If you were to visit one of the locations where the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative (MDPI) is preparing media for reformatting, the first thing you’d notice is the bins: dozens upon dozens of blue and gray plastic bins stacked against walls and in corners or arranged like fortifications around our work tables. Inside each of these bins is a group of media objects ready to be transported across campus for digital preservation.
This build-up of bins represents work the Strategic Media Access Resource Team—“SMARTeam” for short—has been doing steadily over the past year to get material ready for the opening of MDPI’s digitization facilities, which are discussed in a separate post by Mike Casey.
Our partner, Memnon Archiving Services, has a voracious production schedule, and once everything is up and running we’ll need to feed it with thousands of hours’ worth of audio and video objects per week for months on end.
Naturally, we wanted to get a head start on preparing this material, and I’m happy to say we’ve made some solid headway. MDPI is projected to digitally preserve more than 250,000 media objects over the next four years, which is a daunting target, but at last count the SMARTeam already had over 40,000 of them prepped and ready to go:
- 13,900 open reel audio tapes
- 10,650 audio CD-Rs
- 8,600 DAT files
- 7,000 LPs
We’ve been tackling different formats at different times based on what MDPI plans to begin digitizing in what order. Lately it’s been lots of LPs, but soon the team expects to take on its first videotapes.
Here’s how it works. As it comes time for us to undertake each new format, we check our records to see which units on campus have holdings in that format—information first gathered for the Media Preservation Survey of 2008-2009 and then updated last fall. Working in conjunction with unit personnel, we retrieve objects to be preserved and transport them to one of our two staging areas, located at the Music Library and the Archives of Traditional Music.
A few things happen to them there. Each object receives an MDPI barcode so that it can easily be tracked in our Physical Object Database (“POD”), which was developed specifically for this project by a joint UITS-Libraries team.
We also inspect each item to check its technical characteristics and identify any problems. After all, in order for Memnon to operate efficiently on an industrial scale, we need to ensure that the material we’re delivering to them is as consistent as we can make it. For example, open reel audio tapes should be separated by reel size, tape thickness, playback speed, track configuration, sound field, tape base material, and presence of soft binder syndrome (which requires the tape to spend a few hours baking in an oven before playback).
Fortunately, our team is well-versed in making such distinctions for the formats they work on—they’re called the “smart” team for good reason! After checking each item and updating its POD entry, we place it into a bin together with other media objects that all share the same technical characteristics.
That’s where we now stand with the 40,000 objects we’ve processed to date—hence all those stacks of bins. But once full-scale operations begin, things are set to progress rapidly. Each bin will be assigned to an appropriate batch, a larger grouping that corresponds to how much material Memnon can reformat in a two-week period. When Memnon is ready for each batch, we’ll assemble it and deliver it to them. During the following six weeks, Memnon will reformat the media objects in the batch and IU will complete quality control on the resulting files. Then it will be time for us to pick the bins up again from Memnon and return the media objects to wherever they came from.
In short, we’ve managed to build up a nice stockpile of media for digitization at this point, but it won’t be sitting around for much longer!