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Good Numbers, Better Access, EIAJ and Irony

I feel honored that Mike Casey, a media preservation hero of mine, asked me to blog here.  His invitation arrived on a happy day: I was feeling good about the annual internal report I’d recently compiled on the Stanford Media Preservation Lab’s latest production statistics, project milestones and community initiatives, so I thought I’d use this space to report more broadly about the recent developments at the Stanford Media Preservation Lab (SMPL).

Last year SMPL hit its digitization stride: we digitized a total of 3115 items (2977 hours) from 82 collections – an increase over last year’s throughput by 88%! Our efforts to add capture capacity and new clients, to  maintain a steady queue of collection materials ready for digitization, to increase workflow efficiency, and to leverage collaboration and outsourcing opportunities have all resulted in tangible evidence of high productivity. Not bad for a production staff of two (my hat’s tipped to Geoff Willard and Michael Angeletti). In SMPL’s 4+ years, we have digitally preserved over 7,500 media items from dozens of collections across the library system. At this pace, we will hit the 10,000th digitized item in 2013!

A sample image from the AV Artifact Atlas, a community project initiated by SMPL.

One noteworthy trend revealed by our reports is the increase in patron demand for access to original recordings on obsolete formats. Last year we digitized a total of 155 items (mostly video) at the request of researchers (up from 93 requests in 2011 and 7 requests in 2010). I attribute this new activity to two big factors: better customer service and lower costs. The Stanford Libraries’ digitization labs have collaborated to establish a more formal digitization service. This has not only benefited patrons and the public service staff who mediate their requests; digitization staff can more effectively and efficiently carry out complex projects involving collections with digital media, manuscripts, prints and photographs in addition to AV recordings. The librarians, curators and archivists are pleased.

Hannah handles a problem pancake; this audio reel is completely blocked and unplayable due to its degraded, sticky condition.

And the researchers using our collections like our reduced fees: $20 per item for any of the audio and video formats digitized in-house. We aren’t getting rich on the fee income, but it does help (if only a little) to defray overall costs.  In our experience, a cost-recovery fee structure exceeds the budget of most researchers. If a copy is too costly, a researcher is unlikely to pursue their interest in it; to pass on the full cost to a patron effectively stifles the process of academic inquiry. We place high value in library patrons’ interests, and use that as a mechanism to target collections for preservation reformatting. Even if we eat most of the cost, it is a win-win for the library and the people who use library collections.

Speaking of winning, Michael Angeletti was recently awarded a Stanford Libraries innovation grant for his project to restore a Sony half-inch EIAJ video player for use in our preservation workflow.  He is working closely with legendary legacy video specialist, Ken Zin, and is blogging throughout the project about their progress.  Michael’s hope is that by sharing information about the restoration process, we may encourage other media organizations to pursue similar equipment restoration projects. EIAJ is a classically tricky and expensive format to preserve, and we see it popping up with increased frequency at Stanford: three recent collection acquisitions each contain dozens of unique EIAJ recordings (one collection came with a recorder that we are using for parts). We don’t expect our throughput on the EIAJ player to make a significant difference in our overall annual production statistics, and that’s OK. This effort is all about expanding our range of services to address some of the special needs cases on the margins of our collections. With the ability to preserve and provide access to EIAJ reel recordings in our own lab, we enhance Stanford’s ability to attract media collections and we can better serve the researchers that use them.

The Sony AV-3650 currently under restoration at SMPL.

All this progress is well and good, but what about access to the content once digitized?  As many media preservation workers know, providing access is not as straightforward as digital reformatting, so progress in this area has been slower.  The majority of Stanford’s media holdings are protected by copyright and other IP or privacy concerns; broad online access is rarely an option. (One big exception is the material in Stanford University Archives and, thanks to the University Archivist’s zeal for online access, we are digitizing and streaming loads of it.) But copyright law alone is not the only obstacle to improving access to our media; there are other issues to overcome. We are launching a formal strategic planning process, the SMPL Media Access Plan (MAP), to do just that.

Over the next year, we will take steps to:

  • Expose and subvert the long-standing bias that favors text- or image-based content over AV, a bias that results in reduced or deferred resources for holistic management of digitized AV content
  • Demystify the policy and technical issues around media access that stymie understanding on the part of library patrons and staff
  • Explore the latest technical solutions for providing networked access to digital media without compromising requirements for security
  • Demonstrate the positive impact that increased access to digitized media content can have on the University and the broader research community.

The MAP is off to a good start: working closely with Special Collections staff and system administrators, we have established a new internal, restricted network that connects centrally-managed content storage to dedicated workstations in reading room, enabling researchers to directly access files of all reformatted content in our manuscript collections, regardless of format and copyright status.  We aim to roll out this system to the Art Library, the Archive of Recorded Sound, and other libraries on campus. We also are keeping a close eye on the Avalon Media System, and will test the beta release as soon as possible.

The Ampex VR-3000 as featured in a vintage promotional video demonstrating new portable recording technology. The original Quad reel was preserved in 2012 with support by the California Audiovisual Preservation Project and can be viewed at the Internet Archive.

Despite a series of disappointing pilots with other streaming “solutions”, we remain optimistic that Avalon will be a good fit in the Stanford digital library. Also, come January 1, 2013, we will be operating a “live” radio stream for one of our newest collections. We’re exploring now how to leverage live streaming to promote access to other collections of unique recordings.

If these things (both the blogging and the strategic planning) go well, perhaps Mike will invite me back to report on another year of SMPL’s challenges and accomplishments. Plus I’ll show pictures of SMPL’s new home in Redwood City, across the street from the Ampex Corporation headquarters!  Ironic, huh?

// Hannah Frost
Digital Library Services Manager
Stanford University Libraries


One thought on “Good Numbers, Better Access, EIAJ and Irony

  1. Hannah,

    I feel for you with that horrid pancake. Make two slightly conical flanges (I accidentally did that by hammering the countersunk holes flat, and the larger sections will self-centre and you can unwind them. If this is a “modern” back-coated tape, please bake before winding or there may be pullouts where the oxide remains and the back-coating of the layer immediately below.

    Good luck!


    Posted by Richard L Hess | 11/26/2012, 5:48 pm

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