHMS that enables the effective and efficient discovery of those moments in an online interview, and seamlessly connects users from a textual search of a transcript or index, to the corresponding moment in the audio or video. Transcripts were once a prerequisite for making oral history (analog and digital) usable. The OHMS indexing functionality makes interviews usable for a fraction of the price of transcription. The result is a framework that encourages and facilitates the discovery of and triangulation to these moments.

The Marshall Webb example conveyed in this video is my favorite model for powerfully demonstrating the great potential for discovery of and triangulation to the moments in an oral history interview.

Making our interviews available online in OHMS has revolutionized our user experience and, resultantly, the relevance and possibilities, in our archive of over 9,000 interviews.  OHMS gives users the ability to search, explore and connect with individual moments, and creates a sustainable model for enhancing access to our collections.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    June 24, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    What a great story! It’s incredible to see how family history contributes to the larger schema of history here. This really highlights the importance of capturing family stories, memories, and histories.

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