Interview with Jake Nadal, Preservation Officer, UCLA Library

Sarah Resnick: This is Sarah Resnick, I’m speaking with Jake Nadal via Skype. Today is June 22nd, 2011 and we are recording this interview for the IMLS Moving Image Specialists in Libraries project in the Moving Image Preservation program at NYU. Thanks, Jake, for agreeing to do the interview.
To start, tell me where you work and your job title, and what kind of appointment you have.
Jake Nadal: Sure. I work for UCLA library and my title is Preservation Officer. At UCLA, it’s what’s called an “academic” rather than a faculty appointment. And that’s an inside baseball distinction. But essentially, the librarians are on a track parallel track to the faculty. In my role as Preservation Officer, I work with all of the units that report to the University Librarian and I help them with a range of preservation services. We do some conservation work in-house, [in particular] book repair—we manage library binding. We’re beginning to develop audio and video preservation programs, and of course we have a lot of assessment strategy preservation work.
SR: Great, and how many libraries are there in the UCLA system?
JN:The UCLA library system has nine public service locations, and I think we currently have about thirteen buildings that have collections or library operations of some sort. And by size we have about four hundred full-time equivalent staff; that’s actually about 1,000 people on payroll. And of course we employ a lot of part-time employees in various library jobs.
SR: That’s pretty impressive. When did you start working at UCLA?
JN: I’ve been at UCLA for three years this month actually. I began in June of 2008.
SR: And can you describe your primary job duties and responsibilities?
JN: Yes, I am the department head of preservation, and preservation currently consists of three operations. The conservation center, which employs a full-time conservator and a full-time conservation assistant, as well as anywhere from four to six part-time student employees and interns that are doing bench work. There’s a section called Bindery and Contract Services that employs three full-time staff and another two or three part-time student assistants. Then next month a graduate from the NYU program is starting an audio-video preservation section, which will only be one person, but surely she’ll start to collect some interns as she goes along.
Those units are all preservation services units for the libraries. They do all the operational work of the preservation department: repairing material, editing records, binding. Then I’m in the preservation officer role, [which means] I work with all of the libraries on campus and library administration, to plan and develop strategies for how UCLA will care for its collection. That includes things like WEST Project, or Western Regional Storage Trust, which is a print journal archiving project. Working with our information technology folks on digital repositories and digital preservation and other, often times collaborative activities where UCLA is working with other institutions on questions of stewardship.
SR: Great. That sounds really exciting actually. So there’s a lot that you said that I want to come back to. But just to move forward with this line of questioning, in that you don’t work exclusively with moving image collections, around what percentage of time do you spend working with them?
JN: For myself right now, moving image is certainly a minority of my time. That said, one of the big projects that we’re working on is an environmental optimization project. One of our facilities is the Southern Regional Library Facility, the SRLF, and we’ve been working with the Image Permanence Institute on one of their environmental studies, and the entire top floor of the second module of the SRLF is UCLA Film and Television Archive. So in fact, that project touches one of the largest moving image repositories in the country. The film and TV archive reports to an academic department, the UCLA film department, but we share a great deal of storage space with them—it’s a facility that we operate.
SR: So, what kind of moving image material would be found within your library system?
JN: Within the collections right now, we have 8mm and 16mm film primarily. Most of the 35mm motion picture material ends up in the UCLA Film and Television Archive. But in our special collections, in our archive collections, we’ve ended up with quite a lot of film material. In fact it can’t be more than two or three weeks ago, I was talking to somebody processing the papers of Mayor Tom Bradley and she came across three or four boxes filled with acetate film, with various functions and interviews that Mr. Bradley had done. Within those collections we have a lot of home movie type materials—of course, often unique and pretty interesting. We also have quite a lot of video on magnetic tape; we repeatedly see that in the modern archival collections. Video recordings, of course VHS, but also a fair amount of early open-reel formats that we come across in processing.
SR: Great, and as for digital materials, do you have any born-digital materials coming into conservation?
JN: Yeah, one of the first things our new AV coordinator will be working on is a set of activities which we call performance capture. So the library itself is creating born digital video; if we have a speaker in or an event, we often generate some video [documenting them]. And then across campus there’s a tremendous amount of performing arts activity at UCLA and we’re not sure what the libraries role will be in working with all of those various producers. But it’s an area where we see a role for us to start having a conversation about how a video is created per standards and best practices and how the institution is going to do both the digital asset management and long-term digital preservation of important video materials.
SR: Great. So I wanted to just go back to your description of the three preservation units. And you just mentioned that you’re starting a new preservation unit, so could you talk about the history of that, and how that came about?
JN: Sure. First, Howard Besser has a long connection with UCLA, so several years ago he worked on a project with the library here, and wrote the report that started this performance-capture project. Since I arrived this conversation had been on the back burner or [maybe] the middle burner. [For some time] the libraries had intended to start to dealing with the questions of digital video. And as I arrived here and began to know the collections better and to work with the archivists, and just being clear that we were seeing a growing amount of, especially magnetic tape, in the archival collections, and that we needed some kind of strategy for what we were going to both do and not do with some of those materials.
In addition, as the university does its teaching and business day to day, it’s really common for classes to have video there working with instructional media as part of online education. We saw this growing need, and my technical expertise ends at a certain point, and my time ends at a certain point as well. So we started to talk about what was necessary and from there develop a position for someone with enough technical expertise that they could guide us in development, and know when we were able to work self-sufficiently and when to get outside expertise. And we needed someone who had the time and dedicated focus to help the library stay on these issues.
I think in a lot of ways, part of the reason we housed this in the Preservation Department is that with media there are lots of obsolescence issues—[problems] often manifest as preservation issues. But also it maps nicely with our conservation lab, where we have someone with a very particular technical background and expertise—in her case book conservation and paper conservation. And while she does a significant amount of bench work and treatment for us, a really important function that she plays is to connect to the community of experts that we need to work with the physical artifacts in our collection.
SR: As for yourself…And I’m just going through the list of questions here…What are the additional roles that you play in the library that perhaps you haven’t discussed so far. Are you on committees? That sort of thing....
JN: I think I said part of my job is preservation office and strategy and planning assessment, and the other part of it is being preservation department head. So just like all the other department heads, I’m involved with general administrative committees and work. I sit on the library’s collection development council, I sit on the libraries technical services council. The person to whom I report is Sharon Farb; she’s our Associate University Librarian for Collections and Scholarly Communication. My peer managers who work with her are the Head of Cataloging and Metadata John Reimer; Germaine Wadeborn, our Head of Acquisitions; Angela Riggio, who’s Head of Scholarly Communications and Licensing—that’s both the licensing of our content as well as licensing access to journals and databases for the university; Colleen Carlton who’s head of the SRLF. So we form the libraries technical services core. Of course a fair number of committee or working group du jour projects come along. Some of those have a closer relationship to preservation, and others are just projects the library is working on…
SR: And your department also have a blog... Is it you who takes care of that?
JN: Yeah, the preservation department started that a year, maybe two years ago. Partly because preservation as a formal unit was very new at UCLA—there had not been a formal, full-time preservation officer before I came here. And lacking the time to make sure every library staff got a tour through the conservation lab, it became a way for us to do some outreach, and start to give people a sense of what we were going to be working on. And in that sense it’s kind of been a nice tool to informally communicate with colleagues about the work that we’ve been doing.
SR: Are there other ways that you undertake outreach?
JN: Well, through a lot of conference presentations and talks. And the ALA—the American Library Association—meetings are an important forum both for talking at people as well as getting together and talking with colleagues about the issues that they’re working with, and strategies they’re taking. There’s also been a growing number of online webinars and forums that have been useful in the past year or two. It seems like the profession is getting its head around its ability to bring people together for conference call, quick talk, virtually, as we’re doing now. We have participated in a number of those things and I see more of that. Then of course there’s regular conference attendance and workshop participation. The other big outreach project we’ve had is the California AV Preservation Program. That’s something that’s run by the California Preservation Program. But that’s another area where we’ve really started to talk to the library community about video and moving image and audio needs.
SR: Let’s talk about your history, what kind of training you had, and what prepared you to work in this position? If UCLA was not your first position, tell us what you did before.
JN: I did my Master’s degree in Library and Information Science at Indiana University Bloomington. I had gone to IU in Bloomington partly because I was not sure whether I would go into music on an academic track or Library Science. Obviously I ended up doing Library Science. I’ve certainly worked with a lot of great music collections during my day as well. I became involved in preservation through a really early book digitization project. It was a joint preservation project between the IU library’s preservation unit and the IU digital library program. Getting involved with that led me to get involved with preservation, especially with what preservationists would call the reformatting or brittle books end of the house. Book digitization, microfilming, and kind of dealing with materials that had, for chemical reasons mostly, failed.
After I finished library school at Indiana, I served as the interim head of the preservation department and as the head of the preservation department after we completed our endowment campaign and built the conservation laboratory. At Indiana we did a few video projects, mostly with the music library. Performances that had been recorded at the school of music and such…of course we were doing those projects I started to study up or at least pay attention the audio and video formats at a deeper level, than my casual acquaintance of having been in a recording studio a few times, and having been involved in what goes on in a concert hall.
Following Indiana, I worked at the New York Public Library for several years as their Field Service Librarian for the Preservation Department. That was a job where actually there was a substantial amount spent on moving image collections. Of course the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center has the recorded sound archive. The dance division has incredible video resources, and the Schomberg Center for Black Culture in Harlem has some substantial audio and video collections as well. During the three years I was at the New York Public Library, I spent a lot of time with the audio archivists and the moving image archivists, and trying to work on preservation issues with them. And in some ways that was the time I had the most day-to-day formal work with audio and video materials. A lot of it is on-the-job and informal education. In terms of the formal education in audio and video, there was close to not being any in my library school curriculum and so a great deal of what I’ve learned has been in informal settings through workshops, conferences, and lectures. There was a sound series that the American Library Association did. Some of the American Institute for Conservation programs, like the TechFocus series, have been useful for letting me feel like I have some grasp on the technology that’s involved.
SR: I think you pretty much answered this question. Are there any other ways that you still continue your professional development?
JN: The last year or so, largely knowing that we were going to be creating this position for an AV engineer, I made a point of trying to get to the IASA, AMIA, ARSC conferences and to participate in some technical workshops. It’s interesting to me... I feel at those events, those forums, much the way I do when I attend the American Institute for Conservation Conference. It’s tremendously valuable for me to know and connect with that community. And it’s fun to see what people are doing. For me every time I learn something new about a video format, it’s sort of like Christmas…to see the engineering side. I also recognize that a lot of what I’m doing is learning what I don’t know, and learning how far my expertise should go, and at what point I need to be talking to someone with a real substantial depth of engineering expertise. I think I mentioned this too...part of our strategy and our intention with this AV unit is to treat it as a conservation unit—a place in the library that has a substantial knowledge of the history and technology and engineering of one of the library’s important information formats.
SR: Are there other places in the library where there are, perhaps not engineering expertise, but expertise nonetheless in moving image or audio formats?
JN: Our special collections units do the bulk of the day-to-day playback and work with audio-video collections. Within our department of Special Collections, the archival collections, we have a lot of recorded media. But then we also have the Performing Arts special collections. That’s primarily for us a pretty rich audio collection. There’s video and moving image in there as well, showing dance, documenting performance as well. And then obviously, being this close to the film and TV industry, that material finds its way in too. One of the things we’re sorting out is where do we draw our lines between systematic preservation efforts and day-to-day access and service needs for these materials.
The other group in the library that is pretty deeply involved here is Information Technology and Digital Services. They’re actively developing an institutional repository with the understanding and intention that we need a place to store and provide access to recorded media. They’ve done some projects with our own collections, like the Arhoolie recordings from the [Strachwitz] Frontera sound archive, which is early Mexican American music. And then there’s a project they recently did with the Film and TV Archive of very early animation films—these were all from the 20s and 30s; a lot of the nitrate films that are early examples of animation. They work on not only digitizing those materials, but then providing some sort of access and interfaces to work with some of those collections.
SR: Thank you. Do you have any opinions or thoughts about how the status of moving image collections within libraries have changed over the past few years?
JN: Yeah, it’s interesting. Indiana had a very traditional audiovisual department.—it was very focused on instruction. So it was video materials primarily, some film. It was things that professors were using in class as part of their teaching and curriculum usage. And that side of AV within libraries persists…and in fact I think in some ways it’s growing.
