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Media Preservation: Student Perspectives

Jason Evans Groth with films as far as the eye can see in the Auxiliary Library Facility.

Media preservation, by its nature, necessitates collaboration, something we have just explored in a previous blog post. As a part of this collaboration, the MPI at IU also includes graduate students who bring a variety of backgrounds, skills, and interests to the project. The graduate students are involved with the MPI work in various capacities: as members of the SMART team surveying units, as organizers and communicators, and as project assistants with audio, video, and film preservation work.

The four graduate students on the project, Anthony Guest-Scott, Jason Evans Groth, Matt Hale, and Mike Lee, bring a wide range of skills and interests to the project. Jason, a student in the School of Library and Information Sciences notes that his musical background and passion for record collecting gives him a unique perspective on time-based media preservation. He remarks: “It is easy for many to take for granted the recorded media—film, sound, and video, especially—that have surrounded us all of our lives, partly because even the oldest of the formats are newer than, say, books, and partly because all of us are used to observing—and attempting to keep up with—a constantly changing market filled with new consumer technologies.” He continues: “Working for the MPI offers me the opportunity to not only work with amazing collections for which I already have great enthusiasm, but also to give me the real experience necessary to explain in library terms, to colleagues and professors, why we need to devote as much worry and work to these holdings as we do to more ‘traditional’ archives and collections.”

Matt, a Ph.D. student in both Folklore and Communications and Culture, also enjoys being able to work with unique, historical media collections. He says, “For the first time, 19th century media formats transformed sound waves, performances, little fragments of space and time, into durable and portable forms that were capable of transcending the moments of their making. As a student and researcher with a particular interest in dead and dying media, its exciting to see the potential for scholarly development that these objects hold. Beyond all else, MPI has allowed to me to see, first hand, the importance of maintaining and making available media from the past.”

Matt Hale with open reel tapes for as far as the eye can see in the Archives of Traditional Music.

Media preservation, of course, is not solely about a long-lost past. Mike, a Ph.D. candidate in Ethnomusicology, sees media preservation as a challenge that is already facing a wide variety of institutions and organizations in many practical ways. “Time-based media is often the lynchpin of daily functions for medical, business, and governmental offices and certainly for institutions of higher education. Taking good care of this information is not just a matter of preserving the past, but also an important step in easing and expanding the possibilities of everyday tasks. In our work at IU, preservation is the driving force, but access follows closely behind making the possibilities for researchers, faculty, and students quite exciting.”

Mike Lee happily curating the MPI blog.

Anthony, an ethnomusicologist who has written about video work related to MPI in a previous blog post, remarks that working with media preservation has given him an important and new perspective on graduate studies. He believes that the often separate domains of graduate work—research, publishing, teaching, and media preservation—ought to be better connected. He says, “from the very beginning of a research project, a plan should be put in place that looks toward preservation and access as an endpoint.” The questions researches should consider: “How can I integrate the preservation of the data I collect at the same time as I make it easily accessible to the students I teach, the scholarly community in which I work, and the world at large right now? And how might people down the road access and usefully repurpose this audio-visual documentation of human life and meaning, to fuel other ways of understanding what was going on in that time, and in that place?”

Anthony Guest-Scott working on a video transfer pilot project with Radio/TV Services.

Student interest is growing in media preservation and we hope other graduate students across disciplines gain awareness of the challenges of the media preservation of the past and integrate, into their own academic pursuits, a workflow with media preservation for the future in mind.

// Mike Lee, Jason Evans Groth, Anthony Guest-Scott, and Matt Hale

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