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Archiving the Interview (β)

Keeping the interview "alive" for future generations.

     No computer lasts forever — lightning happens; hard disc drives "crash"; inadvertant mass file deletions happen. Once you have created your master copy of the interviews, and before you start producing copies of that master, you should make an archival backup of the raw (original unedited) files as well as the final master file(s). That archival copy should be placed upon several types of storage media, say a CD-R or DVD-R and a memory card media - USB flash drive, compact flash card, ... whatever.

     Then, take those copies to your safe deposit box at the bank and put them safely away. If you have a fire at home, the files exist somewhere else. If the home computer dies (or is stolen) you have the files safely stored away, available to be loaded onto a new computer. The bank vault has controlled temperature, has a sprinkler or other fire suppression features, is dark, and is secure — nobody is just going to walk in and take your discs by "accident."

     A second repository for your files might surprise you — some of the suburban & even rural libraries do a great deal of work in genealogy and family histories. They may have already gotten into the business of archiving these kinds of projects (especially if they have already set up a room in which to conduct interview recordings). Librarians are trained to preserve the items in their care — they would be much less likely to leave something to chance. The price might be modest, with the proviso that the archival copies become part of the overall collection, accessible by all. The long term implication of that is that 150 years from now, a great-great-great-grandkid could come into the library and hear about life in the quaint year of 1975. The library would, over time, transcribe the recordings from older forms of storage media to newer forms, keeping their availability intact. Large university libraries like MSU's are currently digitizing their audio and video collections; smaller libraries might be content to let the community do the work for them. As mentioned in an earlier page YOU MUST present the library with a completed release form from each and every person heard on your recordings (interviewer and recording engineer included). It is that form that permits them to make use of the recordings long after everyone is gone. (blame the current state of our copyright laws for this requirement)

     In the early part of the 21st century we may only guess at what kinds of mass-market storage media and file formats will exist a century from now. The task of archiving your project is an effort to ensure that someone 100 years hence will have a decent chance of reading back and re-coding your audio files into that era's more advanced and most popular sound storage technologies. Storytelling and oral histories go back to the dawn of human civilization; there will always be a need to preserve the record of the past. Your role as project archivist determines how far into the future your recordings will survive — how long the voices of your family will be heard.

Leaving a Paper Trail.

     As much as you would wish for everyone in the family to enjoy the recordings that you have made as listenable, spoken word experiences, you will occasionally encounter a family member that wants to read the interview(s). Their reasons may range from the obvious: they are deaf; to the the practical: they don't have any form of audio playback equipment; to the merely preferential: they like to read, not listen. So, if you are going to accommodate that member of the family (especially if they are high on your list of future interview subjects), what do you do?

     There are two straightforward methods of producing readable transcripts of the interviews: you could hire a transcriptionist — someone that will listen to your interview recordings and type it all out (just like a court reporter). Or, you might employ computer software to "listen" and make an educated guess at the correct words & "type" them into a word processor document. In either event, the higher the quality of the interview recordings, the more accuracy that will be achieved in the voice-to-text transcription process.

     A hired transcriptionist will produce a very accurately typed copy of the interview but the cost-per-page or per-hour will be fairly steep. And, the transcriptionist only does the typing; someone will still need to conduct & record the interview.

     Computer software (such as Dragon software's Naturally Speaking program) is cheaper but will not produce nearly as accurate a document; you will wind up listening to the entire interview while sitting before a computer, correcting errors that have been made by the computer program. Audio transcription software has it's limitations, just as OCR (optical character recognition) software will at times fumble words that are printed in funny fonts or are written against a yellowing background in tiny characters. If granny speaks very quietly, or the room (hence the recording) is noisy, or the speaker mumbles, or the speaker has a very heavy accent ... you're going to have significantly more "typing" errors to fix. Error correction is a very tedious process; it burns time, or money, or both.

     Having a written transcript of your interviews might be viewed as "nice" or preferable by a few family members but the cost of producing that transcript needs to be weighed very carefully against the overall cost of the interview project. An individual here in the East Lansing area (Arlene Campanella, of Golden Voice Memoirs) conducts interviews with the express purpose of producing archival-quality written transcripts. The most significant portion of the expense of hiring her is the after-interview work that she must perform to transform that interview recording into a written (typed) format; the cost of the final printouts on low acid archival-quality paper is quite reasonable. The "good stuff" (high-quality paper), when purchased in case quantities, is not as horrendously expensive as one might expect (it may still be 3- to 5-times the price of your run-of-the-mill office supply store's general purpose copier/printer paper). And, there will also be the cost associated with the binding of the finished pages — again, not an insignificant per-copy expense.

     One of the biggest benefits of hiring someone to conduct interviews who will be producing written transcripts is the fact that they will probably use some decent recording equipment to conduct the interviews. They might well be able to perform three or four tasks ... engineer the recording, conduct the interview, produce a written transcript and produce a cleanly-edited audio recording on CD or memory card. If you can find such an individual to employ then it may (financially) make sense to produce both forms of interview record: written and aural — the cost of the printed version would be offset by the considerable savings achieved in equipment rental or purchase. We normally would not encourage you to have one person wearing all hats in the project, but at some point the total expense of the project just may require the cutting of some corners; just make sure the corners being cut don't undermine the overall quality of the interviews. Bad interviews done cheaply might as well not have been done.

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