Last year, during my first semester as graduate assistant at Special Collections, I got the chance to collaborate in The Documented Border, an open access digital archive showcasing a collection of interviews by UA journalist professors, Celeste González de Bustamante and Jeannine Relly, as well as Operation Streamline sketches by 2-D professor, Lawrence Gipe. The oral histories in the archive provide a glimpse of what life is like for journalists and human activists along the border working to preserve freedom of expression even while often putting their personal safety at risk. The sketches serve as witnesses to U.S. immigration court proceedings, part of the controversial program that some call “assembly-line justice.”
My role in this project started out simple enough. Back in November 2015, I spent hours listening to the over a dozen recorded interviews (most of them in Spanish), providing bilingual descriptive metadata to be used as the audio files became part of the digital archive. A large of portion of these interviews were accessible by the time the Documented Border was unveiled in a well-attended ceremony that I wrote about here. Over time, more interviews have been slowly added to our files, and now that we have the complete set, it’s time to upload them all.
Sounds easy, right? And it is, but there are more steps involved that you might suspect. For some files, like in this example of the one for newspaper owner Ninfa Deandar, the process is not too complicated: all I have to do is upload the audio file to our SoundCloud account, along with a corresponding image (when available) and some basic metadata:
Next step is to link that SoundCloud item to our Omeka site. To accomplish that, first an item must be created in Omeka that includes more extensive metadata (along with tags predetermined while I listened to the original recordings). An image is again uploaded here, as is the corresponding SoundCloud code for this particular interview, allowing it to be seamlessly embedded in the digital archive:
The Omeka items are then added to the exhibit page. In this example, I added Deandar to the page designated for Mexican journalists, then set it to “public” to complete the process:
Some files, however, require some added steps. A good example is the one by Miguel Timochenco, another Mexican journalist. His interview, as was the case of three others, was done in two parts, which required I merged the audio files before uploading a combined one to SoundCloud. To accomplish that, I used Audacity, an open-source audio editor that I was already familiar with thanks to a course required of all Knowledge River students, LIS 557 (Documenting Diverse Communities). To merge the interview files, I must first transfer them to Audacity and then align the tracks by using the function “End to End.” Once that is done, I can export them back to our masters’ folder, along with some basic metadata to help keep track of each one.
The combined sound file then follows the same process as the Deandar example, one that includes adding metadata in both Spanish and English. Note that not all interviews have image files to upload. When that is the case (whether because we have not received one or because the journalists opted not to provide one), we use a stock image instead:
All these steps can be tough to keep track of, and to make things easier, we have workflows. These step-by-step instructions have both written and illustrated guides that speeds things up. Even then, sometimes things fall through the cracks, or we may get new files that need to be added to the digital exhibit. Librarians and archivists work in so many different projects, that it makes sense to take advantage of tools that keep track of the process of each one. At Special Collections, the tool of choice is Redmine, and it allows my supervisors to track my process and clarify what comes next:
For now, we have a total of 53 interviews uploaded in The Documented Border exhibit. Recently, new ones have been accessed and are ready to go through all the steps I have just described. I will once again be listening to interviews, providing bilingual descriptions and tags, then getting each uploaded as illustrated above. As the semester and my fellowship are both winding down, I will be splitting the remaining time between this project and the finding aid translation pilot. Then comes graduation in May, so it will be a busy month and a half. Wish me luck!