An Interview with Erica Titkemeyer – Project Director and AV Conservator at the Southern Folklife Collection, UNC

Interview conducted with Erica Titkemeyer by Morgan McKeehan in March 2019.

This is the second post in a new series of conversations between emerging professionals and archivists actively working with digital materials.


Erica is the Project Director and AV Conservator at the Southern Folklife Collection, in Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s University Libraries.Erica Titkemeyer

Tell us a little bit about the path that brought you to your current position.

As an undergrad I majored in Cinema and Photography, which initially put me in contact with many of the analog-based obsolete formats our team at UNC works to digitize now. It was also during this time when I saw how varied new proprietary born-digital formats could be based on camera types, capture settings, and editing environments, and how these files could be just as problematic as film and magnetic-based formats when trying to access content over time. Whether projects originated on something like DVCAM or P2 cards, codec and file format compatibility issues were a daily occurrence in classes. After undergrad I went through NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program where courses in digital preservation helped instill a lot of the foundational knowledge I use today.

After grad school, I spent 9 months in the inaugural National Digital Stewardship Residency cohort in Washington, D.C., where I worked at Smithsonian Institution Archives to explore digital preservation needs and challenges of digital media art.

My current position is primarily concerned with the timely digitization, preservation and access of obsolete analog audiovisual formats, but our digital tape-based collections are growing, and there are many born-digital accessions with a myriad of audio and video file formats that we need to make decisions about now to ensure they’re around for the long term.

What type of institution do you currently work at and where is it located?

I work within Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s University Libraries. I am situated in the Southern Folklife Collection, which holds the majority of audiovisual recordings in Wilson Library; however my team has expanded to work with all audiovisual recordings in the building as part of a new Andrew W. Mellon grant, Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources: Expansion.

What do you love most about working with AV archival materials?

I’ve always been excited to learn about moving image and sound technologies and how they fit into historical contexts. Even if I know nothing about a collection except for the format, there’s enough there to understand the time and circumstances the recordings were created in. This is just as much the case for born-digital audiovisual files as it is for analog. We’ve seen file formats, codecs, and recording equipment go by the wayside, and so they exist as markers of a particular time.

What’s the biggest challenge affecting your work (and/or the field at large)?

Current and future digital video capabilities can provide a lot of options for documentarians and filmmakers, which is great news for them, but it also means there’s going to be a flood of new file formats with encodings and specifications we have not dealt with, many of which will already be difficult to access by the time they make it to our library because of planned obsolescence. We’ve already started to see these collections come in, and it’s impossible to normalize everything to our audiovisual target preservation specifications while still retaining quality for various reasons. Fortunately, there are a lot of folks thinking about this who are building some precedent when it comes to making decisions about the files. Julia Kim at Library of Congress, Rebecca Fraimow at WGBH, and I have also done a couple panel talks on this and recently put out an article through Code4Lib on this topic (https://journal.code4lib.org/articles/14244).

What advice would you give yourself as a student or professional first delving into digital archives work?

Everything can seem very overwhelming. There are a lot of directions to take in audiovisual preservation and archiving, and digital archiving and preservation is the shiny new frontier, but there’s a lot to gain by starting with what you know and taking it from there. I think building my knowledge and expertise in analog preservation risks inevitably helps me in tackling some of the more challenging aspects of born-digital audiovisual preservation.


Morgan McKeehanMorgan McKeehan is the Digital Collections Specialist in the Repository Services Department, within the University Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In this role, she provides support for the management of and access to digitized and born-digital materials from across the Libraries’ special collections units.

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Preserve This Podcast!

by Molly Schwartz

Mary Kidd (MLIS ’14) and Dana Gerber-Margie (MLS ’13) first met at a Radio Preservation Task Force meeting in 2016. They bonded over experiences of conference fatigue, but quickly moved onto topics near and dear to both of their hearts: podcasts and audio archiving. Dana Gerber-Margie has been a long-time podcast super-listener. She is subscribed to over 1400 podcasts, and she regularly listens to 40-50 of them. She launched a podcast recommendation newsletter when she was getting her MLS, called “The Audio Signal,” which has grown into a popular podcast publication called The Bello Collective. Mary was a National Digital Stewardship Resident at WNYC, where she was creating a born-digital preservation strategy for their archives. She had worked on analog archives projects in the past — scanning and transferring collections of tapes — but she’s embraced the madness and importance of preserving born-digital audio. Mary and Dana stayed in touch and continued to brainstorm ideas, which blossomed into a workshop about podcast preservation that they taught at the Personal Digital Archives conference at Stanford in 2017, along with Anne Wootton (co-founder of Popup Archive, now at Apple Podcasts).

