Category Archives: Audiovisual Materials

Documenting the Duke/Durham LGBTQI Community with Oral Histories

Oral histories are often fantastic, and fascinating, resources: first-hand accounts of lives and events, communities and histories, told with immediacy and giving a direct connection to the narrator, and thus to the story. They are rich and compelling, and are powerful tools in documenting those who are under-represented by the types of documentation traditionally found in archives. For these reasons, we were very excited to work on two recent oral history collections related to the local LGBTQI community: the Duke Alumni LGBTQ Oral Histories and the Rainbow Triangle Oral History Collection (RTOHC).

Materials from the Rainbow Triangle Oral Histories Collection.
Materials from the Rainbow Triangle Oral Histories Collection.

Both collections offer first-hand accounts of the LGBTQI experience at Duke and in the Triangle area. The Duke Alumni oral histories include individual Duke community members relating experiences from the 1970s through early 2000s, while the RTOHC materials come from individuals throughout the Triangle region and relate stories from the 1960s to the 2000s. As one can imagine, the stories in both document a large variety of experiences. Since some oral history subjects overlap in terms of years and environs covered, it is possible to compare multiple accounts of isolated, annual events like Blue Jeans Day; national crises like the AIDS epidemic; and ongoing struggles such as anti-LGBTQI persecution and community-building.

Similar to archival collections made up of paper and photographic-based materials, oral history collections pose significant challenges stemming from volume and format, as well as rights and content sensitivities. Close to 80 interviews are represented across these two collections. Interviews in the Alumni LGBTQ collections were conducted in 2015 and 2016 straight to digital recorders in formats supported by modern computing environments. Interviews conducted by the Rainbow Triangle Oral History project were conducted over a span of years in the 1990s and early 2000s on a variety of physical media and will require digital reformatting for use and preservation. Additionally, oral histories may have been recorded without the narrators giving explicit permission as to who can access the recordings, or under what circumstances, or what researchers can do with the information in the recording. Many projects and interviewers prepare forms for just this purpose, but not every form makes it into the archive with the recording. Finally, describing the contents, and the narrators, in ways that are sensitive to the narrator’s wishes, and concisely but accurately convey the topics covered in the recordings, can be complicated. Oral histories are often intensely personal and revelatory, and a wide range of subjects, persons, places, and events can be covered in a short period of time. We were lucky in that the alumni included either transcripts or interview summaries to aid in their description, and many of the RTOHC interviews included transcripts and/or biographical information.

Although these collections presented some complexities during processing, we were proud to work on preserving and providing access to these materials. Both collections are now available for use in the reading room.

Post contributed by Matthew Farrell, Digital Records Archivist, and Tracy Jackson, Technical Services Archivist for the Duke University Archives.

Bringing Radio Haiti Home, One Step at a Time

This post originally appeared on H-Net on June 29, 2016.

In June 2016, with the processing of the Radio Haiti archive well underway but only partially completed, we took another big step in bringing Radio Haiti home. I traveled to Haiti to present the archive project at the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) and Association of Caribbean University, Research, and Institutional Libraries (ACURIL) conferences, both of which were held in Port-au-Prince during the same week, and brought with me a thousand flash drives. Each flash drive contains a small sample of twenty-nine Radio Haiti programs, and is emblazoned with Radio Haiti’s iconic microphone-inspired vèvè logo and the permanent URL of the collection’s finding aid.

radiohaitiflashdrives
Radio Haiti flash drives at the Université d’État d’Haïti campus in Limonade. Photo courtesy of the MIT-Haiti Initiative

The contents of the flash drives span nearly thirty years, from 1973 to 2002. It includes subjects ranging from the Battle of Vertières and the Haitian Revolution, the annual vodou pilgrimage to Saut d’Eau, the brutality of the Duvalier regime, the tribulations of Haitian refugees at sea, the 1987 Jean Rabel massacre, the persecution of Haitian cane-cutters in the Dominican Republic, the aftermath of the coup years, agrarian reform in the mid-1990s, women’s rights, and the search for justice in the assassination of Jean Dominique and tributes to the slain journalist. It includes the voices of journalists, writers, human rights activists, rural farmers, artists, and intellectuals. Jean Dominique, Michèle Montas, Richard Brisson, Madeleine Paillère, J.J. Dominique, Konpè Filo, Jean-Marie Vincent, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, and Myriam Merlet, among others. Each flash drive also contains a PDF containing a full list of the contents, and links to our permanent finding aid, Soundcloud site, Facebook page, and the trilingual pilot website.

