This ‘how to’ guide was produced as part of Digitally Democratising Archives (Opening Archives) an action research project, designed and led by The Audience Agency as part of the Digital Skills for Heritage’s Connected Heritage programme.
LGBT Foundation is a national charity delivering advice, support and information services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) communities.
This project came about because the heritage and history of LGBT activism in Greater Manchester is not currently well represented in existing archive collections.
The project recruited volunteers to use online tools to preserve the oral histories of LGBT activists in Greater Manchester. Volunteers were trained in oral history techniques and how to use tools such as Zoom to conduct, record and transcribe interviews.
- As a volunteer interviewer, I need to be confident in using online tools to conduct oral history interviews
- As an interviewee, I need a seamless interview experience
- As a member of the LGBT community, I need to access and explore my community’s history
Clean Feed records high-quality audio in .wav format, which is preferred by our partner Manchester Central Library. Users required guidance on how to use the tool but no sign-up is required.
Zoom is a cloud-based conferencing service used to hold video and/or audio interviews. Using Zoom enabled a tertiary tech supporter to join the call and allows closed captions, a backup audio recording and privacy through password protection.
Otter.ai uses artificial intelligence to transcribe audio into text. Using Otter.ai allowed volunteers to access scripts online and edit any mistakes without having to download the audio file. It is very user friendly, and includes features such as slowing down audio to make transcriptions easier.
Audiogram is an online tool which creates engaging video content from audio files, allowing the user to create a visual background and subtitles. This was key as the transcribed interviews are published on YouTube, allowing users to read along in an engaging format.
Microsoft Forms is a part of Microsoft Office 365, and allows the creation of simple online forms. These were used to correspond with volunteers and interviewees, allowing us to easily coordinate project timings and feedback. Users were considered in the wording and type of questions used, with most questions optional and all replies anonymous to encourage honesty.
Understanding the ethical collection of oral histories and its use is key to consider. Write clear role descriptions for interviewees and interviewers to both set expectations and understand what you as an organisation are responsible for.
Understanding the purpose of your project, the scope of a volunteer’s responsibility and their time commitment will help in recruitment.
Involve the community
Involve community members from conception. You must know where your community is and work through their networks rather than expect them to come to you. The initial ask can be informal, only covering key points such as the purpose of the project, the time commitment required and any reimbursement. Allow at least three months for recruiting interviewees and interviewers.
Contact interviewees directly
Keep track of who is involved in your project using a tools such as Outlook, where you can organise correspondence, and OneNote, for creating tables to match interviewers and interviewees. Use Microsoft Forms to track availability of the project members.
First, do your research to ensure you are using the simplest software or tool for the job. Then, provide a step-by-step guide of using your tools and the interview process to interviewers. Create time for 1-1 support where it is needed.
When running online interviews for the first time it is worth joining as back-up technical support, and also to handle the downloading of the recording and its transcription. With a longer-term project this could be delegated to confident volunteers.
Transcribing and publishing
Upload your interviews to a transcription service such as Otter.ai. You will need to check for spelling mistakes before publication. To create more engaging content, use a tool such as Audiogram to overlay your transcription text and audio on a still or moving image.
Clear and transparent communication is key when recruiting volunteers. Create an information sheet which is clear on expectations, timelines and next steps.
Involve your participants from conception, give yourself as much time as possible to reach out to interested participants and have a good understanding of the structure as far in advance as possible.
The finished interviews and transcriptions are now live on the LGBT website (https://lgbt.foundation/oral-histories), and there are plans to make more visually compelling versions of the interviews to increase engagement.
Please attribute as: "Creating a digital community oral history archive (2024) by supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0