Conference Notes: International Council on Archives, pt.2

Written by Annie Peterson, Preservation Librarian, Tulane University

Day 2: July 15

The second full day of the conference opened with “Approaches to Preservation,” where three institutions presented their different ways of addressing AV preservation. Hannah Palin, University of Washington Libraries, spoke about “The Magnetic Media Crisis: A Collaborative Approach.” Washington, and the wider Pacific Northwest region, has few professionals whose positions are fully dedicated to AV preservation, so there was a need amongst many institutions to pool resources where possible to preserve content that would otherwise be lost. Palin surveyed institutions in Washington about their AV holdings and then worked across institutions to establish Moving Image Preservation of Puget Sound (MIPoPs), which includes digitization capabilities and is focusing first on regional content on magnetic media, with a pilot project digitizing local public access television. Kim Tarr, New York University, spoke about “Practical Considerations for Outsourcing Video Preservation Projects,” focusing on an outsourced approach to preservation. Tarr talked about NYU’s Video At Risk project’s RFP guide and template for video digitization, a helpful guide for institutions starting the outsourcing process. Erica Titkemeyer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Chris Lacinak, AVPreserve, talked about the Southern Folklife Center’s (SFC) holistic approach to preserving their AV collections in “Planning End to End for Digitization: Paths for Access and Preservation.” SFC is currently working on a project that considers not just the digitization portion of AV preservation, but also processing prior to digitization, digital preservation, and access to digitized content. SFC is currently working on prioritization, developing workflows, and project planning, and over the next 3 years will serve as a testbed for sustainability and scalability of this approach.

In the second morning session, “Access and Use,” Lourdes Loca, Iinstituto Mora, started off with “Documentaries and Research: Documentation and Access,” speaking about the epistemological value of images and the importance of documenting research at a research-focused organization. Sonia Yaco, University of Illinois Chicago, followed with “Collections to Curriculum Crosswalk,” describing a tool that she built to match course content to collections to increase student exposure to special collections. Megan McShea , Archives of American Art, rounded out the program with “Putting Archival AV Media Into Context: Processing Mixed Media Manuscript Collections.” McShea’s Project tackled a problem faced in many archives: AV materials are mixed in with processed collections but remain unprocessed, creating hidden backlogs, or AV-heavy collections are set aside and seen as difficult to process without specific expertise. The project created guidelines for processing mixed collections, available at http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/projects/clir .

In the first of the two post-lunch sessions, “Bless this Mess: Imperfect Solutions for Imperfect Situations in Digital Video Preservation” the three speakers highlighted that perfect is the enemy of good. Christian B. Lopez, University of Georgia Libraries, spoke about challenges faced when working towards established standards for a large amount of content with minimal staff, such as the challenges of LTO tape without IT specifically dedicated to it. Juliana M. Nykolaiszyn and Sarah Milligan, both from Oklahoma State University, spoke about digitizing MiniDV and taking action on your AV content. The discussion in the session was refreshingly open and honest about how institutions are doing what they realistically can now instead of waiting to achieve absolute perfection, which would probably come too late anyways in the face of degralescence, harkening back to Michelle Krasowski’s talk on day 1 about achievable standards.

The final session of day 2, “Project Reports” included two reports of projects at academic institutions, the first from University of Maryland Libraries, “Is This Enough? Digitizing Liz Lerman Dance Exchange Archives” from Bria Parker, Vincent Novara, and Robin Pike. The three presenters spoke about their experience outsourcing a collection of videotapes, detailing the process of prioritization, pilot project, and decisions made about standards and metadata. Michael Moosberger spoke about his success in increasing AV preservation efforts at Dalhousie University in “Action After Years Of Neglect: The Dalhousie University Archives’ Audiovisual Reformatting Project,” which included significant support across administrative levels at the institution.

The different models presented in the final session, combined with the project reports from earlier sessions, gave all of the conference participants a wide range of approaches to consider for their own institutions. Each presenter had a different experience with prioritization, access, digitization, and all of the other components involved in planning and executing an AV preservation project, but there were lessons to be learned from each one. Discussions and Q&A’s on the second day of the conference confirmed that other attendees also found discussions of alternative standards to reach for and ways that institutions are actually completing work, as opposed to seemingly unachievable standards frequently discussed, a refreshing and absolutely necessary conversation to have.

For more info on the 2015 ICA-SUV conference see http://icasuv2015.web.unc.edu/

Editor’s note: Part 1 of this conference report is online.

