Saturday, April 4, 2009

Baylor University Oral History Institute

Baylor University's Oral History Institute has put an index to their collection online; it's fully cataloged and you can search it by interviewer, interviewee, keyword, or LC subject (some of which don't come up with any results, by the way). The metadata's fairly thorough, noting things like what format the interview was recorded in (mostly analog tape) and the ID number the institute's given to each interview. Good, standard metadata for oral histories, I think

What's mostly frustrating about their digital collection, though, is that some of the interviews cataloged don't have any online file associated with them, and when there are files available they're PDF files of the transcripts. The front page says that only interviews conducted after 1990 have these transcripts digitized, and there's a request form (also a PDF) on the front page for any transcripts not available on the site. The audio itself hasn't been digitized yet and so if you actually want to hear it you'd have to go to the actual physical archive and ask about it. To an extent this makes sense, since most historians making use of oral histories mainly use the transcripts, but for people like anthropologists or people working specifically in the field of oral history who might want the audio, this isn't really a helpful resource. It feels more like an instance of them saying, "Hey, this is what we have, come visit our archive" instead of "This is what we have; let us share it with you." It may be a matter of financial or other resources, of course, but as it stands at the moment this doesn't strike me as very useful. (Of course, I say this, and I'm a student in an oral history class who's part of building our own oral history archive, where the audio *will* be available. So I may be biased.)

--A. McClendon

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