The Threat of Degralescence — Part II: Call to Action

In my last post, I talked about how degralescence is threatening to make a lot of audiovisual material inaccessible in the near future (15-20 years). All this talk of gloom and doom for AV material is depressing, but all is not yet lost. Although we may only have 15-20 years, it may just be enough time to save these materials. At the Music Library Association’s Annual Conference in Atlanta, I was able to attend a talk that discussed audiovisual preservation from two perspectives: a small music library with a staff of about 3 (Westminster Choir College), and a large research university that has a large staff and an equally large collection of AV items (Indiana University). Both show that all is indeed not lost, but skill, time, and effort are required.

The WCC library’s presentation (titled “Digitizing on a Shoestring”), discussed the librarians’ work with digitizing their collection. When they set out, they used a NEH assistance grant to estimate the cost of reformatting and preserving the AV materials. The estimate came back at $650,000—way too much money for a library of WCC’s size. Therefore, the two intrepid librarians decided to forge ahead on their own. They read published standards about digital preservation of AV items, looked at what other institutions were doing, and hired an audio technician. At the conference, they were happy to announce that their expenditures were less than $30,000, most of which was dedicated to the audio technicians pay check. Since there are so many free or low cost Content Management Systems and audio digitization software out there, most of these costs were negligible.

Planning was a key factor in the success of this project, as was reading up on current practices in the field. This goes to show that for some projects, expertise is not required, as long as you’re willing to do the legwork.

After this was a discussion about preservation within a completely different setting – Indiana University. Here, the University holds around 560,000 items, 180,000 of which are at serious risk. Digitizing these items would be a Herculean task, and, as such, the university administration produced a strategic plan to digitize all material held by the university. Part of this project required AV specialists to analyze and prioritize materials across the university. In the words of Mike Casey: “Who has what, are those items unique or rare, how much do they have, and in what condition?” A large part of this effort is in deciding what materials get priority over others. To this extent, IU has developed a scientific ranking system that gives a 0-5 score to items based on their research value and condition or risk (0: this has low value and/or low risk, 5: high value and/or high risk). These scores are then combined, and reviewed by curators. Then items are selected for preservation.

IU has contracted with an outside company that specializes in AV digitization and preservation to do the actual digitization due to the sheer size of the collection. Although all institutions may not be able to have an outside company digitize for them, institutions could definitely use the ranking and prioritization system to help make selections for preservation.

The takeaway: AV digital preservation is difficult, but possible, and getting institutional support for the effort is imperative to making it work.

Don’t let degralescence get you down!

WebWise 2014 Conference: “Anchoring Communities”

Forgive me for the delay. Although the conference was held February 10, 2014, the demands of graduate school has kept me so occupied I forgot to share the experience!

The WebWize2014 Conference in Baltimore, MD was developed to introduce the growing influence of digital media in the library and information science field. This three-day event showed the overall benefits of new digital tools that not only expanded to more patrons locally, nationally, and internationally but also different ways to inform them of an institution’s information.  The WebWize conference is an annual event that occurs in different parts of the country and includes an abundance of workshops and sessions. These meetings are intended to both show some new tools that have been created in certain libraries, museums, and archives and to encourage the attendees to participate in discussions on how to better current tools or possible new digital mechanisms. More than one session or workshop occurred at the same time in different rooms, so it was up to the attendees to join whichever workshop and/or session that intrigued them the most.

As previously mentioned, I only attended the first conference meeting on Monday, February 10th from 8:00am to 4:00pm, which was considered the “introduction” day. The conference officially began with Nick Poole, Chief Executive Officer of Collection Trust, as the keynote presenter. His presentation, titled “Make it Personal: Developing Services That People Love”, was a reminder to all practitioners in the information science field to never forgot their patrons and to keep them in mind when developing and distributing any sort of information.  The presentation was a great introduction to the conference entirely, because it is imperative to remind organizations of their relationship with their patrons. If an organization does not provide the right service that connects with their users then they will suffer, regardless of how established it may be. It was a clever method to keep the attendees open minded and considerate of others, because most of the sessions and workshops available at the conference were geared mostly on how to make their organization more efficient within their own space. Such as, the session that I attended on how to properly index oral histories using University of Kentucky Libraries’ prototype OHMS (Oral History Metadata Sychronizer) by Doug Boyd, or the other one that I attended on how to fund a digital library by Tom Scheinfeldt (which was recommended through grants, community service, and sponsorship).

The conference was a revelation on how thriving and vast the library and information science field actually is. Listening to all the speakers that participated in the conference and seeing all of the digital tools and projects that have been created remind me of how imperative it is to share information to others, and how limitless the digital realm can be for practitioners in information science. Each institution that participated in the conference was different in every aspect, from the materials that are collected to where the institution was located such as the Smithsonian, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Chicago Public Library. The conference was a reminder that information is everywhere and the people who handle the abundance of information can come from anywhere. Everyone’s ideas were different, unique, and enticing from one another but all shared the same common ground of educating and informing any user interested.


Webwise 2014: Reflections on the convergence of education and information science

by Alyse Minter

Webwise is an annual conference hosted by the Institute of Museum and Library Science (IMLS). This year, February 10-12, it was held in Baltimore, Maryland. Webwise allows library, archives, and museum (LAM) professionals to come together and learn, network, and discuss trends and issues connected to operating digital platforms. The focus this year was Anchoring Communities. It enabled LAMs to think about programs and their impact on users, as well as utilizing current spaces and programs in innovative ways to connect with and impact communities, such as the MakerSpace movement. Twitter conversations around Webwise 2014 can be found at #WebWise2014.

