Digitizing Oral History

teacHello all.  I thought I would share a new research article that got published today in OCLC Systems & Services.  I have a pre-print available if you don’t have access to that journal.

Digitizing oral history: can you hear the difference?


Purpose – The purpose of this study is to answer the questions: Can students discern the difference between oral histories digitized at archival quality (96 kHz/24-bit) versus CD-quality (44.1 kHz/16-bit)? and How important do they believe this difference is? Digitization of analog audio recordings has become the recommended best practice in preserving and making available oral histories. Additionally, well-accepted standards in performing this work are available. However, there is relatively little research that addresses if individuals can hear a qualitative difference in recordings made with best practices versus those that have not.

Design/methodology/approach – In all, 53 individuals participated in the study, where they listened to three sets of oral histories and had to decide which was the archival-quality recording versus the CD-quality recording and mark their answer on a survey.

Findings – Students could discern less than half of the time on average which was the archival quality versus the CD-quality recording. Further, after listening to the differences, they most often indicated the difference was “a little bit important”.

Practical implications – This research does not suggest that archivists abandon well-established sound digitization practices that produce results that audio archivists (and those able to hear fine-grain audio differences) find superior. Rather, it does imply that additional work may be needed to train listeners to discern these fine-grain differences, and appreciate the highest-fidelity replication of original audio recordings.

Originality/value – This research addresses a gap in the literature by connecting audio digitization practices to its impact on listener perception.

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Summer School!

Oregon TrailHello there.  So this summer I will be teaching Projects in Digital Archives for a fifth year in a row.  This semester, we will be working with a selection of personal materials from Ms. Liza Loop.  Ms. Loop is looking to create the History of Computing in Learning and Education (HCLE) Virtual Museum, and has worked her career in Silicon Valley’s computing industry with an interest in uses of computing for education and learning.

The collection that we will be working with is both born-digital and analog: 5.25 floppy disk, 3.5 floppy disks, Hi8 video and Betamax video (which is the bulk).  Our goal is re-animate these materials using methods relevant to a modern archival environment (e.g., digitizing analog material, imaging obsolete media, making it intelligible/runnable, etc.), and providing value to the HCLE initiative.

Although we will not be working with the Oregon Trail (screenshot above), it is one of the more well known and often remembered educational games.    I also remember playing a lot of Number Munchers…. and Carmen Sandiego (all on the Apple IIe, which may mean that I am really old or that my school was slow to adopt new technology, or both).

You can also download the course syllabus (PDF).