Inside the Media Archive: Indexing Human Rights

Posted on December 13, 2010 by Yvonne Ng

Inside the Media Archive is an ongoing, occasional behind-the-scenes look at the practices, methodologies, tools, and resources we have developed and implemented to manage our collection of human rights video documentation.

partner logging

In the WITNESS Media Archive we spend a lot of time carefully cataloging the video we collect from partners in the field to capture important contextual information, such as descriptions of events, locations, and names.  Documenting these facts not only ensures that the footage can be understood and verified, and that proper safety and security restrictions can be carried out, but also simply that we can find a piece of footage when we need it.

I have written previously about the importance of metadata, and noted that we rely on both community standards (such as PBCore) and our own internally maintained vocabularies.  One of the key vocabularies that we have developed in-house is our thesaurus of human rights terms.  A thesaurus, in the archival sense of the word, is a specialized list of terms in which the relationships between the terms are indicated (e.g. broader and narrower terms, preferred terms, synonyms). We use our human rights terms to index our catalog records by topic within our media management system, so that we can easily locate all the footage we have on a certain subject (such as “Forced Evictions” or “Women’s Rights”).

Thesaurus tag cloudWe recently published our thesaurus of human rights topic terms on our website.  If you have a collection of human rights documentation, we welcome you to view, use, and adapt the structured list as you see fit to describe and index your materials.  The thesaurus is viewable online, and can be exported as an XML document. Please keep in mind that the thesaurus is a living document, and is subject to revision and change. If you do make use of it, please drop us a line! We would like to know if people find it helpful.

We are managing and sharing the thesaurus using a free, open-source, web-based application called TemaTres Vocabulary Server, which we have integrated with our FileMaker Pro-based media management system.  We first learned about TemaTres from our colleagues at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin, and plan to start using it to manage some of our other controlled vocabularies in the future. TemaTres is a relatively new tool — version 1.2 will be released in the next few days — with new plug-ins and features continually being added. We hope to be able to contribute to its development in  some way so that it can serve as an even more useful tool for the human rights archives community.

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What Others Are Saying

  1. moneymakermj December 15, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Great post. For anyone who uses a computer learning from archives on how to manage their data, how important metadata is (titling, file names, descriptions) and metadata usage are important to making the machines used daily an efficient tool rather than a cumbersome one. Thanks! We're all archivists!

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