As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am a MIAP/IMLS fellow-in-residence in the Preservation Department at UC Berkeley Library, charged with coordinating the California Audiovisual Preservation Project (CAVPP) under the auspices of the California Preservation Program. Nineteen institutions across California—libraries, museums, archives and historical societies—nominated a selection of film, video and audio materials to be digitized, preserved and made accessible through the Internet Archive and the Online Archive of California. Participants include The Bancroft Library, Pacific Film Archive and the California Historical Society (close to home) as well as the California State Archives, the California State Railroad Museum and Library, the Department of Special Collections at Stanford University, the Ontario City Library, and the Autry National Center of the American West. Glimmers and murmurs of what’s in store include stunt flying and pageantry at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition; a train-trip on the California Zephyr (1949); and a sound avalanche of twenty-four pianos playing at once at Gordon’s Piano Shop in Berkeley (1971).
One challenge of CAVPP is working with different types of institutions that have a range of skills and experience with audiovisual materials. Some have an in-house media preservation lab, a file management system, editing tools and large storage capacity, while many do not have an audiovisual specialist on staff. The field of digital preservation is no longer the Wild West, but for some institutions it is unfamiliar territory. From determining metadata schema, to selecting “final” file formats, to estimating digitization costs, to assuring quality of the new files, these endless considerations make the journey a bumpy ride.
In many ways we consider CAVPP participants partners in this experiment: they are closest to the material, close to the content, and first to recognize its value. Librarians, archivists, collection managers, curators and administrators are taking time to unpack hidden collections, search for reels or tapes documenting California history, gather descriptive metadata, and investigate rights issues. We ask institutions to do their best and we’ll meet them the rest of the way. As a prototype service, our goal is to enable preservation and online access for audiovisual objects threatened by age and obsolescence. Moreover, and of equal importance, we will gather both best practices and realistic practices as we recognize each institution’s capabilities and limitations, and investigate collective resources. Along the way, we will ask several important questions: What common language can we use for object records? Can we parse out required descriptive information, from that which is preferred and that which is ideal? What file formats are usable by most organizations? Who are our common users and how are the objects used? And following that, how can we anticipate unexpected uses? Finally, how can long-term digital storage be a shared expense?
In the end, we will sift those parts of the process that work best from those that don't work at all. The purpose is to create sustainable, low-cost standards for shared digital repositories, and map an expansive workflow such that additional institutions can participate, join in the journey, and contribute treasures to California’s rich history.