Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a historical society. The group is planning on digitizing and organizing some old taped interviews. When they said they didn't really know what was on the tapes, I suggested a good place to start might be with a Tape Log for each tape. Basically, a tape log is an index of topics that the interview covers. It is easier than doing a full transcription, and makes it easier for later researchers to go directly to that section of tape and listen to the part of the interview they are interested in.
"With this tape log, you will later be able to go back and select portions of the tape to listen to and transcribe (word-for-word translation of the tape-recorded interview). Complete tape transcriptions are important, but they are also very time-consuming. A good compromise is to do a combination of logging and transcribing: log the general contents of the tape and transcribe, word for word, the parts that you think you might want to quote directly."
- taken from "The Smithsonian Folklife and Oral History Interviewing Guide" available online at:
While you can certainly do this with tapes themselves, digitizing the material makes things easier in today's digital age. It is also helpful from a conservation perspective.
"I'd digitize first and work with the digitized copies," says Mary Ellen Wright, Professional Development and Outreach Officer with ANLA. "That would be better from a preservation perspective -- save wear and tear on the original tapes."
We've developed our own version of a tape log form, based on the example given by the Smithsonian. The forms can be downloaded, along with other sample forms such as consent forms, at:
Or you can download the pdf version directly at:
Or the word document version directly at:
The US-based Veterans History Project has a similar form on its website at: