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26 people attended this virtual program.
Mark Wolfe, Curator of Digital Collections, Special Collections & Archives at the University at Albany provided an overview of digitization of audio and video materials in a variety of formats, then answered questions from participants. Mark's slides are in the Resources section of this page.
- Open reel audio is versatile and fairly easy to deal with. It produces high fidelity sound, so it was common until very recently. Be aware that it could be run at different speeds when recording, which affects digital transfer. The faster the speed, the better the sound quality.
- Cassettes are very fragile and have poor quality sound. The longer the tape, the thinner it is, which means lower sound quality.
- Print-through is a problem when both sides of a tape were used for recording. As time passes, part of the recording on one side may be heard when playing the opposite side. This is especially common with cassettes. There is no fix for this other than trying to prevent it, so if you are prioritizing items for preservation and digitization, you may want to give higher priority to tapes with recording on both sides.
- Sticky shed syndrome is common, especially with certain brands of tape. It is caused by deterioration of the binder, and pieces of the tape will flake off. If you suspect your tapes have sticky shed syndrome, do NOT play them. They may only be able to be played once before falling apart. If you want to preserve the recording, you will need a vendor to do the transfer. They will bake the tapes before playing them in the hopes of getting one more successful play during the transfer. Any reputable vendor will have the ability and knowledge to do this.
- When doing any work with recordings in-house, make sure the tape is set so that you cannot accidentally record over it.
- Important to become familiar with the deck you are using since there is a lot of variation, and you want to make sure your settings are optimal for your job. Your deck may have specific cabling requirements. XLR cables are of good quality.
- Cleaning the deck is very important. Clean every contact point of the head often (without the tape in it). Clean with isopropyl alcohol on cotton swabs. Swabs on long wooden sticks work well. You should clean after each time you run a reel because reels are dirty.
- A/D Conversion Box = Analog to Digital. Can purchase for under $100. This is one item that should be purchased new. Older ones do not work well with contemporary computers.
- .WAV (lossless) and .mp3 (lossy) are good formats to use since they have been around for a long time and new equipment and software will likely accommodate them.
- Vendors should use high sampling and bit rate to get good quality recordings. BUT a higher bit rate means a bigger file size, so you need to think about storage when digitizing audio material.
- You will need to use some sort of editing software to digitize. Audacity is free. Reaper is a full-fledged audio production system that provides a lot of components for free or at a low cost.
- Vinegar syndrome - Almost all film will have some smell of vinegar, but if it is a strong smell, the film is deteriorating quickly. Film with a strong vinegar smell should be segregated from other material and stored in a cool place. It should be prioritized for reformatting if you want to preserve it.
- Film can often tear or come apart where it has been spliced. This is not a big deal. you can splice it together again.
- Color film can fade quickly, especially red.
- Film projectors are not being made anymore, so if you do not have a projector, you may need to digitize the film to watch it.
- Video is newer than film, but much more difficult to deal with. There are LOTS of video formats, and it can be hard to find playback equipment. If you find old playback equipment, use a tape you don't care about to test it.
- Storage of digitized video is a challenge because files are so large. University at Albany digitizes MPEG-4/H.264 format
- You need a Time Base Corrector to convert video to digital
- The container/wrapper used to digitize dictates which players may be used to play the video, so will want to pick a wrapper that is compatible with common digital video players.
- There are many free and low-cost video editors.
- The big expense is the storage of digitized video, and digitized video is very fragile, especially when moved, so definitely need backups. Therefore, institutions need to seriously appraise which videos are worth preserving.
- Slides (linked in Resources box below) provide examples of storage solutions at various price points. The "tall" solutions are a way to get started, but will not provide long term preservation. The "venti" solutions are the goal, but even most large and wealthy institutions are unable to do this at this time.
- The other big question with video is access. How can your patrons see the video you have preserved? And how can staff survey what they can't see, due to access issues?
Questions and Discussion
- What are good access platforms for video?
- YouTube is easy, although not a preservation platform, so will need to store preservation copies elsewhere. YouTube videos are easy for people to find, easy to upload, people can subscribe to your channel, BUT YouTube has bots to make sure videos are ""community friendly," and videos can be taken down suddenly without an explanation.
- What are some ways to prioritize digitization?
- Some places put a brief description online and let demand drive digitization
- Recordings on cheap discs, like the ones purchased at office supply stores, that you burn recordings on from the computer. These are usually very poor quality and are in danger, even though they are newer than many other formats.
- A local cable access channel wants to donate videos to our institution and may want digital copies. The institution does not have playback equipment. Suggestions on how to proceed?
- Look at volume before making a decision.
- Vendor may be less expensive than getting training, equipment, etc.
- Cable access collections tend to have multiple copies of the same show, often in various formats. Survey the material so you are not making multiple copies of the same thing. If multiple formats, figure out which is the best to digitize from.
- Tips for working with vendors?
- Make sure you have a good inventory scheme when you send things to the vendor so you can keep track of everything.
- If material is in copyright, you may not want to spend the money to digitize since there may not be much you can do with it.
- Experienced vendors like George Blood will walk you through the process.
- If you have a large collection, break it down into smaller chunks to send to the vendor. There is a lot of work to do with recordings when they are returned from the vendor, so it can be overwhelming to have to deal with a large amount at once.
- Karen Kiorpes noted that the National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions cover sound and moving images.
Free, open source, cross-platform audio editor and recorder.
A complete digital audio production application for computers.
A provider of archival audio and moving image services, including digitizing obsolete and deteriorating audio, video, and film media, as well as migrating data from legacy formats. University at Albany has used them to reformat material in the Department of Archives and Special Collections.
NEH Preservation Assistance Grants
Grants offered by the National Endowment for the Humanities to smaller institutions. The maximum award is $10,000. Applications for the next round are available now and due January 13, 2022.
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