Tips for Indexing your Interview

Interviews recorded through the Documentary and Oral History Studio are archived using Zotero. As part of this process, we use the Tags tab to create an index of the interview’s content. The following is a brief guide to indexing method used by the Studio.

There are some basic guides for beginning your index. Index terms fall into one of two different categories:

1.) People and places

2.) Topics and themes


If an interviewee mentions a person, that person’s name should appear in the index. Your index term for their name should be as complete as possible. Here are some examples:

Interviewer mentions former New Orleans mayor “Moon Landrieu.”  Your index term should look like this:

Landrieu, Maurice Edwin “Moon”  (1930 – )

Since Landrieu is a public figure, you will likely be able to Google the name and find more complete details about him, including a birth date and full name. If the person is deceased, it should include a death date. This helps us distinguish between this person and others of the same name – in this case however unlikely. Because Landrieu commonly went by a nickname, you include that as above. If a person is less well-known, it may be impossible to ascertain these details. It is, however, your obligation to make a good faith effort to find them.

If an interviewer refers to their friend “Michelle” throughout the interview but never identifies her by a last name, this is not something we index unless we happen to know who Michelle is by inference. For instance, if “Michelle” is the famous actress Michelle Pfeiffer, then you would index that as follows:

Pfeiffer, Michelle Marie (1959 -)

Maybe the “Michelle” is the daughter or sister of the interviewee and we can learn her name through inference or clarify with the interviewee. She is not famous or a public figure, so we are not going to find specific birth and/or death dates. Then we can index it as such:

Smith, Michelle

But if “Michelle” is someone unclearly defined, they are essentially an anonymous person and not someone you index.


Specific places are also worth indexing. Consider the following index examples and how they are represented in the index. The need to be specific and clear dictates your format:

If someone says that they went to Lusher, you would represent it like this:

Lusher Charter School (New Orleans)

Note that you clarify with the school’s location. The same goes for bars and restaurants, In some instances you may need to clarify the nature of the place if its name does not make it self evident. Consider the following:

The Blue Nile (nightclub, New Orleans)

Oschner Baptist Hospital (New Orleans)

McDonald’s (restaurant chain)

The Blue Nile is well known locally, but remember that over time clubs come and go but your index will live on for an unknown length of time. Letting your end user know that the Blue Nile is a nightclub helps define it for future generations. This is less necessary for Oschner Baptist Hospital because the name itself defines it – but we need to tell our end user where it is. We don’t need to define the location of McDonald’s because while a specific place, it is also a ubiquitous entity, yet we do need to define it from McDonald’s fish camp or McDonald’s hardware store by letting our end user know that we mean that McDonald’s.

Thematic indexing.

Indexing by theme is often much more difficult, and there are several different major indexing schemes used by librarians and archivists, including the Library of Congress Classification System. If you think about the Society of American Archivists’s defining of the term “index” and realize that they have 15 distinct ways of indexing material, you being to see the scope of the challenge. In some respects, indexing your interview is more like indexing the contents of a book – a process that is quite different from the librarian’s task of indexing books themselves. Quality indexes are, in fact, quite important in the computer age in helping researchers find information.

A good guide is to never forget why you are generating your index, and that is to help an end user find what is useful in your interview by offering a faithful accounting of the topics in it. Some examples:

New Orleans. economic conditions  (about economic conditions but ones specific to New Orleans, not elsewhere)

bartending (about a discussion generally about bartending)

New Orleans. food and beverage service industry (a discussion about the service industry that is specific to New Orleans)

African Americans. history (a discussion of history specifically about African Americans.)

Hurricane Katrina (2005) (a general discussion about the storm – note the year defining the event.)

Hurricane Katrina. economic impact (a discussion of a specific aspect of the storm. As part of a more detailed discussion about the event, you don’t need the date – particularly as you will probably have both Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the sub topic in your index if it is a topic at all.)

American Civil War. military strategy (about a specific aspect of a bigger topic)

The best advice is to perhaps begin with the obvious things – particular names, places, and the most clearly defined themes. There comes a point where a thematic index can be too detailed. Moreover, few indexes are perfect.





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