Tennessee State Library and Archives Legislative Recording Program

Apr 02, 2018

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Background

The Tennessee State Library was established in 1854 and combined with the Department of Archives and History in 1919. This unification created the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) as a division within the Department of Education. In 1982 the responsibilities of the division were transferred to the Secretary of State. The State Library and Archives is responsible for the management and preservation of permanent-value state records and publications as well as books, manuscripts, maps, and audiovisual materials related to Tennessee.

Legislative Audio Recording Program

In 1955 the Tennessee State Library and Archives began audio recording the floor sessions of the Tennessee General Assembly. Gradually the program expanded to include all standing committees of the legislature and benefited from the addition of dedicated staff in 1985. Through the 2006 Ethics Act, the program became part of state law, and legislative mandate ordered the expansion of the recording program to fully record the proceedings of the General Assembly, including all committees and subcommittees. Though our legislature is a part-time body, many legislative committees will meet 12 months out of the year and so recording occurs year-round.

Recordings are made by Archival Technical Services staff. Recorders set up the equipment, record the meetings, and create a log sheet for each recording. The logs contain bill numbers, names of person speaking, an indication of the subject discussed, and any legislative actions.

Research and Use

Tennessee is a legislative intent state, meaning that judges may consider the intent behind legislation when interpreting the law and deciding cases. There are no materials with which to research legislative intent for any legislation enacted before 1955, but legislative recordings produced and maintained by the Tennessee State Library and Archives may provide valuable access to the discussions and debate that crafted legislation after 1955.

Researchers may visit our audio listening area in the Legislative History room of the library. Digital recording was initiated in October 2008, and these recordings can be made available for remote use through CD or email. We are gradually digitizing earlier recordings and will provide digital transfer on a case by case basis; however, we do not provide transcripts.

Legacy Media

State Library and Archives staff began test recording with Edison discs in 1951 and officially began recording with Audograph discs in 1955. The log sheets at that time were typed or handwritten on the outer sleeve of the Audograph, and these log sheets are still utilized by researchers. Recorders switched to audiocassettes in 1974 and switched to half-speed recording on cassette in 1987. The log sheets for these recordings are in paper form.

Over the years, the audiocassette recordings presented a number of issues. First, they took up massive amounts of space and as we approached capacity, the tapes could no longer be kept in temperature- and humidity-controlled storage, causing potential deterioration. The tapes were also becoming nearly impossible to purchase and, because it was a heavily used collection, the recordings required regular migration to new cassettes on high-speed duplicators. We were having to charge patrons for tapes used or ask them to provide their own tapes, which limited access and essentially made the recordings available for in-house use only.

These issues were the driving force behind our decision to go digital. After researching and testing a number of products, we chose BIS Digital’s DCR, or Digital Court Recorder, and implemented it in October 2008.

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Digital Court Recorder (DCR)

The DCR software operates on Windows, and we have purchased ten licenses for use by recording staff on their laptops. The biggest feature for us is the ability to bookmark any point in the digital file by time, speaker, or notes. It’s with this bookmark feature that we produce our logs. Users can then click on parts of the log that will trigger that part of the audio to play.

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It also allows us to export a proprietary reference copy (with free player) and master copies of the audio as a WAV file and the log/bookmarks as a TXT file. We are working to digitize our older recordings, but it is a slow process. We continue to maintain all legacy media (Audograph discs and cassettes) for earlier recordings as we attempt to digitize.

Online Access

For now we are providing access to these recordings in the following ways in-house, with CDs, or via email. With the goal of making these records more accessible and lessening the burden on staff to research and retrieve them, we began experimenting with options for online access in 2015.

We started by uploading our DCR files to Preservica, a digital preservation product that also has an access component powered by WordPress. We discovered that Preservica was not able to recognize or render the files due to their proprietary nature. We would have to overcome complex licensing conflicts between BIS Digital and Preservica in order to make the files usable. We then batch converted the TXT log sheets to PDFs and uploaded them along with their corresponding master WAV files. Doing so, however, meant sacrificing the bookmark feature of the DCR files that links the log sheets and the audio directly. Now patrons would have to open the log sheets and audio files in separate windows and navigate back and forth between the two, using the timestamps on the log sheets to fast forward the audio file to the right spot. To further complicate matters, we were initially not able to fast forward streaming audio and video files in Preservica because of a WordPress plug-in issue, but that issue has since between resolved. The other option aside from navigating between two separate files was to attach the log sheet to the audio file as part of the descriptive metadata, but the display of the metadata was not very user-friendly.

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We then discovered the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS), an open-source web application developed by the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries. OHMS essentially would allow us to create files similar to the DCR files, where we could tag the audio and create a point-and-click index. OHMS also provides Viewer code that will render the audio and the index together on a single page for ease of use. In order to load audio files for indexing, we had to host the files elsewhere and link the file’s URL in the OHMS application. We uploaded a legislative recording to the Internet Archive, linked the file to the OHMS application, and then added tags to index the recording. However, when we tried to render the audio and index using the Viewer code, we ran into the problem of not having programming privileges with our Amazon S3 bucket.

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For now, we are discussing our needs for legislative recording access with our IT division and trying to reach a solution, but we have not made any further progress.

Conclusion

From Audographs to cassettes and now to digital files, our legislative recording program has evolved much over its 63-year history. As formats change, we have worked to improve description and access to these materials, but we are still hoping to take this program to the next level via online access. In addition to working with our audio recordings, we are exploring the possibility of acquiring video recordings that are produced by the legislature. If the Tennessee General Assembly were to begin transferring these video recordings to the State Library and Archives, we could expect an accrual of 10 TB per year. As electronic records continue to grow, our storage needs will become greater and greater. We will also need to develop streamlined processes for making these records available. The biggest challenge is taking the leap from testing and theory to planning and implementation.

For more information about the Tennessee State Library and Archives’ Legislative Recording Program, please contact Legislative Recording Coordinator Greg Yates at Greg.Yates@tn.gov.




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