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Conference Notes: International Council of Archives, pt.1

Written by Annie Peterson, Preservation Librarian, Tulane University

The International Council on Archives Section on University and Research Libraries (ICA-SUV) recently held its annual conference in Chapel Hill, NC. The theme of the conference was “Audiovisual Archives in University Archives and Research Institutions, and it was a small, well-curated conference that provoked great discussions in and outside of the sessions.

Day 1: July 14, 2015

The conference opened with keynote speaker William R. Ferris, Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History; Senior Associate Director of CSAS; Adjunct Professor in the Curriculum in Folklore.  Ferris made clear the importance of preserving our audiovisual heritage for scholarship by talking about the work that he did to document the American South. He invoked an African proverb that says when a man or woman dies a library burns down, but Ferris added that archivists preserve that knowledge so that it can carry on. Ferris’s talk was an inspiring start to the conference, setting the stage for the importance of what would be discussed for the next few days, and reminding us all of the reasons that we work to preserve collections.

The first session of the day, “Making the Case for Media Preservation: Context, Tools, and Strategies,” offered a slightly more grim outlook of the state of things, but with some hope for the future. In “Why Media Preservation Can’t Wait: The Gathering Storm,” Mike Casey, Indiana University, reinforced the urgency of the problem that we face in AV preservation, talking about degradation and obsolescence, or, degralescence. Casey set the expiration date for media at 2028 for the purposes of his discussion, and the date carried through the conference as a date we should anticipate that digitization will be either impossible (there will simply be no equipment available for transfers), or prohibitively expensive.

Chris Lacinak followed with a talk about the Cost of Inaction Calculator, a tool to help us quantify the loss that Casey spoke about for communicating the value at stake to administrators or other stakeholders who need data for decision-making. Casey and Lacinak both then provided examples of how some institutions are working to address the problem, with a number of different approaches to tackling everything in-house, outsourcing, a combination of the two, or collaborating across organizations.

In the first afternoon session, Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks, Josephine McRobbie, and Jason Evans Groth, both from North Carolina Sate University Libraries, presented on “A/V Geeks at the Hunt Library: What Obsolete Media Can Still Teach Us.” At NC State’s Hunt Library, the three presenters  had worked together to organize a series of screenings of historic education films from the collection of A/V Geeks. Elsheimer worked with faculty or scholars to provide historical context for the films, and spoke in the session about the importance of making archives relevant and providing access after digitization: if content is digitized and then not made accessible, it’s gone from one shelf to another. McRobbie and Groth talked about the many details that were considered in planning the event in order to make it a success in Hunt Library’s unique space, such as measuring sound levels throughout the open library as the screening was happening to ensure that it was not too disruptive, and using physical artifacts (films and other media) in a show-and-tell session to incorporate the original media into the events (the films are projected digitally in Hunt Library). The session included a screening of a 1948 educational film “How to Judge Facts.” 

The first day of the conference concluded with the session  “Standards and Assessment.” Seth Anderson, AVPreserve, opened the session with “Applying ISO 16363 to AV Archives.” ISO 16363 is the standard for audit and certification of trustworthy digital repositories. Anderson said that the standard can provide guidelines for thinking about digital preservation, strategic planning, and larger concepts associated with digital preservation. Michelle Krasowski, Internet Archive, presented a contrasting view of media preservation from what had been previously been discussed at the conference in “Archiving for All: Working Towards Inclusive Digitization Standards.”  Krakowski spoke of a more flexible approach to standards because communities with fewer resources are excluded by standards that are difficult to attain, putting the history of those communities at risk. The Internet Archive has a Community Media Archive of community access television, and has built up in house digitization capabilities for optical discs, audio cassettes, and some video. Not all of the content is digitized to the highest “preservation quality” standards, but it is now accessible and would otherwise not be seen. Josh Harris, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, concluded the session with “The Current State of Media Preservation:  Assessment as a Pathway to Meeting the Challenge,” in which he described the media census at the University of Illinois that identified AV assets across campus (>400,000), and propelled forward UIUC’s media preservation efforts including in-house reformatting. Harris noted that programmatic approaches to AV preservation are still slow, and more action must be taken swiftly to address the challenges that we know exist.

Day 1 of the conference gave a great overview of the challenges faced by academic libraries and other cultural heritage institutions, and provided examples for different ways forward. The sessions were tied together with a common thread of the importance of providing access to the amazing content that is held across all types of institutions, and the critical role of librarians and archivists in acting swiftly to preserve our AV heritage.  Stay tuned for a wrap up of day 2 of the conference.