Field-based Annotation - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Field-based Annotation

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When showing our tools and capabilities to scholars who employ an ethnographic method, we are frequently asked whether these tools can be used "in the field." As originally conceived, the EVIA Project was focused on the preservation of existing video recordings. In typical cases, the scholar is no longer in the research environment and is working from a computer at home or in the office. Sometimes they are only a few years removed from the field experience or in others decades have gone by. The primary tool used by scholars is the Annotator’s Workbench, but it is important to understand that annotation is only one component of the EVIA Project. At present, the EVIA Project has developed a suite of tools to support annotation, some of which can be used in a field environment. We are committed to further development of these possibilities and are currently doing some testing. However, the question is not simple to answer at the moment for several reasons. Preservation is a key part of what we do and it requires a workflow requires several levels of verification and quality control. Thus far, a preservation workflow is a challenge to manage in many field environments and at the very least, depends on digital video recording. Changes in recording technology and refinements of our own tools are facilitating important developments in the use of EVIA tools in the field, but such work requires some orientation and collaboration with the EVIA Project beforehand.

Fundamentally, the EVIA Project is concerned with preservation and preservation is not as simply as merely digitizing a recording. Digital Preservation is concerned with tape to digital file transfer, file integrity, quality control, technical metadata, descriptive metadata, administrative metadata and the creation of a METS-based preservation package for long-term storage. Even though high-quality field-based video recording systems are becoming more prevalent, they are not designed for regular consumer use and they only simplify one dimension of the preservation process. As of yet, best-practice based software for managing a digital file preservation workflow in the field does not exist. Indeed, they are still rare in archival institution environments. However, they are entirely conceivable, and we are working towards the design of such a system.

Assuming that preservation matters are taken care of, the annotation process is best served by the creation of video transcodes that have a lower bit rate and smaller file size than the preservation masters. Otherwise, most computer systems are bogged down by the memory and storage requirements. Generating transcodes for annotation requires that you begin with preservation masters otherwise, segmentation and annotation may become mismatched with video files generated from different transfers made later. Transcodes also require computer time and software for that purpose and this can be a serious challenge in field environments where spare time and/or dependable electricity are not existent.

While we work towards simplifying as many of these processes as we can, fundamentally, the work of the EVIA Project continues to require a great deal of collaboration between scholars, librarians, and technologists and we see that as a good thing. For far too long, not enough scholars have been fully engaged in the issues that are immediately relevant to the preservation and access of their recordings to the detriment of their legacy and what were expensive resources to create in the first place.

We recognize the immense value of tools for working more immediately to the time of the recording and explore further refinement of our existing tools to support this kind of work. The EVIA Digital Archive Project is currently working to develop tools and data management systems for field annotation involving a few select researchers who are conducting testing during their field research. When the source recordings are made straight to a hard disk, the issues of preservation transfer are minimized and it enables a scholar to begin annotating immediately without an expensive and time-consuming preservation transfer workflow. Preservation data management issues do not go away, but field annotation is potentiated. Annotation as part of the immediate fieldwork environment enables the scholar to work while the material is very fresh, and it facilitates consultation and collaboration with local experts and video subjects to describe video recordings. It also enables a more fine-grained approach to permissions and access decisions.

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