Category Archives: Collections

Charm City Sounds

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 52nd Association for Recorded Sound Collections Annual Conference in Baltimore, MD.  From the ARSC website:

Founded in 1966, the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and study of sound recordings—in all genres of music and speech, in all formats, and from all periods.

ARSC is unique in bringing together private individuals and institutional professionals. Archivists, librarians, and curators representing many of the world’s leading audiovisual repositories participate in ARSC alongside record collectors, record dealers, researchers, historians, discographers, musicians, engineers, producers, reviewers, and broadcasters.

ARSC’s vitality springs from more than 1000 knowledgeable, passionate, helpful members who really care about sound recordings.

ARSC Annual Conferences encourage open sharing of knowledge through informative presentations, workshops, and panel discussions. Tours, receptions, and special local events heighten the camaraderie that makes ARSC conferences lively and enjoyable.

This quote highlights several of the things that have made ARSC resources valuable and educational to me as the Audio Production Specialist at Duke Libraries:

  • The group’s membership includes both professionals and enthusiasts from a variety of backgrounds and types of institutions.
  • Members’ interests and specialties span a broad array of musical genres, media types, and time periods.
  • The organization serves as a repository of knowledge on obscure and obsolete sound recording media and technology.

This year’s conference offered a number of presentations that were directly relevant to our work here in Digital Collections and Curation Services, highlighting audio collections that have been digitized and the challenges encountered along the way.  Here’s a quick recap of some that stood out to me:

  • “Uncovering the Indian Neck Folk Festival Collection” by Maya Lerman (Folklife Center, Library of Congress).  This presentation showcased a collection of recordings and related documentation from a small invitation-only folk festival that ran from 1961-2014 and included early performances from Reverend Gary Davis, Dave Van Ronk, and Bob Dylan.  It touched on some of the difficulties in archiving optical and born-digital media (lack of metadata, deterioration of CD-Rs) as well as the benefits of educating prospective donors on best practices for media and documentation.
  • “A Garage in South Philly: The Vernacular Music Research Archive of Thornton Hagert” by David Sager and Anne Stanfield-Hagert.  This presentation paid tribute to the massive jazz archive of the late Mr. Hagert, comprising over 125,000 items of printed music, 75,000 recordings, 5,500 books, and 2,000 periodicals.  It spoke to the difficulties of selling or donating a private collection of this magnitude without splitting it up and undoing the careful, but idiosyncratic organizational structure as envisioned by the collector.
  • “Freedom is a Constant Struggle: The Golden State Mutual Sound Recordings” by Kelly Besser, Yasmin Dessem and Shanni Miller (UCLA Library).  This presentation covered the audio material from the archive of an African American-owned insurance company founded in 1925 in the Bay Area.  While audio was only a small part of this larger collection, the speakers demonstrated how it added additional context and depth to photographs, video, and written documents.  They also showed how this kind of archival audio can be an important tool in telling the stories of previously suppressed or unheard voices.
  • “Sounds, Sights and Sites of Activism in ’68” by Guha Shankar (Library of Congress).  This presentation examined a collection of recordings from “Resurrection City” in Washington, DC.  This was an encampment that was part of the Poor People’s Campaign, a demonstration for human rights organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. prior to his assassination in 1968.  The talk showed how these archival documents are being accessed and used to inform new forms of social and political activism and wider circulation via podcasts, websites, public lecture and exhibitions.

The ARSC Conference also touched on my personal interests in American traditional and vernacular music, especially folk and blues from the early 20th Century.  Presentations on the bluegrass scene in Baltimore, blues guitarist Johnny Shines, education outreach by the creators of PBS’s “American Epic” documentaries, and Hickory, NC’s own Blue Sky Boys provided a welcome break from favorite archivist topics such as metadata, workflows, and quality control.  Other fun parts of the conference included an impromptu jam session, a silent auction of books & records, and posters documenting the musical history of Baltimore.  True to the city’s nickname, I was charmed by my time in Baltimore and inspired by the amazingly diverse and dedicated work towards collecting and preserving our audio heritage by the ARSC community.