Then Mary and I connected at the National Digital Stewardship Residency symposium in Washington, DC in 2017. I got my MLS back in 2013, but since then I’ve been working more at the intersection of media, storytelling, and archives. I had started a podcast and was really interested, for selfish reasons, in learning the most up-to-date best practices for born-digital audio preservation. I marched straight up to Mary and said something like, “hey, let’s work together on an audio preservation project.” Mary set up a three-way Skype call with Dana on the line, and pretty soon we were talking about podcasts. How we love them. How they are at risk because most podcasters host their files on commercial third-party platforms. And how we would love to do a massive outreach and education program where we teach podcasters that their digital files are at risk and give them techniques for preserving them. We wrote these ideas into a grant proposal, with a few numbers and a budget attached, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave us $142,000 to make it happen. We started working on this grant project, called “Preserve This Podcast,” back in February 2018. We’ve been able to hire people who are just as excited about the idea to help us make it happen. Like Sarah Nguyen, a current MLIS student at the University of Washington and our amazing Project Coordinator.

Behaviors chart from the Preserve This Podcast! survey.

One moral of this story is that digital archives conferences really can bring people together and inspire them to advance the field. The other moral of the story is that, after months of consulting audio preservation experts and interviewing podcasters and getting 556 podcasters to take a survey and reading about the history of podcasting, we can confirm that podcasts are disappearing and podcast producers are not adequately equipped to preserve their work against the onslaught of forces working against the long-term endurance of digital information rendering devices. There is more information on our website about the project (preservethispodcast.org) and in the report about the survey findings. Please reach out to mschwartz@metro.org or snguyen@metro.org if you have any thoughts or ideas.


Molly Schwartz is the Studio Manager at the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). She is the host and producer of two podcasts about libraries and archives — Library Bytegeist and Preserve This Podcast. Molly did a Fulbright grant at the Aalto University Media Lab in Helsinki, was part of the inaugural cohort of National Digital Stewardship Residents in Washington, D.C., and worked at the U.S. State Department as a data analyst. She holds an MLS with a specialization in Archives, Records and Information Management from the University of Maryland at College Park and a BA/MA in History from the Johns Hopkins University.

Using Python, FFMPEG, and the ArchivesSpace API to Create a Lightweight Clip Library

by Bonnie Gordon

This is the twelfth post in the bloggERS Script It! Series.

Context

Over the past couple of years at the Rockefeller Archive Center, we’ve digitized a substantial portion of our audiovisual collection. Our colleagues in our Research and Education department wanted to create a clip library using this digitized content, so that they could easily find clips to use in presentations and on social media. Since the scale would be somewhat small and we wanted to spin up a solution quickly, we decided to store A/V clips in a folder with an accompanying spreadsheet containing metadata.

All of our (processed) A/V materials are described at the item level in ArchivesSpace. Since this description existed already, we wanted a way to get information into the spreadsheet without a lot of copying-and-pasting or rekeying. Fortunately, the access copies of our digitized A/V have ArchivesSpace refIDs as their filenames, so we’re able to easily link each .mp4 file to its description via the ArchivesSpace API. To do so, I wrote a Python script that uses the ArchivesSpace API to gather descriptive metadata and output it to a spreadsheet, and also uses the command line tool ffmpeg to automate clip creation.

The script asks for user input on the command line. This is how it works:

Step 1: Log into ArchivesSpace

First, the script asks the user for their ArchivesSpace username and password. (The script requires a config file with the IP address of the ArchivesSpace instance.) It then starts an ArchivesSpace session using methods from ArchivesSnake, an open-source Python library for working with the ArchivesSpace API.

Step 2: Get refID and number to start appending to file

The script then starts a while loop, and asks if the user would like to input a new refID. If the user types back “yes” or “y,” the script then asks for the the ArchivesSpace refID, followed by the number to start appending to the end of each clip. This is because the filename for each clip is the original refID, followed by an underscore, followed by a number, and to allow for more clips to be made from the same original file when the script is run again later.

Step 3: Get clip length and create clip

The script then calculates the duration of the original file, in order to determine whether to ask the user to input the number of hours for the start time of the clip, or to skip that prompt. The user is then asked for the number of minutes and seconds of the start time of the clip, then the number of minutes and seconds for the duration of the clip. Then the clip is created. In order to calculate the duration of the original file and create the clip, I used the os Python module to run ffmpeg commands. Ffmpeg is a powerful command line tool for manipulating A/V files; I find ffmprovisr to be an extremely helpful resource.

Clip from Rockefeller Family at Pocantico – Part I , circa 1920, FA1303, Rockefeller Family Home Movies. Rockefeller Archive Center.

Step 4: Get information about clip from ArchivesSpace

Now that the clip is made, the script uses the ArchivesSnake library again and the find_by_id endpoint of the ArchivesSpace API to get descriptive metadata. This includes the original item’s title, date, identifier, and scope and contents note, and the collection title and identifier.

Step 5: Format data and write to csv

The script then takes the data it’s gathered, formats it as needed—such as by removing line breaks in notes from ArchivesSpace, or formatting duration length—and writes it to the csv file.

Step 6: Decide how to continue

The loop starts again, and the user is asked “New refID? y/n/q.” If the user inputs “n” or “no,” the script skips asking for a refID and goes straight to asking for information about how to create the clip. If the user inputs “q” or “quit,” the script ends.

The script is available on GitHub. Issues and pull requests welcome!


Bonnie Gordon is a Digital Archivist at the Rockefeller Archive Center, where she focuses on digital preservation, born digital records, and training around technology.