Collaborators, friends, and fellow travelers, including the Fondasyon Konesans ak Libète (FOKAL), the MIT-Haiti Initiative, AlterPresse, and Fanm Deside (among others!) are helping distribute the flash drives throughout the country. Our goal is for copies to be available in various schools, universities, community radio and alternative media outlets, community libraries, grassroots organizations, cultural organizations, and women’s organizations from Cité Soleil to Jérémie to Cap Haïtien to Jacmel to Gonaïves to La Gonâve. In 2017, when the Radio Haiti archive is completely digitized and processed, we will give digital copies of the entire archive to the Archives Nationales, the Bibliothèque Nationale, the network of community radio stations SAKS, FOKAL, and other major institutions.

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Two archivists from the Archives Nationales d’Haïti, Yves-André Nau and Yves Rijkaard Gaspard, with project archivist Laura Wagner, at the ACURIL conference

Radio Haiti’s digital archive is not only for scholars writing about Haiti; it isn’t even principally for them. It is for everyone. Radio in Haiti in general, and Radio Haiti in particular, was and is fundamentally democratic. The technology is relatively inexpensive. Even if you don’t have a radio yourself, a relative, a friend, or a neighbor does. Radio doesn’t depend on traditional literacy. And Radio Haiti itself was in Haitian Creole in addition to French, so that everyone could listen, participate, and share ideas. Radio Haiti demonstrated that Creole, the language spoken by all Haitian people, could be used for serious topics and serious analysis.

Radio in Haiti began with Radio HHK, a propaganda tool of the 1915-1934 US Marine occupation. In the 1970s, churches distributed small transistor radios. These radios were locked, to prevent people from listening to things other than church stations. But the listeners managed to unlock them in order to listen to other frequencies, especially Radio Haiti Inter on 1330 am. There is a long history of resourcefulness and innovation in Haiti—a history of degaje.

The Internet still is not as democratic as radio. It is not free. Not everyone has Internet access, and not everyone can buy enough data to livestream the digital archive. Despite that, I remain certain that the Radio Haiti archive will spread. Just as people took a propaganda tool and used it for their own purposes, they’ll find a way. Just as people unlocked the church radios, they’ll find a way. We want and encourage that. We hope that people will copy the content of these flash drives and share it with others, and that those who are able to download the audio will copy it, put it on a flash drive, share it with others.

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The weekend after the conferences, I left Port-au-Prince to travel to the Artibonite to visit Charles Suffrard, one of Jean Dominique’s closest friends and collaborators, a leader of KOZEPEP, an influential peasant rights organizations in Haiti. In a posthumous tribute to Dominique, which is one of the recordings featured on the flash drives, he introduces himself as “a rice farmer, and Jean Dominique’s teacher,” referring to the journalist’s uncommon respect for the expertise and experience of Haiti’s cultivators. We eat lalo and local rice from Charles’s fields. Then he takes me to the dam where they poured Jean Dominique’s ashes, after he was struck down by an assassin in Radio Haiti’s courtyard early in the morning of April 3, 2000. “This is the most important thing for you to see,” Charles says.