 

 

Hugh Mangum, Family and 100 years

What could me growing up in South West Virginia have to do with an itinerant photographer from Durham who was born in 1877?  His name was Hugh Mangum and he had a knack for bringing out the personalities of his subjects when, at the time, most photographs depict stiff and stoic people similar to the photograph below.

Hugh Mangum N475

We all have that family photo, taken with siblings, cousins or friends, that captures a specific time in our life or a specific feeling where you think to yourself “look at us” and just shake your head in amazement.  These photographs trigger memories that trigger other memories.  The photo below is that for me.  These are my siblings and cousins at my grandparents’ house in the early 90’s.  My siblings and I grew up on the same street as my grandparents and my cousins in the town of Blacksburg Virginia.  It seemed like we were always together but oddly there are very few pictures of all of us in one shot.

Adamo siblings and cousins circa 1990.

Even though this photograph was taken only a few decades ago a lot has changed in the lives of everyone in this photograph and also in the world of photography.  This picture was taken using ‘traditional’ film where, after taking the picture, you had to rewind the film, drop it off at the Fotomat to get your film processed and prints made before you could even see the images! We never knew if we had a “good” shot until days, sometimes weeks after an event.

Here is where my path intersects with Hugh Mangum.  We recently digitized some additional glass plate negatives from the Hugh Mangum collection.  Hugh was an itinerant photographer that traveled throughout North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.  In Virginia he traveled to Christiansburg, Radford and Roanoke.  These cities surround my hometown on three sides (respectively 8, 15 and 38 miles away).  These images were taken from 1890 to 1922.  This would put him in the area about 100 years before the family photo above.  I wonder if he passed through Blacksburg?

Hugh Mangum negatives N574, N576, N650.

Fast forward to 2018.  We carry computers in our pockets that have cameras that can capture every aspect of our lives.  We have social media sites where we post, share, tag, comment and record our lives.  I bet that even though we can now take thousands of photographs a year there are still the keepers.  The ones that rise to the top.  The ones that capture a moment in such a way that the younger generations might just say to themselves one day “look at us” and shaking their heads.

 

 

Snow Daze: Winter Weather Survival Tips

Snow is a major event here in North Carolina, and the University and Library were operating accordingly under a “severe weather policy” last week due to 6-12 inches of frozen precipitation. While essential services continued undeterred, most of the Library’s staff and patrons were asked to stay home until conditions had improved enough to safely commute to and navigate the campus. In celebration of last week’s storm, here are some handy tips for surviving and enjoying the winter weather–illustrated entirely with images from Duke Digital Collections!

  1. Stock up on your favorite vices and indulgences before the storm hits.

2. Be sure to bundle and layer up your clothing to stay warm in the frigid outdoor temperatures.

3. Plan some fun outdoor activities to keep malaise and torpor from settling in.

4. Never underestimate the importance of a good winter hat.

5. While snowed in, don’t let your personal hygiene slip too far.

6. Despite the inconveniences brought on by the weather, don’t forget to see the beauty and uniquity around you.

7. If all else fails, escape to sunnier climes.

8. Be thankful that Spring is on the way!

The images in this post are taken from the following digitized collections:  J. Walter Thompson Ford Motor Co. Advertisements, Ad*Access, William Gedney Photographs and Writings, Paul Kwilecki PhotographsW. Duke, Sons & Co. Advertising Materials, and Americans in the Land of Lenin: Documentary Photographs of Early Soviet Russia.

Stay warm!

