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Oral History

Processing Interviews

Once you have prepared for and completed the interview, you will have a collection of forms, and possibly supportive documentation from the narrator.  It's important to keep these things organized for transfer into the archives.

Processing interviews can mean different things to different people.  In short in means you have done some work to make the interviews usable for yourself and other people.  This is usually tied into preparing the interviews for transfer into the archives.

In addition to organizing forms and supportive documentation, processing can also include creating:

  • Transcripts
  • Segments (an index)
  • Abstracts
  • Time logs

Processing oral histories also includes creating metadata, or facets of information about the oral history interview.  There are different types of metadata - administrative, technical, descriptive, and structural.  Developing a spreadsheet which maintains these facets of information about the interviews is critical to making your oral history collection usable by others.

OHMS + Aviary

OHMS + Aviary

The Louie B. Nunn Center at the University of Kentucky Libraries created a web-based system called OHMS (Oral History Metadata Synchronizer).  This system is designed to enhance access to oral history interviews.  OHMS provides the ability for word searching among full text transcription, time-stamped interviews, and correlated navigation among the transcriptions and descriptions and the actual recordings.

Aviary is the online digital content management system used by Special Collections and Archives to display oral histories.  Aviary has integrated the OHMS tool into their system.  Oral histories that are part of the Trinity University Coates Library Special Collections and Archives will utilize OHMS to provide access and enhance discoverability to interviews and projects.

Tutorials and Guides

OHMS + Aviary Documentation

Indexing Tips

What is a Segment?

Before you begin indexing and creating timestamps in OHMS, it's important to understand what a segment is.  A segment in an interview is the natural progression or noticeable change in the interview discussion.  This could be a new question posed by the interviewer, the interviewee noticeably changing topic, or if a particular point in the interview needs to be broken down for its length.  Within each segment are stories and information. Segments tend to average 5-15 minutes in length.  And for an hour long interview, expect to have around 10 segments. Keeping these ideas in mind will make determining where to timestamp easier.


Before You Begin, Listen

Before you begin indexing, listen to the interview all the way through.

When you are listening, take notes on where you notice the change in segments.  Note the time and write down the start of the question or sentence that marks the change.  This will make indexing much faster and much more accurate.  Also jot down key words and phrases, names, and locations that are mentioned.  Be listening for the larger topics and themes present in the segment and throughout the interview and make note of those too.  Once you have completed listening to the interview and taking notes, you are ready to start indexing.

Subject Headings and Keywords

When working with an oral history project it is a good idea to develop a word bank for names, places, topics, and themes you hear in the interviews and across the project. This helps provide for better discoverability of interview discussion.  Subject headings are typically a controlled vocabulary, such as the Library of Congress authorized subject headings.  Keywords tend to be generated from the interviews and the oral history project and are developed into a locally authorized set of vocabulary.  One way way to create this is by using a spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet can have multiple pages for the word bank type (i.e one page for the Library of Congress Authorized Subject Headings, and one sheet for keywords, and potentially one sheet for overarching topics and themes of the project).   OHMS has prepopulated the Library of Congress subject headings for use in the application.  There is also the option to upload a word bank (thesaurus) created with keywords from interviews.  Doing so avoids misspellings and formatting errors.

Writing a Synopsis

Each segment created in OHMS has the option to provide a segment synopsis.  A segment synopsis is a summary of the key points, the stories and information, mentioned in the segment and is typically one to two small paragraphs in length.   Deciding on what a key point is may be a little tricky.  These are the types of questions to ask yourself when writing a synopsis: 

Does the reflection span a good portion of the segment time?
Is it a passing reflection that doesn't carry any weight to the rest of the interview? 
Is the reflection followed up by the interviewer?

When writing the synopsis it is important to include names, dates, locations, especially if there is no transcript to accompany the index.



Transcription is still a useful and often requested method of engaging with oral history.  If your transcripts are full text, it also gives archives an additional backup of the interview. Since oral history has moved into the digital age, there are on going questions and conversation about automated transcript.  Not too long ago still did cut it