There’s also a growing amount of primary research done with video materials. In the digital humanities, we have people doing projects to aggregate and compare newsfeeds off of the broadcast news, and do things like geo-reference newsfeeds to process the closed-captioning data so they can associate what’s being said in the newscast with other information sources. They’re big video consumers.
The other area of video that’s tremendously important, and also falls off our radar, is in the sciences. The amount of medical imaging that’s going on campus—video in engineering and applied sciences. They’re both big creators and big consumers of video. In fact one of our interesting, oddball things that came up. We’re a journal archive, so for several major scientific publishers we keep a copy and a dark archive of print publications they put out, knowing that most people will access these things digitally. It’s a backup. One of these journals recently came out with a DVD on the back cover of incredibly high resolution imagery of endoscopic procedures. It’s a real stumper for us. It’s interesting, important content, but not something we’re particularly set up to process, and care for, and provide access to. So in the scientific community here at UCLA, we see it a lot from the medical community. And I think it’s common that all those [disciplines] are tremendous users of video and visual resources now.
SR: That’s interesting—you’re probably the first person to bring up the scientific community. Usually these materials are discussed in relation to the arts and humanities.
JN: I think to some extent that only makes sense, that it was the scientific community, and their use of that information has a much different life cycle, so the endoscopic imagery we got last week is out of date by now. At the same time the history of science is a very important discipline, and we certainly see this in the print world, where scientific publishers are often the people pushing the envelope on what is being done with publishing technology. I occasionally wonder if that’s not happening in video and imaging and I’m missing it.
SR: Do you have any sense whether faculty and students and researchers are starting to integrate media into their own research and publishing?
JN: Absolutely. Two projects come to mind: One is a faculty member who’s been doing research on broadcast news for decades now, and I think currently he’s harvesting…it’s something wild like fourteen cable news streams. He’s been doing this for decades so he has piles of U-matic and Beta video stacked up under his desk, and he continues to harvest this stuff and essentially does data mining of these video sources. And his whole research and publication process is graduate students that work on these news-related projects. We have another project here called Hyper Cities, and that involves...it’s essentially a geo-referencing research project where all types of media—video, both homemade amateur video and produced news video; tweets and social networking blasts; print news; imagery—it’s all geo-referenced and put on a timeline. One of the projects follows the May Day riots in Los Angeles. So you can go to this map interface and follow along, and when you get to, say, the corner of Sixth and Spring, you can see that a newscast was done from there, you can see photos that were taken there, you can see tweets, and commentary that relates to all of it. I mean those [projects] are just the tip of a pretty large iceberg, of a kind of new research effort. And of course our faculty who are dancers, performing artists, and theater and film, often times the tangible record of their work is a video.
SR: In your opinion what leads to the creation of positions like yours or like the AV engineer, or moving image specialists in libraries?
JN: It’s hard to say, Sarah. I think partly because we are in the early days of libraries being cognizant of and willing to deal with this problem. At UCLA part of bringing in someone is just that there’s [support] from the top of the administration. Gary Strong, our university librarian, and the associate university librarians—they have a very strong commitment to UCLA as a collection of record and are interested in [making] the case of the core functions of a research library being stewardship, preservation, care for cultural property. So there was fertile ground in that sense. Along with that I think there was, for us, the awareness that our faculty in terms of their teaching in the classroom and their research needs and the directions they were going with their research needed a richer array of these materials.
I think maybe an additional element is that, as we’ve moved into being a digital library, one of the things that lends itself to online broadcast presentation of library resources is video. So as we look at our special collections and see what we have, it could be an oral history interview that we made a video of, it could be a lecture that happened in the library related to an exhibition we’re doing. We even did a little documentary about one of our library projects, called the Center for Primary Research and Training, where to do archival processing we bring in graduate students who are working in those areas, and essentially get to do primary source research as they process evidence, and we made a little documentary about that. I think those factors kind of combine to raise our awareness, and as you get into that work you can’t really do it, you quickly realize your technical limitations, and recognize the need for some dedicated attention. Maybe the other piece too that UCLA has this kind of campus-wide media services department, and we’ve been at the forefront of challenging intellectual property law with those efforts, so that certainly raised campus attention about how those materials are used.