Moving the mountain (of data)

It’s a new year! And a new year means new priorities. One of the many projects DUL staff have on deck for the Duke Digital Repository in the coming calendar year is an upgrade to DSpace, the software application we use to manage and maintain our collections of scholarly publications and electronic theses and dissertations. As part of that upgrade, the existing DSpace content will need to be migrated to the new software. Until very recently, that existing content has included a few research datasets deposited by Duke community members. But with the advent of our new research data curation program, research datasets have been published in the Fedora 3 part of the repository. Naturally, we wanted all of our research data content to be found in one place, so that meant migrating the few existing outliers. And given the ongoing upgrade project, we wanted to be sure to have it done and out of the way before the rest of the DSpace content needed to be moved.

The Integrated Precipitation and Hydrology Experiment

Most of the datasets that required moving were relatively small–a handful of files, all of manageable size (under a gigabyte) that could be exported using DSpace’s web interface. However, a limited series of data associated with a project called The Integrated Precipitation and Hydrology Experiment (IPHEx) posed a notable exception. There’s a lot of data associated with the IPHEx project (recorded daily for 7 years, along with some supplementary data files, and iterated over 3 different areas of coverage, the total footprint came to just under a terabyte, spread over more than 7,000 files), so this project needed some advance planning.

First, the size of the project meant that the data were too large to export through the DSpace web client, so we needed the developers to wrangle a behind the scenes dump of what was in DSpace to a local file system. Once we had everything we needed to work with (which included some previously unpublished updates to the data we received last year from the researchers), we had to make some decisions on how to model it. The data model used in DSpace was a bit limiting, which resulted in the data being made available as a long list of files for each part of the project. In moving the data to our Fedora repository, we gained a little more flexibility with how we could arrange the files. We determined that we wanted to deviate slightly from the arrangement in DSpace, grouping the files by month and year.

This meant we would have group all the files into subdirectories containing the data for each month–for over 7,000 files, that would have been extremely tedious to do by hand, so we wrote a script to do the sorting for us. That completed, we were able to carry out the ingest process as normal. The final wrinkle associated with the IPHEx project was making sure that the persistent identifiers each part of the project data had been assigned in DSpace still resolved to the correct content. One of our developers was able to set up a server redirect to ensure that each URL would still take a user to the right place. As of the new year, the IPHEx project data (along with our other migrated DSpace datasets) are available in their new home!

At least (of course) until the next migration.

The Letter Compels You!

Every Halloween at Duke Libraries, we have our annual “Screamfest.” This is when the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library shows off unique holdings related to extrasensory perception, premature burial, 16th century witches, devils (not just blue ones), creepy advertisements, eerie pulp fiction, scary zines and more. Attendees sometimes show up in costumes, and there is of course, lots of candy. I always eat too much.

When I look through the various materials on display, there is one item in particular that always seems to draw me in. In fact, you could say I am compelled to read it, almost as if I am not in control of my actions! It’s a simple one-page letter, written in 1949 by Luther M. Schulze, a Lutheran pastor in Washington, D.C., addressed to J.B Rhine, the scientist who founded parapsychology as a branch of psychology, and started the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory, which operated at Duke University from 1935 until the 1960’s. Parapsychology is the study of phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, hypnosis, psychokinesis and other paranormal mysteries.

The 1949 letter from the Rev. Luther Schulze to J.B. Rhine. (click to enlarge)

The letter begins: “We have in our congregation a family who are being disturbed by poltergeist phenomena. It first appeared about January 15, 1949. The family consists of the maternal grandmother, a fourteen (year) old boy who is an only child, and his parents. The phenomena is present only in the boy’s presence. I had him in my home on the night of February 17-18 to observe for myself. Chairs moved with him and one threw him out. His bed shook whenever he was in it.” The letter also states that his family says that “words appeared on the boy’s body” and he “has visions of the devil and goes into a trance and speaks in a strange language”

As a fan of classic horror films, this letter immediately reminded me of what is generally regarded to be the scariest movie of all time, “The Exorcist.” I was too young to see the film when it was originally released in 1973, but got the chance to see the director’s cut on the big screen in 2000. It’s definitely the scariest movie of all time, but not because of gratuitous gore like you see in today’s monotonously-sadistic slasher films. The Exorcist is the scariest movie ever because it expertly taps into one of the central fears within our Judeao-Christian collective subconscious: That evil isn’t just something we battle outside of ourselves. The most frightening evil of all is that which can take root within us.

