I am a recent graduate of the public history graduate program at Rutgers University. I currently serve as the digital media coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities, where I wrangle bloggers and tackle our social media platforms.
In the last two years I've created an oral history database using StoriesMatter for the Salem County Historical Society, collected data on school group attendance for the education department at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I've digitized the Balch Institute Ethnic Images in Advertising Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I volunteer at the Alice Paul Institute in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey and the Digital Center at HSP.
In my spare time I am often silly and irreverent.
Salem County Historical Society- Week Two
I returned to SCHS only to find that the laptop I’d been using to upload videos caught a nasty virus and had to be reformatted. Sarah (the director) and I searched that laptop, but to no avail. The videos still existed as I had formatted them, but Stories Matter was gone. With the database gone, all the work I’d done was also gone.
Despite losing a week’s worth of work, I was surprisingly nonchalant about it. There are a couple of reasons for this. 1. What am I going to do, have a melt-down over something I cannot control? How counter productive. 2. We were planning on changing our approach to the database anyway, so all I really lost was a handy reference for the tag cloud. 3. I just came off of a four week vacation. It is really hard to get uptight after that.
This of course leaves me wondering how and where I should be saving Stories Matter (SM). It worries me that even though it is incredibly flexible, it is also quite fragile. According to their Facebook admin, an update looms on the horizon. I hope to have a better idea of what that means for this project in four or five days. My fingers are crossed that it will be a simple update and not something clunky that causes half my work to disappear. This time, I might actually shed tears if it disappeared.
Short version of what I have done this week:
Good, that looks better than I thought it might.
Video Conversion: Sarah started this process while I was gone, but, computers being what they are, some hadn’t converted correctly. I only had maybe four or five to do. Sadly, when the computer was reformatted Adobe Premier Elements disappeared. That meant downloading the software again, finding SCHS’s specific codes, and reinstalling. It was just time consuming and illustrated just how ignorant I am of PC operations. I think I’m going to have to invest in a book or tutoring or something to jog those memories.
While the videos were morphing into SM acceptable formats, I recreated the project itself in SM. As I think I’ve stated in the past, the interface is rather intuitive, so this was fairly easy. All I had to do was create the project and enter in the name of each interviewee. Then, I took the videos that Sarah had already converted and started uploading them (Creating Sessions). For each session I entered the interview date, the place and the names of the interviewer/s. If I had additional biographical information, I put that in too. My complete lack of knowledge on who these people are is probably the most frustrating thing about this project. SM has a nifty little box for biographical information, which is awesome because it helps keep the stories/clips in some kind of context even when they are all hacked up. I cannot, without hours of research, begin to fill this information in. I am not afraid of research, but I have very clear goals, and standing knee deep in historical documents will not help me meet those goals. The weight of this task will likely fall to the librarian Beverly. Luckily, I have spoken to Sarah about this. I am 90% sure this information will be entered once I leave. It is ultimately not my responsibility. That is really hard.
Writing down processes (a.k.a. the intern’s version of “show your work”): The product of my internship is meant to be two fold, the beginnings of a finding aid for the project, and a procedural manual that SCHS can use once I’m gone to train staff and volunteers to continue my work after I’m gone. Awesome. I find that I really like figuring out how to do things for myself. I also like figuring out how to tell other people how to do what I’m doing. While SM and every other piece of software out there has a manual of some sort, it is not always accessible. I’m kind of enjoying this part. More than I thought I would. I wonder what that means for my future in public history. Does it mean I am not meant to work in museums as a historian but as a bureaucrat of some sort? Does it mean I’d be good at coordinating volunteers or staff? Training? Rule-making? I don’t think my internship was supposed to send me down a professional panic spiral, so I try to consider it without making huge decisions. Advice is welcome.
The video uploading is super simple once the files are converted. The tricky part is watching the videos and deciding where to clip them out. I found that watching the video in its entirety is the best way to go. I keep a notebook at my side, I watch the video making notes of what the person is saying. On the second viewing, I start making clips, using the notes as a guide. I know if a subject returns fifteen seconds later or fifteen minutes later. At the same time, I’m underlining and crossing out things in my notes. Maybe the subject mentioned tomatoes, but the clip is really about grain farming. On the third viewing I have a very clear idea of what is being said in these clips. I enter the tags on this viewing.
It seems foolish perhaps to watch these videos three times, but I stand by it. Most of them come in at under an hour, some of the subjects are hard to understand, and really, if you want to make informed choices on clipping and tagging, you really have to know the material. Even if I never watch these videos again, they matter to someone. They matter to the people who gave their stories, they matter to the Society and they matter to future researchers.
A note on why I am not tagging the main video: The tags entered in the main video show up in the same tag cloud as the clips. With each mention the tag gets bigger and I don’t want to skew the cloud.
The finding aid has been an interesting experiment. Ultimately, Sarah wants two sections, one by Interviewee (subject) and one by theme (topic). We had to make the decision that not every topic entered on SM would end up in the finding aid. It is not feasible. Even if I make a conscious decision to not tag every single thing mentioned by a subject, the tag cloud is HUGE. Trying to reference every topic sort of blows my mind. Instead, what I’ve done
Subject: Full Name (full video running time)
Clip 1: Title (start time-end time)
(every tag in alphabetical order)
Clip 2: Title (start time-end time)
(every tag in alphabetical order) and so on.
In THIS part of the finding aid, every tag is referenced, linked to its clip. It is the closest representation of SM I can get on paper. The tags will end up in PastPerfect, so those patrons who know how to use that program, can just search there and presto! There it is. Oh how I hope this works. Really, what people need to do, is get on Stories Matter and search there. I hope this aid will ease that transition.
This aid serves a double purpose. It can aid in reconstructing the database again, should anything happen to it. True, everything will need to be put back in, but assuming people trust me (and other clipper/taggers), all they need to do is input the data in the appropriate places.
All in all, my second week was good. I think I will always worry that I’m not productive enough. I read an article about interns being more trouble than they are worth and how they are huge time drains with few payoffs for their institutions. Intellectually I know this is not happening at Salem County Historical Society.
You can find the article here: http://blogs.hbr.org/glickman/2011/07/nobody-has-time-for-interns.html The worst part for me was seeing this on tumblr and watching all these historians and museum professionals (and soon-to-be-professionals) agree with it. I was horrified. When did we become so defeatist? Why do we assume that we should know everything coming out of the gate? Admittedly, I feel Rutgers is pretty light on experiential education, but even if we had a long-term co-op or classes on graphic design or conservation, would I really need to know EVERYTHING? I don’t know what planet these people were born on, but I’m a simple human being. Everything cannot be put into my brain in three years. I need repeated, real-life experience.
I am getting this at Salem County. They are kind and gracious, receptive to my questions and ideas. They leave me to my own devices, but are always available when I need some guidance.
Also, I got fresh tomatoes and peppers from their garden. Jersey fresh!