Saturday, June 6, 2009

New York Archives Conference, day two

The 2009 New York Archives Conference wrapped up yesterday afternoon, and everyone in attendance seemed to have a great time.

The first morning session I attended, “Exploring the Possibilities of Web 2.0 for Cultural Heritage Websites,” gave attendees an introduction to the world of Web 2.0 and some of the ways in which archivists could make use of it.

Greg Bobish (University at Albany, SUNY) provided an overview of some of Web 2.0’s core concepts and then noted the characteristics that Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis, and social networking sites share: they are available online from almost any computer (or other device), require minimal technical skills, and encourage and participation and creation and editing of content. Bobish’s presentation, which is a great introduction to Web 2.0 principles, is available online.

Nancy Cannon and Kay Benjamin (both from the SUNY College at Oneonta) then outlined how Web 2.0 technology could be used to make primary source materials freely available to students, teachers, and researchers. They obtained permission from the Delaware County Historical Association to reproduce materials that shed light on life in the county prior to the Civil War, and Cannon drafted historical essays that placed the primary source materials in context. Cannon and Benjamin then used basic HTML coding to create their site, Voice of the People: Daily Life in the Antebellum Rural Delaware County New York Area.

Cannon and Benjamin used Google Maps to add interactivity to sections of the site documenting an 1851 sea voyage from New York to California and a Delhi family's 1823 journey through upstate New York. Benjamin then gave a practical demonstration of how to set up a Google Maps account and then combine maps with text, images, and multimedia materials. As she noted, Google Maps can be of great use to archivists and librarians who want to create interactive online content on a shoestring.

I next attended “Digitizing Audio and Video Materials.” My colleague Monica Gray opened the session by explaining how the New York State Archives used a one-time allocation of $25,000 to outsource the digitization of 53 motion picture films, 98 video recordings, and 34 audio recordings.

In preparation for digitization, Gray conducted an inventory of holdings, did a lot of background research into digitization standards and best practices, and worked with colleagues and vendors to select materials that were of interest to researchers or in formats on the verge of obsolescence. She stressed that archivists need to specify exactly what they want from their vendors, determine in advance whether to add title frames, etc., and anticipate the need to provide access to the resulting files.

As a result of this project, the State Archives now manages preservation master copies (.wav format, 44.1 kHZ, 16 bit), and access copies (.mp3 format) of audio recordings and preservation master copies (.avi format) and access (.wmp format) copies of moving image materials. It is now focusing on providing access to its use copies.

Gray also outlined some easy preservation measures that all archivists can undertake:
  • Store media vertically, not horizontally.
  • Rewind all recordings to the start.
  • Remove all record tabs from video and audio cassettes.
  • Remove papers from film canisters (dust is the great enemy of tape and film).
  • Use film strips that measure the extent of vinegar syndrome in motion picture film.
Andrea Buchner (Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory, Center for Jewish History) then discussed the results of her repository’s year-long, grant-funded pilot digitization project. Staff digitized 94 oral histories on 142 audio cassettes, 79 hours worth of recordings on 193 reel-to-reel tapes; they also produced transcripts of 23 oral history interviews. Each hour of preservation master recordings comprises 1 GB of data, and Buchner determined that it cost $80 to produce, catalog, and store one hour of digital audio data.

Library staff created preservation master files of each recording (PCM.wav format, 2 channel stereo, 48.1 kHz, 24 bit). Derivative access copies were produced in .mp3 format. They also created a MARC21 catalog record for each recording and incorporated data captured during the digitization process into each record.

Buchner noted that the digitization process itself was easy compared to other challenges that staff encountered:
  • Unreliable metadata: people hadn’t listened to these tapes in decades, and existing catalog records weren’t always accurate.
  • Copyright: in some instances, staff had to make use of the “library exception” in U.S. copyright law; i.e., they made a limited number of copies and must restrict access to onsite users, include a copyright notice, and inform users that they should not exceed the fair use provision of U.S. copyright law.

Melinda Dermody (Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive, Syracuse University) then outlined how her repository digitized some of its approximately 22,000 cylinder recordings, 12,000 of which are unique titles. The Belfer Audio Archive received a $25,000 grant for this ongoing three-year project; a gift that made possible the purchase of a new digital soundboard has made it much easier for staff to work on this project.

The project’s core team includes Dermody, a music librarian, the core metadata librarian, and the digital initiatives librarian, and the Belfer's sound engineer. The group’s goal was to make available online 6,000 audio files (300 are currently available), and to create create preservation master (.wav format, 44.1 kHz, 24 bit) and access (.mp3 format) copies of each recording.

The group determined which cylinders had already been digitized by another university, identified cylinders in fragile condition, and assessed the interests of music faculty and researchers. The digitization of selected recordings is being done by Belfer Audio Archive staff, and staff have created or revised a MARC record for each recording. They use a MARC-to-Dublin Core crosswalk to populate the metadata fields of CONTENTdm, which is being used to provide access to the use copies of the recordings.

After the second session ended, all of the attendees convened for lunch and a great talk by Syracuse University Archivist Ed Galvin, who outlined how the Syracuse University Archives was drawn into the production of The Express (2008), a film about the life of alumnus Ernie Davis, the first African-American winner of the Heisman Trophy.

Preparations for the filming of The Express brought Universal’s production designers and other Hollywood personnel to the SU campus, and Galvin and his staff spent the next 18 months responding to their requests. The filmmakers were intent upon reconstructing Davis’s life on campus as faithfully as they could, and developed a wide-ranging and sometimes surprising list of items they sought and questions they wished to have answered. Galvin and his colleagues supplied detailed information about uniforms, etc., and other aspects of campus life and gave production staff access to yearbooks, copies of the student newspaper, copies of football programs, other campus publications and memorabilia, images of the coach’s office and other SU facilities.

The SU Archives also led licensing negotiations with Universal on behalf of the entirety of the university at large; however, much of the SU material in the film came from departments other than the archives.

Completion of the film, most of which was shot in Chicago, brought additional challenges. The film’s world premiere was held in Syracuse, prompting SU’s marketing unit and development office and a California film marketing firm to request additional materials from the SU Archives. Three days after the film’s premiere, Universal asked the archives to locate footage that could be used to produce a bonus featurette for the film’s DVD release. The archives also received requests for materials from alumni, politicians, History Day students, and other interested individuals.

Galvin made it plain that he and his staff often enjoyed working on this project, but also emphasized that archives approached by film studios should draw up detailed contracts and specify fees before any work begins; SU received only $4,000-$5,000 -- which did not even cover reproduction costs -- for 18 months of intense work on The Express.

NYAC conferences typically don't have overarching themes, but it struck me on the way home that just about every speaker I heard at this year's meeting centered upon clearly articulating one's expections -- about security measures, vendor deliverables, project specifications and outcomes -- and documenting whether or not they have been met. We as a profession haven't always excelled at doing so, and it was really heartening to hear so many colleagues assert the need for this sort of activity.

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