It turns out there’s a direct link between this mysterious letter to J.B Rhine and “The Exorcist.” William Peter Blatty, who wrote the 1971 novel and adapted it for the film, based his book on a real-life 1949 exorcism performed by Jesuit priests in St. Louis. The exorcism was performed on a 14-yr-old boy under the pseudonym of “Roland Doe” and that is the same boy that Rev. Schulze is referring to in his letter to J.B. Rhine at Duke. When Rhine received the letter, Roland’s family had taken him to St. Louis for the exorcism, having given up on conventional psychiatry. Blatty changed the gender and age of the child for his novel and screenplay, but many of the occurrences described in the letter are recognizable to anyone familiar with the book or movie.

The reply from J.B. Rhine to the Rev. Luther Schulze. (click to enlarge)

Unfortunately for this blog post, poltergeists or demons or psychosomatic illnesses (depending on your point of view) often vanish as unexpectedly as they show up, and that’s what happened in this case. After an initial reply to the letter from L.E. Rhine, his wife and lab partner, J.B. Rhine responded to Rev. Schulze that he was “deeply interested in this case,” and that “the most likely normal explanation is that the boy is, himself led to create the effect of being the victim of mysterious agencies or forces and might be sincerely convinced of it. Such movements as those of the chair and bed might, from your very brief account of them, have originated within himself.” Part of the reason Rhine was successful in his field is that he was an empirical skeptic. Rhine later visited Schulze in person, but by then, the exorcism had ended, and Roland’s condition had returned to normal.

According to subsequent research, Roland married, had children and leads a quiet, ordinary life near Washington, D.C. He refuses to talk about the events of 1949, other than saying he doesn’t remember. In the mid-1960’s, Duke and J.B. Rhine parted ways, and the Duke Parapsychology Lab closed. This was likely due in part to the fact that, despite Rhine’s extensive research and empirical testing, parapsychology was, and still is, considered a dubious pseudoscience. Duke probably realized the association wasn’t helping their reputation as a stellar academic institution. The Rhines continued their research, setting up the “Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man,” independently of Duke. But the records of the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory are available for study at Duke Libraries. I wonder what other dark secrets might be discovered,  brought to light and exorcized?

New and Recently Migrated Digital Collections

In the past 3 months, we have launched a number of exciting digital collections!  Our brand new offerings are either available now or will be very soon.  They are:

  • Duke Property Plats: https://repository.duke.edu/dc/uapropplat
  • Early Arabic Manuscripts (included in the recently migrated Early Greek Manuscripts): https://repository.duke.edu/dc/earlymss
  • International Broadsides (added to migrated Broadsides and Ephemera collection): https://repository.duke.edu/dc/broadsides
  • Orange County Tax List Ledger, 1875: https://repository.duke.edu/dc/orangecountytaxlist
  • Radio Haiti Archive, second batch of recordings: https://repository.duke.edu/dc/radiohaiti
  • William Gedney Finished Prints and Contact Sheets (newly re-digitized with new and improved metadata): https://repository.duke.edu/dc/gedney
A selection from the William Gedney Photographs digital collection

In addition to the brand new items, the digital collections team is constantly chipping away at the digital collections migration.  Here are the latest collections to move from Tripod 2 to the Duke Digital Repository (these are either available now or will be very soon):

One of the Greek items in the Early Manuscripts Collection.

Regular readers of Bitstreams are familiar with our digital collections migrations project; we first started writing about it almost 2 years ago when we announced the first collection to be launched in the new Duke Digital Repository interface.  Since then we have posted about various aspects of the migration with some regularity.

