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Stop, Transcribe, and Listen: Volunteer Experience with New Storytelling Tools

The NYPL Community Oral History project has some exciting new tools to help make our growing collection more searchable! We recently received a Knight Foundation Prototype Grant in collaboration with The Moth  to process our audio stories using Pop Up Archive's software and to engage people from around the city and the world to correct these automated transcripts.

Read a guest blog post below from volunteer Kaitlin McClure about her experience tagging and transcript correcting.

I began volunteering for the New York Public Library’s Community Oral History Project this past September. I had experience with oral history during my undergraduate studies, but my interest in it was re-sparked when I moved to the city for graduate school. I looked around to see if there were any projects going on that I could get involved with, hoping to learn more about community oral histories. I could hardly have hoped to find a project as perfectly suited to my interests as the library’s!

I have to say that I love going through and annotating the interviews. I have only lived in New York for a year, so listening to these interviews has taught me so much about the city, its neighborhoods, and the people who live here. Every interview gives me the opportunity to gain a new perspective on the city and understand someone else’s point of view.

That being said, certain things drive me crazy while I am annotating interviews. I worry if I am being overzealous with my tagging, and then I worry I might have missed something someone might be looking for! What will people be searching for when they browse through these interviews? Will they want to hear about the games other people played when they were children? Their favorite neighborhood spots? The first time they went to Yankee Stadium? What if there is something people are looking for I have not tagged? These are things that can really keep a person up at night.

NYPL Community Oral History volunteer Kaitlin McClure uses the new transcript correction tool

I also try to do research to make sure I have the correct spellings for the names of people and places that I tag, but sometimes Google’s infinite wisdom is not enough and I cannot be sure I have found the correct spelling! It is agonizing to admit defeat in those situations, and I am sure my Google Search History would be pretty funny to anyone who happened to look at it.

I have gotten to try out NYPL’s new transcription tool a few times as well, and I have to say that it is a pretty fantastic bit of technology. Usually if I want a written transcript for an interview I have to spend hours listening to the interview over and over again, working painstakingly to get each word and phrase down just the way it was said, but this tool does it almost all for me! All I have to do is go through and correct the transcript that has already been created using voice recognition software. The program plays the audio back to me line by line. If the software has made a mistake transcribing any of the words (and there have been some funny mistakes) I can just fix it on the spot! Maybe it’s the techie in me, but I thought it was actually pretty fun. The other volunteer and I even started racing to see who could correct their transcript the fastest.

I love sitting down and listening to these interviews, though. Each one is an opportunity to drop into someone else’s life and understand their story the way they tell it. New Yorkers are often portrayed as a bustling crowd, a mass of people, but nothing shows how wrong that idea is as much as this project. New York is a city of neighborhoods each with its own character, each full of individuals with unique and beautiful stories to tell.

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