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Digital Fragility is Just the Beginning

May 4th, 2011 · No Comments

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There has been much written recently about digital fragility. Researchers and archivists have heard dueling longevity and futuristic projections. In trying to push this dire need without appearing like Chicken Little, I have embarked on serious primary research to expose the sheer volume of the problem. The in-depth article will be coming out in a professional journal within the year. Until then, I felt that I needed to speak up a bit about the need for our activism.

Between my teaching digital archiving courses and my work with clients, this issue has been prevalent in each work day. In fact, while re-processing an archives for a client, a case of 5 ¼” floppy discs were found. No one in-house knew exactly if these were of value, what was on them or even if they were created by the organization. When we offered to open them on a computer with a floppy drive, we were told just to throw them out. This is the fear that archivists are living with. Each time an archivist approaches this obsolete media, the questions come: How many others are out there? How many are being thrown out because it is easier? How many are left? How long do I save them? If I am able to find a player/drive/ etc. will I be open the software that the data is formatted in? Will it even be playable? Are we missing decades of human knowledge? How long will this continue? How can archivists slow down the moving train of media change? Can archivists increase re-formatting awareness? Is reformatting my only option? Where does emulation stand? Who do I call? Who do I write? How do I make a difference in this loss that flies in the face of everything my profession holds dear?
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Digital Obsolescence · Media Obsolescence · Preservation

Fixing Metadata (or Let’s Do it Right the First Time)

March 10th, 2011 · No Comments

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In years of teaching visual indexing and being called in to create metadata schemas, I have seen some crazy attempts at description.

Sometimes we have been involved from the beginning developing thesauri of specialized terms for a collection, more often we are called in to fix existing records.

As I roll up my sleeves to tackle either project, I often wonder why organizations do not know more about what they want.

I come down to the same answer that permeates our profession as a whole. The majority of people do not understand the work that goes into providing quality. In our current era of fast and cheap; people have lost the quality aspect almost completely. When they can not successfully execute an accurate search in their database, then they call us to fix it. I am absolutely happy to do so, but make no mistake, I wish for that collection to have done it right the first time; rather than to have called us after hundreds of hours of wasted work. Quality becomes a feature of importance often only after a failure rather than as a preventative measure.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection

An Unsound Future

October 15th, 2010 · 1 Comment

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In an age where music is so easily copied and accessed, it’s hard to imagine that any valuable recordings could ever be lost. But a new study predicts a grim future for millions of recordings across America.

The National Recording Registry was established ten years ago, following the passing of a congressional bill. The purpose of the NRR is to “maintain and preserve sound recordings and collections of sound recordings that are culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant, and for other purposes” (Public Law 104-474; H.R. 4846). Recently, the NRR released a 181-page report, The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: a National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age. This report was the first “comprehensive, national-level study of the state of sound recording preservation ever conducted in the U.S.” 130 years since the invention of the phonograph, it’s about time the subject was addressed.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Copyright Issues · Digital Obsolescence · Media Obsolescence

Documenting the Movie Industry’s Paper Promotional Materials

September 27th, 2010 · 2 Comments

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Illustrators are often the least known and most quickly forgotten members of the art world and as such, so many of their artistic creations are lost in our disposable society. Illustrators are the creative forces behind the images on everything from greeting cards to cereal boxes to advertising – including movie posters. All too often, the work of illustrators survives only because of the relationships between dealers who sell the ephemera and the collectors who drive the market. Scholarly information tends to be severely lacking, patchy, or extremely incomplete on movie poster ephemera. Often with collectibles, the best reference guides are written and compiled by collectors.

Ed and Susan Poole have been avid collectors of the movie industry’s “paper accessories” beginning with their first purchase in the mid-1970’s – a poster for one of Susan’s favorite movies: Gidget. Because of their decades long interest in the subject, the Pooles are regarded as experts in their field and have published several favorably reviewed books on movie posters. In addition, they maintain a website, Learn About Movie Posters (LAMP), where interested individuals can learn more about movie posters and buyers and sellers can connect to trade their wares. At the beginning of 2010, the Poole’s announced their commitment to developing an online archive of movie ephemera, Movie Poster Data Base. In early April, according to a posting to the Association of Moving Image Archivists listserv by Ed Poole, they already had developed a robust collection of information in their database including:

  • 3,000+ silent studios worldwide
  • 15,000+ NSS trailer numbers for identifying unknown trailers
  • 25,000+ production codes for identifying unknown stills
  • 30,000+ NSS poster and accessory numbers for identifying titles and reissues
  • 81,000 poster images online in our archive and cross referenced

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Category: Friday Fun Site · Preservation

An Archivist’s Brand New Hat – New Beginnings for My Family History

May 10th, 2010 · 5 Comments

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Dr. Thomas Merriweather In a national economy in which double-digit unemployment figures travel in the opposite direction from the signs that things are said to be improving and a local economy that would jangle the nerves of the most fiercely optimistic, I am frequently riddled with doubt as to my decision to return to school for the academic qualifications to do something I truly enjoy. It was easy to buy into the notion of getting paid for doing a job for the sheer happiness it brings. I didn’t anticipate that timing is everything and having the know-how, energy and desire to take on an all new career was only half the battle.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection · Preservation