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The bridge from which Jean Dominique’s ashes were poured, April 2000

It feels like a pilgrimage: if I am to work on this archive, I must also know this place. The water was high and quick-moving, cloudy with sediment. “This is where all the water that irrigates the whole Artibonite Valley comes from,” Charles explained. “This is why we chose to pour Jean’s ashes here, so that he could become fertilizer for the entire Artibonite.”

ricefields
rice fields, Artibonite
 The river glides apace toward the churning dam, and I imagine Jean Dominique’s dynamism dispersed throughout the water and earth of the Artibonite Valley, and I wonder about things that, through the act of diffusion, grow stronger. Memory should not stay stagnant or contained. Like the river, like sound, memory needs motion in order to be. As for Radio Haiti, it was never really gone. It was never lost or forgotten. It was merely, for a time, at rest. The physical archive is at Duke University now, but Duke is not really its home. The Duke project is a means of setting Radio Haiti in motion again, of creating access for as many people as possible so that Radio Haiti’s home can again be everywhere that people listen, and everywhere that they remember.
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Community radio station in L’Estère, Artibonite. On the walls: “We will never forgot Jean Dominique”

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D., Radio Haiti Project Archivist

The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.

2015 Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Visiting Visiting Artist: Nate Larson

Reception & Artist’s Talk

Date: November 5

Time: 6:00-8:00 pm

Location: Center for Documentary Studies, 1317 W. Pettigrew St, Durham, NC

Nate_Larson_272x381In October 2015, the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library will welcome Nate Larson as the second Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Visiting Artist. Named in honor of Dr. Diamonstein-Spielvogel, a prolific author, interviewer, curator, and champion of the arts, this new artist-in-residence program provides an extended opportunity for an artist to study and engage with archival, manuscript and other special collections in support of developing a new body of creative work.

Nate Larson is a contemporary artist working with photographic media, artist books and digital video. His projects have been widely shown across the US and internationally as well as featured in numerous publications and media outlets, including Wired Raw File, The Picture Show from NPR, Slate, CNN, Hyperallergic, Gizmodo, Buzzfeed News, Vice Magazine, the New York Times Lens Blog, Flavorwire, the BBC News Viewfinder, Frieze Magazine, the British Journal of Photography, The Washington Post, and Art Papers. His artwork is included in the collections of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Orlando Museum of Art, Portland Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Center for Photography at Woodstock, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago. Additionally, Larson holds a full‐time academic appointment in the photography department at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and chaired the 2014 national conference of the Society for Photographic Education.

Larson will be in residence at the Rubenstein Library October 26-November 22, 2015.  During this time, Larson will meet with scholars, students and staff from across the academic disciplines at Duke and conduct his own research. Larson will give an Artist’s Talk about his work to date at the Center for Documentary Studies on November 5, 2015 from 6:00-8:00pm.

The event is free and open to the public and made possible through the generous support of Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel. Larson’s visit is jointly organized and sponsored by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the Center for Documentary Studies, and the Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts Program at Duke University.

Contact – Lisa McCarty, lisa.mccarty@duke.edu

Image below by Nate Larson & Marni Shindelman from the series Geolocation

Tell me I'm not making a mistake. Tell me you’re worth the wait. #fb

 

Post submitted by Lisa McCarty, Curator, Archive of Documentary Arts

Onè! Respè! (Honor! Respect!)

The Radio Haiti archive project is underway! We’ve spent the first couple weeks creating a behemoth database…

rh database

…assigning each and every tape a unique ID number, and putting the tapes in nice new comfortable bar-coded boxes. This means that an archive which arrived looking like this…

Rh bins.png
Radio Haiti boxes arrive in North Carolina after a long voyage

… now, happily, looks like this.

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AV archivist Craig Breaden with some newly-boxed Radio Haiti tapes

 

We are incredibly fortunate that the former Radio Haiti staff and friends and family in Port-au-Prince (you know who you are!) sent the tapes with a detailed inventory — it makes our job so much easier.

We are also inspecting the tapes for mold (and we have found mold aplenty).

rh tapes 2
¼ inch tape with mold on it
rh tapes 1
¼ inch tape with mold on it

 

We are also keeping track of which tapes are going to require a little extra TLC.

rh tlc tapes

We’re creating rather sweeping controlled vocabulary — describing subjects, names, and places that appear in the archive. Once we’ve put in all this metadata, we can send the more than 3500 tapes off to be cleaned and digitized.