The conference opened on Monday morning with a keynote address from Nick Poole, Chief Excutive Officer of Collections Trust in the UK. Poole spoke about the importance of creating ownership between communities and organizations. Many times, LAM professionals tend to view institutions as an “our,” effectively making institutions restrictive to the staff, rather than inclusive of the user community. Services, platforms, and programming should be geared towards what individuals need, want, and love. This will go a long way towards public support of institutions, as people tend to stand up for what they love. Curating institutions towards user needs also ensures the public will be more likely to fund necessary support, versus if the public is not kept informed and only those on the inside are in the know. In terms of innovation, Poole gave the example of using a hammer responsibly and “smartly”. The hammer in this analogy represents digital tools and resources available to institutions. Instead of just gleefully banging the hammer around because we can, LAM professionals should seek the best way to utilize tools, rather than embracing the new in-thing and not utilizing it the fullest potential. (The hammer was a favorite analogy among attendees.) When it comes to planning for institutions, collaboration is the key. Rather than shutting oneself away and engaging in the “silo of the LAM,” professionals should learn to work together and effectively problem solve and create solutions. The long range goal in any institution is to impact its users for the better, whether through education, research, or relationships. In order to achieve this goal, institutions must learn to be transparent, flexible, and passionate. Be open about developments and ideas. Change is okay; not everything can or should stay the same. The way things were done in 1975 most likely will not work in 2014. The mission and goals of the institution should be accessible and broadly known. People are the most important indicators of success and institutions should work towards cultivating relationships.

Speaking of change, one of the things that struck me was the repeated discussion surrounding pedagogy as it relates to information and user services. As an education major in undergrad, it was interesting to hear the terminology with which I was so familiar being tossed around as this new, grand approach to information science. For example, creating community ownership is about creating learner driven processes in which the user takes ownership for his/her creativity and innovation in research or exploration. This includes the aforementioned inclusive language and programming to distill the mystery surrounding LAMs. Just as the push in information literacy is to equip and empower users to make informed choices about information needs and results, the focus is less on the LAM or LAM professional and more on the individual or community. It’s less of a librarian as the great authority model and more of a networking, collaborative model. This was particularly obvious in the session on MakerSpaces. Because of the heavy emphasis on creativity, invention, and innovation, MakerSpaces provide for a very close relationship between information science and education. The focus is more on working together and working through the process, providing a safe space in which “failure” allows individuals to problem solve and come up with new ways to arrive at workable solutions. I think this concept is applicable to any area education, scholarship, and outreach. I personally count myself lucky to have received a strong foundation in pedagogy and student-centered learning. I’m excited to see this approach begin to intersect with the library field and am excited to see what future developments hold, particularly in the area of LAM collaboration and educational/information building for community support.

The Threat of Degralescence

Conferences are fun for any number of reasons. You get to meet up with old friends, learn about new and exciting things that are happening, and meet a lot of new people. One thing that I got out of the Music Library Association’s annual meeting that I wasn’t expecting was an expanded vocabulary. But now, the word DEGRALESCENCE (coined by the brilliant Mike Casey at Indiana University) has been added to my lexicon.

What does this wonderful word mean? Well, unfortunately, it describes something that many music/film/media/special collections librarians fear daily: the combination of media DEGRAdation and playback equipment obsoLESCENCE.

Et voilà – degralescence.

This combination is rendering most media held in libraries, archives, and museums un-playable, and worse yet, un-preservable.

But first, some quick facts:

  • “Audiovisual materials are the fastest growing segment of our nation’s archives and special collections.” — The Library of Congress’s National Recording Preservation Plan, pg. 6
  • All media objects are actively degrading–they are all at some point on a degradation slope. Some are much worse off than others.
  • Much of the equipment needed for playback and/or preservation is either:
    • No longer available at any price
    • Needing parts that are no longer available at any price
    • Or needing technicians (most of whom are 60 years old +, or have passed on) who know how to work this equipment.
  • “Many analog audio recordings must be digitized within the next 15 to 20 years — before sound carrier degradation and the challenges of acquiring and maintaining playback equipment make the success of these efforts too expensive or unattainable.” — Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan, pg. 7
Delaminated disc

A delaminated disc. This record in unplayable. Taken from

How widespread is this problem? Well, the Library of Congress holds 1.1 million film objects, and 3.5 million audio objects – 4.6 million objects in total. Indiana University (a fairly large research university) holds 560,000 audio, video, and film objects on the Bloomington campus alone. Most colleges and universities have AV collections, as do other cultural, entertainment, and research institutions. AV material is everywhere.

So…what can one do?

Thankfully, we do have time still. Not enough to preserve everything, but enough to preserve what is unique or valuable, or what is at most danger of degredation. The challenge now lies in prioritizing what needs to be preserved, educating librarians, archivists, and others about AV preservation techniques, and developing robust workflows to get the job done.

My next post will be on two examples of AV preservation projects from Westminster Choir College and Indiana University.

(Thanks to Mike Casey and IU’s Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative for the word degralescence and for some of the fast facts!)

National Digital Stewardship Residency 2014 Symposium: April 8th

Recently added to the calendar of upcoming events, please be sure to look into the upcoming National Digital Stewardship Residency symposium to be held in April at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda. The goal of the NDSR — according to the symposium blog — is to…

[…] build a dedicated community of professionals who will advance our nation’s capabilities in managing, preserving, and making accessible  the digital record of human achievement.

Be sure to check out the symposium blog at NDSR 2014.

And did I mention that registration is free?