What we hoped would be a speedy transition is still a work in progress 2 years later.   This is due to a variety of factors one of which is that the work itself is very complex.  Before we can move a collection into the digital repository it has to be reviewed, all digital objects fully accounted for, and all metadata remediated and crosswalked into the DDR metadata profile.  Sometimes this process requires little effort.   However other times, especially with older collection, we have items with no metadata, or metadata with no items, or the numbers in our various systems simply do not match.  Tracking down the answers can require some major detective work on the part of my amazing colleagues.

Despite these challenges, we eagerly press on.  As each collection moves we get a little closer to having all of our digital collections under preservation control and providing access to all of them from a single platform.  Onward!

A Summer Day in the Life of Digital Collections

A recent tweet from my colleague in the Rubenstein Library (pictured above) pretty much sums up the last few weeks at work.  Although I rarely work directly with students and classes, I am still impacted by the hustle and bustle in the library when classes are in session.  Throughout the busy Spring I found myself saying, oh I’ll have time to work on that over the Summer.  Now Summer is here, so it is time to make some progress on those delayed projects while keeping others moving forward.  With that in mind here is your late Spring and early Summer round-up of Digital Collections news and updates.

Radio Haiti

A preview of the soon to be live Radio Haiti Archive digital collection.

The long anticipated launch of the Radio Haiti Archives is upon us.  After many meetings to review the metadata profile, discuss modeling relationships between recordings, and find a pragmatic approach to representing metadata in 3 languages all in the Duke Digital Repository public interface, we are now in preview mode, and it is thrilling.  Behind the scenes, Radio Haiti represents a huge step forward in the Duke Digital Repository’s ability to store and play back audio and video files.

You can already listen to many recordings via the Radio Haiti collection guide, and we will share the digital collection with the world in late June or early July.  In the meantime, check out this teaser image of the homepage.

 

Section A

My colleague Meghan recently wrote about our ambitions Section A digitization project, which will result in creating finding aids for and digitizing 3000+ small manuscript collections from the Rubenstein library.  This past week the 12 people involved in the project met to review our workflow.  Although we are trying to take a mass digitization and streamlined approach to this project, there are still a lot of people and steps.  For example, we spent about 20-30 minutes of our 90 minute meeting reviewing the various status codes we use on our giant Google spreadsheet and when to update them. I’ve also created a 6 page project plan that encompasses both a high and medium level view of the project. In addition to that document, each part of the process (appraisal, cataloging review, digitization, etc.) also has their own more detailed documentation.  This project is going to last at least a few years, so taking the time to document every step is essential, as is agreeing on status codes and how to use them.  It is a big process, but with every box the project gets a little easier.

Status codes for tracking our evaluation, remediation, and digitization workflow.
Section A Project Plan Summary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diversity and Inclusion Digitization Initiative Proposals and Easy Projects

As Bitstreams readers and DUL colleagues know, this year we instituted 2 new processes for proposing digitization projects.  Our second digitization initiative deadline has just passed (it was June 15) and I will be working with the review committee to review new proposals as well as reevaluate 2 proposals from the first round in June and early July.  I’m excited to say that we have already approved one project outright (Emma Goldman papers), and plan to announce more approved projects later this Summer. 

We also codified “easy project” guidelines and have received several easy project proposals.  It is still too soon to really assess this process, but so far the process is going well.

Transcription and Closed Captioning

Speaking of A/V developments, another large project planned for this Summer is to begin codifying our captioning and transcription practices.  Duke Libraries has had a mandate to create transcriptions and closed captions for newly digitized A/V for over a year. In that time we have been working with vendors on selected projects.  Our next steps will serve two fronts; on the programmatic side we need  review the time and expense captioning efforts have incurred so far and see how we can scale our efforts to our backlog of publicly accessible A/V.  On the technology side I’ve partnered with one of our amazing developers to sketch out a multi-phase plan for storing and providing access to captions and time-coded transcriptions accessible and searchable in our user interface.  The first phase goes into development this Summer.  All of these efforts will no doubt be the subject of a future blog post.  