These tasks (organizing, typing in data, cross-referencing, labeling, bar-coding, describing, mold-noting), while arguably unglamorous, are necessary groundwork for eventually making the recordings publicly accessible, ensuring that these tapes can speak again, and that Radyo Ayiti pap peri (Radio Haiti will never perish).

We’ve only listened to a small sampling of the recordings so far, but the tapes themselves, as physical objects, tell a story. Even the mold is part of the story. That white mold on the tapes and the dusty dark mildew on the tape boxes tell of the  Radio Haiti journalists’ multiple exiles during which the tapes remained in the tropics and the future of the station was uncertain.

To glance over the titles of the recordings — the labels on their spines, lined up in order, row upon row — is to chart the outline of late 20th century Haitian political history — a chronology of presidencies, coups, interventions, massacres, disappearances, and impunity. The eighty-nine tapes chronicling the Raboteau trial of 2000, in which former junta leaders were tried for the 1994 torture and massacre of civilians, take up an entire shelf.

rh trial tapes

And then there is the long, long sequence of recordings after the April 3, 2000 assassination of Jean Dominique, when the center of the station’s orbit violently and irrevocably shifted.

rh labeled tapes
It is uncanny to look at the tapes with hindsight and see the patterns emerge. Here is the political landscape of Haiti, from the 1970s to the 2000s, from dictatorship to the democratic era: The same impunity, the same lies, the same corruption, the same suffering, the same mentalities, the same machinations. Chameleons change their color, oppressors repaint their faces, state-sanctioned killings become extrajudicial killings, and the poor generally come off the worst.

The journalists who did these reports and conducted these interviews experienced these events in real time. They could not yet know the whole story because, in each of these moments, they were in the middle of it. For them, the enthusiasm of 1986 (after Duvalier fell, and Radio Haiti’s staff returned from their first exile) and of 1994 (when Aristide was reinstated, and Radio Haiti’s staff returned from their second exile) was unfettered. Likewise, for them, the struggle against impunity and injustice was urgent.

There is a recording labeled “Justice Dossier Jando Blocage 4.9.01” — “Justice Jean Dominique case blocked investigation.” Those short words contain a saga: by September 2001, a year and a half after Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint were murdered, Radio Haiti was already reporting on how the investigation had stalled. In 2001, perhaps, justice appeared attainable, just out of reach. Now, fourteen years later, the case remains unsolved.

rh tapes closeup

Back in 2011, I attended a talk by Haitian human rights activist Jean-Claude Bajeux in Port-au-Prince, where he said, “gen anpil fantòm kap sikile nan peyi a ki pa gen stati.” (“there are many ghosts wandering through this country that have no statue”). He was speaking of those who were disappeared under the Duvalier regime. But he could have been speaking, too, of innumerable others who have died and been erased – those who were killed by the earthquake, under the military regime, through direct political violence and through the structural violence of everyday oppression.

This archive is not a statue or a monument, but it is one place where the dead speak. Sometimes the controlled vocabulary feels like an inventory of ghosts.

Sometimes I think I am working on an archive that was never meant to be archived, something that was supposed to remain an active, living struggle. I think of how far these clean cardboard storage boxes and quiet temperature-controlled spaces are from the sting of tear gas, the stickiness of blood, the smell of burning tires, the crack of gunfire, the heat and noise, the laughter and fury of Haiti.

But salvaging and preserving are part of the struggle; remembering is, itself, a political act.

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Radio Haiti Project Archivist.

