Recording oral histories – Part 2
My last post detailed the preparations for my first oral history recording with a nurse whose work had relevance to our HIV/AIDS collections. I also mentioned that have been inspired to run a short oral history project in the John Lewis Edinburgh store where I work
The two oral history projects
I have started recording for both projects in LHSA and John Lewis Edinburgh and, although they require the same skills, the final use of the recordings will be quite different. This highlights the many uses that oral histories have.
The recordings stored with LHSA will be under strict control of the archivist, where access will be limited to allow research and, if requested by the interviewee, some may have their access restricted for a requested length of time. This is understandable due to the subject being discussed - you may get a more frank discussion if the interviewee knows there is a time limit before the recording will be released.
In contrast, the intention for the project in John Lewis Edinburgh is to share the Partners’ stories immediately through a website so both current working Partners and the general public can listen to these. The recordings will also be deposited with the John Lewis Heritage Centre.
My first LHSA recording
In formulating the questions for my first oral history recording I did a little research. I accessed documents from the Lothian Regional AIDS Team (GD24) collection which had correspondence, meeting notes and various drafts of the proposal for the project my interviewee was involved in. I felt this provided me with more confidence to talk about a project that I originally knew very little about and also inspired questions that I would not necessarily have thought of. As this was successful for my first interview, I will be doing similar research for my second interview with someone who has experience with providing pastoral care for those affected by HIV.
Before booking a room, I consulted with Clare Button, Project Archivist on the Towards Dolly project, who had some experience with oral histories. One of her tips was to use the sound-proofed video conference room in the George Square Library. This, partnered with the background noise reduction feature on the voice recorder, meant the recording was clear and required no post recording editing to remove background noise.
When it came to recording the interview, the time flew by. To set the scene, the interviewee and I were sitting at a table, face to face, with the sound recorder sitting between us. I had a page full of questions and topics to cover sitting in front of me and I went through the agreement and copyright form with the interviewee. I then pressed record and introduced the recording - this helps an archivist and any listeners understand what the recording is. My page of questions and topics were spent after about 20 minutes. It went a lot quicker than I expected but everything I wanted to discuss was covered in the recording. The interviewee then signed the agreement after the recording. It was then time to catalogue and transcribe the recording.
Cataloguing and Transcription
Following some further training from Louise on creating catalogue entries and transcription I got started on creating two documents: a catalogue entry that summarises the important points and timings of the recording and a transcription which records the interview word for word.
The catalogue entry was relatively straightforward since I adapted a template that Louise provided. I listened to the recording the whole way through, marking the time and the general topic discussed at these points. Important information about the whole length of the recording and the format it is held in was also added.
The transcription document was a lot more time-consuming. In my training, Louise had shared the fact that some oral histories may take seven times the length of the recording to transcribe them, and there does not appear to be a piece of software that can do it accurately enough yet! Essential, for me, was the software package Express Scribe by NCH. This allowed me to slow the speed of the recording to half the normal speed, and also used the function buttons on my keyboard to pause and play. The big advantage of using the function buttons was that I did not need to exit the Microsoft Word document I was typing in, saving me a lot of time. The transcription took about a day to complete and I think I will get faster as I do more.
Iain transcribing his first oral history interview...
The next LHSA recording
Listening to my first recording there are a few other things that I have learnt to take to the next one. There were a huge number of ‘ums’ in my first recordings when I was asking questions. That should be easy to fix, I just need to understand that pausing is natural and try not to fill it with ‘ums’!
Keep an ear out for jargon and acronyms. There was one acronym that slipped by me during the first interview and without clarifying it during the interview I needed to add a key on the transcription.
Leaving a legacy
The first two recordings I am doing for LHSA is creating a framework to allow the LHSA team to continue adding recordings of personal stories to add context to existing HIV/AIDS paper and object collections held at LHSA. The intention is to continue to interview retired policy makers, retired healthcare personnel, staff working in charities to support those affected by HIV in Edinburgh and the Lothians and possibly service-users of those charities. This project is ongoing and would have been much more difficult to get off the ground without the support the John Lewis Golden Jubilee Trust secondment paying for me to work at LHSA for two days a week for 24 weeks.
I would like to thank all of those within LHSA and the Centre for Research Collections who have welcomed me and made me feel part of the team. Thank you also to my team back in John Lewis who have supported me in this. I particularly would like to thank my supervisor Louise at LHSA who has taken a lot of time to support me in this secondment and has given me the opportunity to make an important contribution to preserving the history of a city I both love to live and work in. Finally, this secondment would not have been possible without the enthusiastic support from the John Lewis Edinburgh Communities Liaison Coordinator, Judith.