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?

ASBTRACT

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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