The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Remembering Harold Feinstein

The Rubenstein Library has learned that photographer Harold Feinstein passed away on June 20th at the age of 84.   Feinstein was one of the original inhabitants of the “Jazz Loft” at 821 Sixth Avenue in New York City.  His singular photographic work, and his association with other occupants of 821 Sixth Avenue, including W. Eugene Smith, composer Hall Overton, and artist David X. Young,  led in 2004 to his being interviewed by Sam Stephenson for the Jazz Loft Project.  The Project was archived by the Rubenstein Library in 2012-2013, and includes streaming files of many of Stephenson’s interviews. We include the interview with Harold Feinstein here in its entirety.  See also the obituary in the New York Times.

Tape 1:

Tape 2:

Tape 3:

Post contributed by Craig Breaden, Audiovisual Archivist. 

NEH grant will fund Voices of Change Project at the Rubenstein Library

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University has received a grant of $200,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support Voices of Change: Preserving and Presenting Radio Haiti.  This two-year project, set to begin in July 2015, will preserve and make widely available the written- and spoken-word archives of Radio Haiti Inter, the country’s oracle of democracy from the late 1960s until its closure in 2003. The announcement of the award coincides with the fifteen year anniversary of the assassination of the station’s owner and Haiti’s most prominent journalist, Jean Dominique, and amidst continuing news coverage about the ongoing trial of his accused murderers.

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Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas at Radio Haiti Inter, 1995

 

The Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library received the archives of Radio Haiti in late 2013 as a gift from Michèle Montas, the station’s co-anchor and widow of Dominique.  “To me, Duke University was the most welcoming environment for these unique archives, with knowledgeable teams of scholars and archivists able to preserve the past and help to use that recent past as a tool to re- imagine the future,” commented Montas about her decision to place the archives at Duke.

As evidenced in the more than 3,000 recordings and 70 linear feet of paper records comprising the collection, Radio Haiti distinguished itself from other media outlets in Haiti by covering not only events in Port-au-Prince but news from the rural areas of Haiti, including a grassroots democratic movement that eventually overthrew the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. It was the first independent radio station in Haiti, and the first to broadcast in the language of the people, Haitian Creole, instead of the French spoken only by Haiti’s elite.

The collection is one of the most important and comprehensive resources available for studying and understanding the recent history of Haiti. Primary materials related to Haiti are relatively rare, and the archives of Radio Haiti are particularly distinct both for the depth and breadth of their coverage. According to Laurent Dubois, project advisor and Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History at Duke, “The Radio Haiti Archives represent a tremendous resource for scholars, educators, and the general public interested in culture and politics in Haiti from the late 1970s to the present. Under the leadership of Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas, the station served as a critical voice for reportage, debate, editorials, and news for several decades.” Access to these important primary materials will allow scholars to write the history of the country in nuanced and participatory ways.

beth doyle
As part of preparing the grant proposal, Library staff completed a pilot project cleaning and digitizing a selection of tapes from the Radio Haiti Archives.

 

Grant funding will support a full-time project archivist fluent in both Haitian Creole and French to oversee the arrangement, description, digitization and preservation of these materials. To support multilingual and international research, audio recordings will be described in French, Haitian Creole, and English, and will be made freely available online via Duke’s Digital Collections, the Digital Public Library of America, and the Digital Library of the Caribbean.

In order to promote easy access to these materials in Haiti, the Library will partner with the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke and FOKAL (La Fondation Connaissance et Liberté/Fondasyon Konesans Ak Libète), a community organization in Haiti, to place digital copies of the recordings in libraries throughout Haiti. The team will also explore creating podcasts from the recordings to allow for easier access in regions with intermittent internet connectivity.

The Radio Haiti collection is a singular resource supporting a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the last 50 years’ of Haiti’s history. By preserving and making accessible these archives, Duke University Libraries seeks to advance the dialogue not only about Haiti’s past but also about its future.

Those interested in learning more about the archives of Radio Haiti are encouraged to visit the pilot site developed collaboratively between the Forum for Scholars and Publics and the Library at http://radiohaitilives.com/.   This site includes access in Creole and English to all the recordings reformatted as part of the planning phase of the grant.

Post contributed by Kat Stefko, Head of Technical Services. 

The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.

