In an earlier post I alluded to some issues in describing sound recordings. When you've got one hundred thousand recordings, as the Hoover Archives does, this is a big issue. The obvious answer is to use the label information, but that assumes that each recording is labeled, that the label is accurate and complete, and that we can interpret it. The photos here, taken from audio items in our holdings, show how difficult this can be. What do we do when we cannot read the language (or the handwriting), don't know which number to use, don't have a key to the meaning of the numbers, or have detailed recording notes without a title to give context to the notes?
We're approaching the description challenge from various directions. Sometimes the labels do provide useful information, which we're adding to our collection guides. For instance, Milton Friedman's Economics Cassette series, distributed by subscription and totaling 215 tapes, has labels indicating topics and date; we recently added all the label data to the guide to the Friedman papers.
For the thousands of sound recordings in the Commonwealth Club records, we are working from printed summaries to populate an extensive database of recordings with program titles, speaker names, Library of Congress subject headings, and descriptive summaries. Metadata cataloging interns from a local library school continue to contribute to this massive effort.
In our audio preservation lab, we digitize recordings one by one, which involves playing each at its listening speed ("real time"). When the recordings are in English, the audio engineer writes notes about their content, which is then added to the collection guide, such as we did with the lacquer discs in the Christopher T. Emmett Jr. papers (Emmett was an officer and organizer of anti-Nazi and anticommunist organizations in the United States). We publicized the completion of this project, and many similar digitization and description projects, on the Hoover Library and Archives web page.
We also ask visiting researchers to help. When one had listened to a number of tapes from box 1330 of the records of the American Council on Education, we asked her to make notes about speaker names and program titles, which we then added to the collection guide. (We're always looking for new ways to overcome labeling deficiencies and provide more descriptions of our sound recordings.)