Full disclosure: the author of these COVID-19 blogs is Dr. Elissa Stroman, the Audio/Visual Unit Manager. And so this week, she wanted to take a moment to explain what her department is doing during our work from home times, as well as provide an expanded explanation of oral history remote accessibility.
Overview of Our Oral Histories
The Southwest Collection’s oral history collection of over 6,500 recordings has traditionally been abstracted only, wherein our staff listens to interviews and generates a list of topics and keywords. Thousands of these abstracts have been placed on our oral history wiki. In 2013, the Audio/Visual department shifted to create full-text transcripts of all new interviews conducted, and since that time, over 1,000 interviews have been transcribed, many of which are available on our dspace.
In 2013, this blog featured a three-part overview of our oral history holdings, discussing the collection generally, our shift to transcripts, and the various recording formats of our interviews. Since those blogs were published, in Fall 2018, the A/V department completed digitizing all SWC oral history interviews in our holdings. This was especially advantageous in COVID-19 times, because mp3 copies of the entire collection can be backed up to a portable hard drive and easily worked on remotely.
Working from Home and Expanding Operation
In early March 2020, as the Southwest Collection realized that remote work was a matter of “when” not “if,” the A/V department began making arrangements for remote oral history transcription work. We recognized early that transcription was a task any employee could take with them, whether or not they had an internet connection. It is also work that can be soothing—the act of transcribing allows transcribers to focus on the interview at hand and tune everything else out. But more importantly, our researchers frequently ask for transcripts from older interviews, and we have been unable to keep up with the demands—until now. Because of all this, the Texas Tech libraries administration realized this opportunity and made this a priority project of our building: let’s see how many transcripts can be created in this time.
Typically, the A/V department consists of three or four part-time student transcribers and one staff member editor. In the days leading up to the Texas Tech campus shutting down, more and more USB drives with mp3s were disseminated, as were links to a shared onedrive folder. At last count, almost thirty Texas Tech library and SWC employees have been assigned to remote oral history transcription work (whether it be their only assigned task or just an extra project). The interviews prioritized for remote transcription work are interview series with release forms, under-represented voice projects, important themes/collections from the SWC’s holdings, and some of the earliest oral history recordings in our collection that document pioneers of the South Plains region.
What This Means for Our Researchers
The first thing researchers will notice is a wave of new transcripts put onto our dspace. Our department had a backlog of hundreds of transcripts that needed final edits and uploading. We now have the staff and time to do that. These transcripts are more recent interview series and projects that were transcribed by our students over the last few years. We also plan to expand our oral history wiki, which at this time only has about half of our interviews represented.
The interviews that are being transcribed remotely will not go on dspace immediately. They will still need to go through our editing queue, which takes time. Further, many of these older interviews have release restrictions that means they are only available in-house. But in the long term, it is notable that while we transcribed 1,000 interviews in about seven years, we have over 2,500 interviews queued to be transcribed during this quarantine time. Consequently, potentially in the post-COVID-19 world, over half of the Southwest Collection’s oral history collection will be transcribed (and with potential for more to be done if there’s time and people needing more work).
Accessing Oral Histories Online NOW
Many people ask about accessing our oral histories online, right now, today, from home. Here is the short response:
- No audio is available to stream or listen to online.
- In “normal” times, we can provide audio copies of interviews to family members ONLY. However, because our building is closed, we cannot fulfill patron requests for physical media at this time. We can put your request on file and fulfill it when we are back in the office.
- If you are working on an immediate research project, we highly suggest you look to our dspace transcripts first, as that will provide you full-text versions of our interviews that you can cite directly.
- If you are planning a future research trip, then look to our wiki for other interviews and research topics that may only be available for listening in our Reading Room.
- If you find a particular interview you are interested in that does not have a transcript, feel free to contact us, and we can look into release restrictions. If the interview is from the 1990s onward, there is a good chance that its transcript can be placed online. You can make a request for it to be transcribed, and it will be prioritized it in our transcription queue. I anticipate that it will take about six weeks to get the transcript onto dspace.
- See previous blogs for more information generally about digital holdings and our policies during our COVID-19 closure.
Keep your eyes on our dspace and wiki sites in the upcoming weeks/months, as we continue to expand our digital holdings of our oral histories.