Testing VTT captions of Duke Chapel Recordings in JWPlayer

Summer of Documentation

My aspirational Summer project this year is to update digital collections project tracking documentation, review/consolidate/replace/trash existing digital collections documentation and work with the Digital Production Center to create a DPC manual.  Admittedly writing and reviewing documentation is not the most exciting Summer plan,  but with so many projects and collaborators in the air, this documentation is essential to our productivity, communication practices, and my personal sanity.   

Late Spring Collection launches and Migrations

Over the past few months we launched several new digital collections as well as completed the migration of a number of collections from our old platform into the Duke Digital Repository.  

New Collections:

Migrated Collections:

…And so Much More!

In addition to the projects above, we continue to make slow and steady progress on our MSI system, are exploring using the FFv1 format for preserving selected moving image collections, planning the next phase of the Digital Collections migration into the Duke Digital Repository, thinking deeply about collection level metadata and structured metadata, planning to launch newly digitized Gedney images, integrating digital objects in finding aids and more.  No doubt some of these efforts will appear in subsequent Bitstreams posts.  In the meantime, let’s all try not to let this Summer fly by too quickly!

Enjoy Summer while you can!

New Digitization Project Proposal Process and Call for Proposals

At Duke University Libraries (DUL), we are embarking on a new way to propose digitization projects.  This isn’t a spur of the moment New Year’s resolution I promise, but has been in the works for months.  Our goal in making a change to our proposal process is twofold: first, we want to focus our resources on specific types of projects, and second, we want to make our efforts as efficient as possible.

Introducing Digitization Initiatives

The new proposal workflow centers on what we are calling “digitization initiatives.” These are groups of digitization projects that relate to a specific theme or characteristic.  DUL’s Advisory Council for Digital Collections develops guidelines for an initiative, and will then issue a call for proposals to the library.  Once the call has been issued, library staff can submit proposals on or before one of two deadlines over a 6 month period.  Following submission, proposals will be vetted, and accepted proposals will move onto implementation. Our previous system did not include deadlines, and proposals were asked to demonstrate broad strategic importance only.

DUL is issuing our first call for proposals now, and if this system proves successful we will develop a second digitization initiative to be announced in 2018.

I’ll say more about why we are embarking on this new system later, but first I would like to tell you about our first digitization initiative.

Call for Proposals

Duke University Libraries’ Advisory Council for Digital Collections has chosen diversity and inclusion as the theme of our first digitization initiative.  This initiative draws on areas of strategic importance both for DUL (as noted in the 2016 strategic plan) and the University.  Prospective champions are invited to think broadly about definitions of diversity and inclusion and how particular collections embody these concepts, which may include but is not limited to topics of race, religion, class, ability, socioeconomic status, gender, political beliefs, sexuality, age, and nation of origin.

Full details of the call for proposals here: https://duke.box.com/s/vvftxcqy9qmhtfcxdnrqdm5kqxh1zc6t

Proposals will be due on March 15, 2017 or June 15, 2017.

Proposing non-diversity and inclusion related proposal

We have not forgotten about all the important digitization proposals that support faculty, important campus or off campus partnerships, and special events. In our experience, these are often small projects and do not require a lot of extra conservation, technical services, or metadata support so we are creating an“easy” project pipeline.  This will be a more light-weight process that will still requires a proposal, but less strategic vetting at the outset. There will be more details coming out in late January or February on these projects so stay tuned.

Why this change?

I mentioned above that we are moving to this new system to meet two goals. First, this new system will allow us to focus proposal and vetting resources on projects that meet a specific strategic goal as articulated by an initiative’s guidelines.  Additionally, over the last few years we have received a huge variety of proposals: some are small “no brainer” type proposals while others are extremely large and complicated.  We only had one system for proposing and reviewing all proposals, and sometimes it seemed like too much process and sometimes too little.  In other words one process size does not not fit all.  By dividing our process into strategically focussed proposals on the one hand and easy projects on the other, we can spend more of our Advisory committee’s time on proposals that need it and get the smaller ones straight into the hands of the implementation team.

