A corrupted laptop. A demagnetised usb stick. Hundreds of undescribed image or audio files. These all represent potential nightmares for researchers responsible for keeping data safe, organised and accessible.
To help researchers avoid such pitfalls in their work, information specialist Federica Signoriello and audio-visual archivists Juan Alonso and Salvatore D’Errico made a joint presentation to the Department of History’s Interviewing and Oral History Working Group’s workshop ‘Just Asking Questions? Cross-Disciplinary Workshop on Interviewing Practice and Qualitative Research’.
The colleagues, who work in the EUI Library and the Historical Archives of the European Union, joined forces to inform workshop participants about EUI resources for archiving datasets, including qualitative datasets such as audio and video registrations. They also shared some best practices and advice on how to keep data, especially digitally born data, organised and safe.
Research Data Management
As Federica emphasised, researchers developing a project that includes data collection should elaborate their plan for organising, storing and preserving their data at the start of the project. This advanced planning will help improve the integrity of the data, avoid data loss, ensure correct access to the information, and guarantee accessibility and retrieval in the long-term. Such planning is increasingly a part of funding requirements for competitive grants, and helps guarantee that privacy and ethical standards are maintained.
Since 2017, the EUI has offered EUI members the possibility of depositing their original research data in the ResData repository, and as of 2019 in the EUI research repository Cadmus, which is managed by the EUI Library. Unless the researcher has asked for an embargo or needs to restrict access for reasons of privacy, intellectual property rights, or to protect the project itself, these datasets are available in open access. Highly sensitive qualitative data such as that collected by oral historians, however, needs to be deposited on a high-security platform to minimise the risk of loss or corruption, or, where embargoed, access by unauthorised individuals. Since Cadmus does not yet provide the highest security standards, the Library and the Historical Archives work together for secure, state-of-the-art archiving of audio-visual content, qualitative data, transcripts, and other ancillary materials.
Tools, best practices and new forms of data
Data collection in 2022 is irrefutably digital, and HAEU audiovisual archivist Juan Alonso suggested a range of tools and software that researchers can use to produce, describe, and organise digital audiovisual material and files. With regard to the collection of oral histories, Juan suggested that researchers approach them with an eye to how they might eventually be archived, thinking of what kinds of information could help illustrate and describe the audio or video recording for future study.
This might include a standard opening in each recording stating the names of the participants, the date and the place, as well as a photograph of the interviewee.
Archivist Salvatore D´Errico further elaborated on the theme of treating oral history interviews, describing different levels of transcription, approaches to metadata, and concerns about anonymization.
Finally, Salvatore shared some thoughts on archiving and preservation with respect to a phenomenon interesting for social scientists of today and undoubtedly those of tomorrow: the massive production and dissemination of audio-visual material on social networks. Archival initiatives such as ‘Witness’ in the human rights domain and ‘Documenting the Now’, which is more general, are just two examples of efforts to engage with social media content as data and testimony.