SR: Do you want to describe that situation a little bit?
JN: Sure, but I can’t say a whole lot. UCLA is in litigation right now, and a suit has been filed accusing us of breach of intellectual property for certain uses of video in classroom instruction. So at this point we’re kind of going back and forth with various motions to dismiss the order continuing the case—really just what constitutes our fair use rights for some of this material.
SR: Just to go back to the previous question...On the flipside, what do you see as obstacles in these positions?
JN: That’s a really good question. For libraries I think there’s some cultural obstacles. We see the same thing in libraries with our photographic collections—we’re very much a book culture and secondary to that, we’re an archives and paper records culture. Another position I could keep busy until the end of time is a photo conservator—we have millions of photographs in the collections. That’s another area where there’s room for more services. Part of it is just that libraries are still getting their heads around the notion of providing information in a lot of formats beyond text. The previous model for audio and video in libraries was very much an instructional one. It was about video as a very short term, very expendable resource. It was mostly published video, with an expectation that published video would always be available; if you needed a copy, you could buy a new copy. And I think we’re still kind of catching up with the notion or the recognition that the video market doesn’t quite work that way, and the way that video itself has become a first class citizen in our collection. There’s a culture issue there.
I think the other piece—and it’s hard to characterize exactly—has to do with a new technology, right? And some days I think that’s a little bit of the technophobia—that there’s yet another new complex technology to master. I think there’s also some reticence to be involved in kind of the maintenance and operation of everything it takes to really be able to provide a whole range of services [with video]. In libraries, there’s a constant tension between a desire to do things at a high level of excellence, and also a desire to do things only at the level that’s just good enough. I think it’s very easy with video, especially with a group of people that are by and large not very grounded in either the aesthetic, curatorial appreciation of video, nor the technology of it, to see [the standard of] “good enough” being, “Well, I can pick up a VCR for ninety-nine bucks, plug it into a monitor, and someone can see the thing, problem solved.” [And then, on the other side of the extreme, you might] see a high quality conversion or high quality capture. I think that it plays against...it just becomes an obstacle to overcome.
SR: Continuing along those lines, what do you think needs to be changed about the status of moving image preservation specialists in libraries? What is working well?
JN: The key to libraries is always to look at use cases. Who’s doing the research with those materials? How are the [materials] supporting instruction? What would [these materials] do to help the library further get its collections out there, and get its collections exposed? I think that if libraries were approached about their obligation to preserve, I don’t know any library that would say no, or actively deny that obligation. But that obligation to preserve is really just a big expense. Libraries have a limited amount of money and a limited amount of patience for additional expenses.
So when we start to look at video as a core part of contemporary research and teaching practice, it’s easier to see the library kind of lining up with that to provide support. I think we see that in the digital library community, right? We didn’t get into digital library projects like the Internet Archive and Google Books for preservation [purposes], they happened for access [reasons]; they happened so we can enable a new kind of digital humanities research, they happened so that we can share materials. And as we point ourselves in that direction, it becomes natural to start talking to the library about doing those projects in such a way that they serve the library’s stewardship mission. I think that having someone who understands and can really speak to the ways video is used, or the potential for its use, can help libraries see an opportunity to serve its users. Someone who might say, “Gee library, you’re not fully exploiting your collection, the video sitting in your stacks could be fully working for you.” Helping us have that conversation is very important.
Then the other piece of it is, the conservators who are really successful are the ones who are good at negotiation and compromise. They can find ways and can be creative about making conservation, or in this case conversion, happen within the context of other library projects. That I think takes a real depth of technical expertise. People need to have that expertise so they can be very credible when they say, “Yes, this is good enough, this is safe, this is fine.” But also so that, on the other hand, when the person says, “We just can’t do that,” or, “Yes we really need to do it this way.” That s/he has trust and assurance. But I think it’s when people bring that technical expertise in as a support for additional elements in the conversation, that libraries find very useful and credible.
SR: Great. Thank you. Actually I think that concludes my questions for today. Thank you so much for participating.
JN: You’re welcome.

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