Another benefit of this process is that proposal deadlines will allow the implementation team to batch various aspects of our work (batching similar types of work makes it go faster).  The deadlines will also allow us to better coordinate the digitization related work performed by other departments.  I often find myself asking departments to fit digitization projects in with their already busy schedules, and it feels rushed and can create unnecessary stress.  If the implementation team has a queue of projects to address, then we can schedule it well in advance.

I’m really excited to see this new process get off the ground, and I’m looking forward to seeing all the fantastic proposals that will result from the Diversity and Inclusion initiative!

Cutting Through the Noise

Noise is an inescapable part of our sonic environment.  As I sit at my quiet library desk writing this, I can hear the undercurrent of the building’s pipes and HVAC systems, the click-clack of the Scribe overhead book scanner, footsteps from the floor above, doors opening and closing in the hallway, and the various rustlings of my own fidgeting.  In our daily lives, our brains tune out much of this extraneous noise to help us focus on the task at hand and be alert to sounds conveying immediately useful information: a colleagues’s voice, a cell-phone buzz, a fire alarm.

When sound is recorded electronically, however, this tuned-out noise is often pushed to the foreground.  This may be due to the recording conditions (e.g. a field recording done on budget equipment in someone’s home or outdoors) or inherent in the recording technology itself (electrical interference, mechanical surface noise).  Noise is always present in the audio materials we digitize and archive, many of which are interviews, oral histories, and events recorded to cassette or open reel tape by amateurs in the field.  Our first goal is to make the cleanest and most direct analog-to-digital transfer possible, and then save this as our archival master .wav file with no alterations.  Once this is accomplished, we have some leeway to work with the digital audio and try to create a more easily listenable and intelligible access copy.

img_2190

I recently started experimenting with Steinberg WaveLab software to clean up digitized recordings from the Larry Rubin Papers.  This collection contains some amazing documentation of Rubin’s work as a civil rights organizer in the 1960s, but the ever-present hum & hiss often threaten to obscure the content.  I worked with two plug-ins in WaveLab to try to mitigate the noise while leaving the bulk of the audio information intact.

plugin1

Even if you don’t know it by name, anyone who has used electronic audio equipment has probably heard the dreaded 60 Cycle Hum.  This is a fixed low-frequency tone that is related to our main electric power grid operating at 120 volts AC in the United States.  Due to improper grounding and electromagnetic interference from nearby wires and appliances, this current can leak into our audio signals and appear as the ubiquitous 60 Hz hum (disclaimer–you may not be able to hear this as well on tiny laptop speakers or earbuds).  Wavelab’s De-Buzzer plug-in allowed me to isolate this troublesome frequency and reduce its volume level drastically in relation to the interview material.  Starting from a recommended preset, I adjusted the sensitivity of the noise reduction by ear to cut unwanted hum without introducing any obvious digital artifacts in the sound.

plugin2

Similarly omnipresent in analog audio is High-Frequency Hiss.  This wash of noise is native to any electrical system (see Noise Floor) and is especially problematic in tape-based media where the contact of the recording and playback heads against the tape introduces another level of “surface noise.”  I used the De-Noiser plug-in to reduce hiss while being careful not to cut into the high-frequency content too much.  Applying this effect too heavily could make the voices in the recording sound dull and muddy, which would be counterproductive to improving overall intelligibility.

Listen to the before & after audio snippets below.  While the audio is still far from perfect due to the original recording conditions, conservative application of the noise reduction tools has significantly cleaned up the sound.  It’s possible to cut the noise even further with more aggressive use of the effects, but I felt that would do more harm than good to the overall sound quality.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

 

I was fairly pleased with these results and plan to keep working with these and other software tools in the future to create digital audio files that meet the needs of archivists and researchers.  We can’t eliminate all of the noise from our media-saturated lives, but we can always keep striving to keep the signal-to-noise ratio at manageable and healthy levels.

 

img_2187