University Archives Acquires Owens Documentary Materials

As part of a campus-wide initiative to commemorate 50 years of integration at Duke, the Graduate School and filmmaker Ivan Weiss contributed “The Education of Ida Owens,” a documentary about the first African-American female to earn a PhD at the university.

Balancing Dr. Owens’s personal story with Duke’s own integration, and the national Civil Rights movement more broadly, the documentary is well worth a view. A copy is available on YouTube and Vimeo. Take half and hour and watch it, if you haven’t. This post will still be here when you get back.

In late 2014, the University Archives received a bundle of materials related to the documentary. In addition to the completed video files, we also received a bevy of additional materials fleshing out the release of the documentary; Dr. Owens’s background; and the filmmaking process itself. It is these latter items that warrant specific mention. For each person interviewed by the filmmakers there exists video footage, audio recordings, and text transcripts. Because multiple camera people worked on the project, having access to these clips allows insight into the editing process, as well content that did not make the final cut of the video.

Ida Stephens Owens, undated
Ida Stephens Owens, undated. From the University Archives Photograph Collection.

Our descriptive record of the materials is here for perusal. The materials themselves can be seen in the Rubenstein Library reading room. Because many of the files themselves are quite large, please make any requests in advance, as it will take some time to transfer the materials from our servers to a computer terminal able to view the files.

Like any period, the present decade marks a series of fiftieth anniversaries. And like any anniversary, the anniversary of Duke’s integration and impending anniversary of Dr. Owens’s PhD completion, serve to call attention to landmark events while also allowing us to reflect on the great deal of work ahead. This documentary and the supporting materials recently added to the University Archives are a testament to both.

Post contributed by Matthew Farrell, Digital Records Archivist.

Instant Replay: Game 1 Under Coach1K

Do you remember what you were doing at the end of November in 1980? Ronald Reagan had just been elected, and the Iran Hostage Crisis entered its second year. Kenny Rogers’s timeless serenade “Lady” topped the charts. Audiences were reeling from finding out who shot J.R. And on November 29, 1980, Mike Krzyzewski entered Cameron Indoor Stadium to coach the Blue Devils during their first match up of the season. It was also his first game at Duke as the new head coach.

Their opponents were the Stetson University Hatters, and the first half was a little shaky for both teams. But in the second half the Blue Devils, who included Gene Banks and Kenny Dennard, pulled away for a definitive 67-49 win, thanks to Tom Emma’s shooting. The new coach deemed the game “a good opener,” but suggested that they would need to fill out the team’s ranks in the years to come.

Chronicle_1980_12_01

He wasn’t yet Coach K, and the pronunciation of his name wasn’t common knowledge. The court itself wasn’t named for him, and there was no Krzyzewskiville. But it was the first step toward a legendary program, now with an astonishing 926 wins at Duke. Add those to 73 previous wins at Army, and Krzyzewski now stands at 999 career wins.

screenshot

The November 29, 1980 game film from the Duke University Archives is now available through Duke Digital Collections. The film includes no sound—no color commentary!—because it was made for coaching staff. This film is one of hundreds held by the University Archives, documenting Duke University sports history.

The next men’s basketball game, on Sunday against St. John’s in Madison Square Garden, may be Mike Krzyzewski’s 1000th career win. He will no doubt be crouched on the sidelines, just as he is in this very first Duke outing, leading his team to yet another victory.

scoreboard

Post Contributed by Val Gillispie, University Archivist

H. Lee Waters Now Online

hleewaters
Still from H. Lee Waters’ film “Granite Falls 1941”

The Rubenstein Library, in partnership with the Duke Libraries Digital Projects team, announce today the online debut of the H. Lee Waters Film collection. The evolution of this long-awaited website, featuring Waters’ “Movies of Local People” shot in towns across the region from 1936 to 1942, is detailed here on the Digital Projects Bitstreams blog.

