Creating access for the Presbyterian Historical Society’s audio archives

A searchable audio database for decades of historic recordings

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Organized in 1852, The Presbyterian Historical Society is the oldest religious archive in the United States. Its collections include audio recordings which document pivotal moments in world history, among them the organization of a national church in Cameroon, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

With the help of Pop Up Archive, PHS is making this audio findable on their digital collections site. We spoke with Elise Warshavsky, Digital Archivist at Presbyterian Historical Society, about how they’ve been using Pop Up Archive’s tools.

Making audio instantly discoverable on the web

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Screenshot of PHS custom Pop Up Archive transcript player

PHS uses transcripts and metadata created by Pop Up Archive to make their digital collections automatically discoverable on the web:

“For any audio we upload into our digital asset management (DAM) which has been put into Pop Up Archive, we add the Pop Up Archive ID to our metadata and it automatically pulls the [transcript player]…I also took the transcript from Pop Up Archive, and loaded it as a separate data stream for each audio [record]. This datastream is indexed, so if you keyword search the DAM for a term within the audio, that audio file will come up as well.”

Easy opportunities for human correction

When we first spoke with PHS, they weren’t sure they had the resources to perfect machine-generated data to publish, but it was even easier than they expected: “We intended just to use the automatic transcript as a point of discovery, but the fact that it was so easy to correct them led us to edit and publish them with Pop Up Archive.”

With the help of a passionate community volunteer, PHS corrects their Pop Up Archive transcripts. Warshavsky says the volunteer’s experience cleaning the transcripts was a breeze compared to her memories of manual transcription:

“It was a short learning curve to learn the editing tools. She started with [Pop Up’s] auto-tags, and added more tags to starting pulling into the catalogue. To give it to someone to clean up puts you in a better starting place.”

Searchable, accessible institutional knowledge

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Pop Up Archive’s interactive transcripts capture decades of institutional knowledge, making it instantly possible to search for and surface the most interesting moments.

Before Pop Up Archive, PHS had just one archivist posting audio to their website along with a few sentences about the content. It was problematic for the historical society to rely only on descriptions for search: researchers or PHS patrons had to wade through hours of material to find moments of interest in these recordings. Warshavsky says:

“Being able to search [a full transcript] helps you to be able to get to that interesting content. If it’s 48 min of someone speaking, unless you want to listen to the whole thing, search makes it incredibly valuable. The marriage of Pop Up Archive and archival content is really making it more accessible.”

Ongoing problem-solving for audio archives

In terms of searching the PHS audio collection, Warshavsky says, nothing compares to Pop Up: “Pop Up Archive keeps developing the tools and making them easier. There’s nothing else that touches on these problems.”

Got an archival audio problem we can solve? We’re listening.

Explore the Presbyterian Historical Society collections

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