How the DPC Magically Digitizes Old Formats for Rubenstein Researchers

Here in Rubenstein Library Research Services, we always strive to fulfill our researchers’ wishes to use our inspiring materials in their work. However, rare materials often come in formats that pose a challenge to standard modern imaging equipment. We frequently receive requests from researchers to digitize books and maps that are too big or too tightly bound for our scanning equipment. Researchers also seek digital files of obsolete audio and A/V formats, such as records, VHS tapes, and audio reel tapes, but our ancient VHS players and reel tape decks went the way of the dinosaur, even as we kept pace with the latest technology for imaging paper, discs, and microfilm.

There’s valuable archival content on that long, slowly degrading strip of plastic film.
There’s valuable archival content on that long, slowly degrading strip of plastic film.

Thankfully, the buck doesn’t stop here in Research Services. We have an amazing digitization resource right here in the Libraries: the Digital Production Center, or DPC, as it is fondly known. DPC staff are highly-trained digitization experts, and their lab is filled with the latest digitizing technology. Mostly they digitize collections (hence our wonderful online Digital Collections!), but when we have a Rubenstein request that can’t be imaged on our equipment, the DPC takes up the challenge and works their magic.

I was invited to train with the DPC wizards recently, studying how they fulfill these challenging requests. Although I learned a lot about how the digitization process works, I still think it’s partly magical.

For visual images such as maps or books, the DPC’s computer monitor must first be calibrated to render the colors with absolute accuracy, or the scanned image might end up with an undesirable color cast. This is done using a color target, X-rite Photo Pro software, and the i1 PhotoPro 2 spectrophotometer, which optically “reads” the colors on the monitor in a magical fashion, just by touching the screen.

Like St. Patrick with the snakes, Mike Adamo casts out those slithery color casts
Like St. Patrick with the snakes, Mike Adamo casts out those slithery color casts

The lighting in the lab uses true full-spectrum daylight bulbs. Even the walls in the imaging areas are painted the exact shade of 18% grey used by photographers to achieve accurate white balance; in this case it also helps to prevent color casts from affecting the image.

For most paper originals, the DPC uses a Phase One camera capable of producing 1200 dpi images. Softboxed sidelighting on two sides provides even illumination. To capture large items, the camera must be raised high on a stand. Too high, and the image will be too pixelated; too low, and the edges of the image could get clipped. Like Goldilocks’ porridge, the height has to be just right.

Zeke Graves adjusts the camera height. Maybe the Phase One should be named Goldilocks.
Zeke Graves adjusts the camera height. Maybe the Phase One should be named Goldilocks.

The DPC can also digitize the many obsolete audio recordings on reel tape, records, or cassettes found in our twentieth-century and newer collections. This kind of magic is especially astonishing: sound vibrations are captured as magnetic density on the tape, which the audio analog-digital interface then samples electronically and translates into 1’s and 0’s. The computer then renders this data visually on the monitor, before assembling it back into sound as an mp3 or wav file.

reel to reel deck
Old technology made recording a lot less spur-of-the moment than lifting up an iPhone
VU meter
Volume Unit meter: the audiophiles’ way to view perceived loudness

Of course, we can’t forget about the ever-popular medium of video. Rubenstein collections include video on several types of exotic tape cassettes, such as VHS, U-matic, Betacam and Hi-8. The DPC rises to the challenge, with media capture decks that play obsolete tape formats and send their signals through analog-to-digital converters to create a tidy video file.

Alex Marsh operates the video deck bank. Tellingly, the digital conversion decks are made by the ‘Blackmagic’ company
Alex Marsh operates the video deck bank. Tellingly, the digital conversion hardware is made by the ‘Blackmagic’ company

After stringent quality control checks, logging of the work done, and backing up to the server, the digital file is uploaded and shared via a media sharing service, and Abracadabra! The millions of zeros and ones reassemble themselves on the researcher’s computer into a perfect facsimile of the original object.

Now, that’s just plain magic.

To see the DPC’s take on the training sessions, check out the Digital Project Team’s Bitstreams blog post.

Post contributed by Megan O’Connell, Reproduction Services Manager