Guest Post: Kristin MacDonough of the Audiovisual Artifact Atlas

From March to December of 2014, I was the Coordinator for the Audiovisual Artifact Atlas. The AVAA (or “Atlas” if I’m feeling affectionate) is an online resource for identifying and diagnosing artifacts and errors you might encounter when reviewing or digitizing analog video and audio.  The Bay Area Video Coalition, located in San Francisco, currently hosts the site. As a technical resource, the AVAA is unique in its structure: developed as a wiki, it is an inherently community-based resource, which users can edit and contribute.

 

Video and audio artifacts are often hard to define, and even harder to diagnose. Errors can be recorded into the original content or introduced anywhere in the digitization workflow. Another difficulty is that separate fields use different terms and descriptions for the same errors. AVAA developers and contributors at BAVC and Stanford University wanted to strengthen the work being done with audiovisual reformatting by providing a resource with examples, a common vocabulary, causes and descriptions, as well as troubleshooting guidance wherever possible.   Determining if the error is correctable or if it is recorded in, and therefore permanent, helps us preserve the best quality possible.

Practitioners in any field that incorporates a/v reformatting—including librarians, archivists, conservators, curators, and service providers—benefit from using, sharing, and contributing to the AVAA.

 

In 2013, the National Endowment for Humanities awarded BAVC a grant to develop their project Quality Control Tools for Video Preservation. The project focused on a suite of open-source software tools (QCTools) designed to provide efficient analysis of digitized video content. (More information about QCTools is available here and the regularly updated software is available on GitHub.) Included in the grant was a position for an AVAA Coordinator to popularize the resource and help expand the analog video portion of the site.

 

There are just too many controllable and uncontrollable variables to accurately predict the life of any given videotape. Of equal, if not more, concern is the limited availability of playback equipment and technical expertise over time. With this in mind, more and more audiovisual stewards are digitizing their videotapes, either in house or with a service provider. In both cases, the archivist (or librarian, conservator etc.) responsible for the longevity of the collection is also responsible for ensuring the quality and accuracy of the digitized content. The AVAA and the QCTools software are designed to help people discover any artifacts and determine if the tape needs to be digitized again.

 

This position was one of my first jobs after graduating from a moving image archiving program, one which takes a holistic approach to the field of audiovisual archiving, However, I consistently found myself drawn to the technical side of video preservation, so I was already familiar with the Atlas and its usefulness as an educational resource. Most terms, examples, and definitions are provided by experienced technicians, many with decades of experience to cull from. Some video artifact terms are pulled from other available resources, notably BAVC’s Preservation Glossary and the Compendium of Image Errors in Analogue Video.

 

So how can you use this resource? If you’re looking at the site for the first time, you can start with the Table of Contents, which lists all of the audio and video errors on the site. Other good pages to browse are the Image, Video, and Sound Galleries. The galleries provide a quick view of many examples on the artifact pages and are a great visual and audible index if you’re looking for something in particular but you’re not sure what to call it or how to describe it.


avaa_imggallery

On each artifact page, you’ll find a summary of the artifact, including a description of how it looks or sounds and possible causes. In the “Can it be fixed?” section, proposed remedies to the problem are provided. In some cases however, artifacts may be recorded in from the original production or introduced through a previous tape dubbing or reformatting. Nearly all of the artifact pages have video examples or screenshots. However some pages we are still trying to source some examples, so if you see such a gap and you think you might have material to fill it, please let me know!

avaa_page

At my current position as a Digitization Specialist for a video collection, I use the Atlas to reference potential causes I encounter. In a recent case, I started to notice that certain tapes with minor skew problems (when a videotape stretches or shrinks, and the top of the image appears to angle to the left or right) had an occasional vertically shaky display and extreme skewing along the top of the image in some scenes. I determined the skew problem was recorded in and thus irreparable, and a review of the Video Gallery helped me determine it was a TBC (Time Base Corrector) processing error: the equipment was overcorrecting for the skew and introducing more errors.


TBC_compare

The AVAA strengthens the audiovisual preservation field as an easily accessible reference. If you have any questions or content you would like to add, please feel free to leave a comment or email me at  kristin(dot)macdonough (at)gmail(dot)com.

The Aura of Materiality: Digitization as Preservation

Guest Post by Jasmine Burns

When I started my MLIS degree in Spring 2014, it was immediately apparent that my research interests were much more theory-based than those of my colleagues. The practical nature of LIS can sometimes make it challenging for me to engage with my professors and peers in a meaningful way. For this reason, I was very excited when I was approached to write this post for ArLiSNAP, in which I will highlight some of the recent research and work that I have been conducting in the area of digitization and the digital surrogacy of visual materials. I whole-heartedly encourage any feedback and invite further conversations on the topics that are discussed here.

My research on this topic began with the thesis for my MA in Art History, which focused on the nature of digital surrogacy in relation to medieval manuscripts (a version of which was published in the most recent issue of Art Documentation). Here, I look into issues of materiality, virtuality, and the consequences of the digital reformatting of cultural heritage objects. This thesis was from the perspective of a researcher, rather than that of an Information Professional. Once I started my MLIS coursework, and the limitations of my arguments became clear, I started thinking about how issues of digital surrogacy translate to practical librarianship. This led me to start researching the topic of digitization as a method of preservation.

By Photo d'identité sans auteur, 1928 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Photo d’identité sans auteur, 1928 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I decided to frame the argument around Walter Benjamin’s often-cited text “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” and limit the scope of the overall work to archival photographs in particular. Benjamin states that the aura of an object is tied to its unique existence in time and space, and that this is essentially lost in reproductions because it breaks the object from ritual. This argument is widely applied to technology and digital media (via Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation), especially in discussions of photographs. In utilizing this particular lens to discuss the question of whether or not digitization is a viable method of preservation, there are two popular outlooks: 1) as long as the content is fully captured then the photo is adequately preserved; or 2) photographs are three-dimensional objects and photographic meaning is derived not from content alone, but also from the material evidence of its manufacture and use (i.e. aura) and if those elements are lost through digitization, then the object is not fully preserved.

My work in Digital Collections allows me to confront these issues on both a practical and theoretical level. I entered this investigation fully convinced that digital reformatting could never preserve the full scope of material and visual information contained in photographs because of the elimination of the material vessel. Therefore, the digital surrogate was merely a placeholder, or a reference to the original, and had little to no value outside of its ability to disseminate photographic content. However, as I dove deeper into theories of reproduction and representation, I discovered that these notions of value are socially constructed and derive from the dichotomy of copy versus original that is so deeply ingrained into our society, particularly through museum culture. Such notions are exacerbated by our object-centered culture, whose focus is on tactility, tangibility, and originality as authenticity. By perpetuating these ideas, as well as the argument that a reproduction does not carry value outside of its connection to the original, we are limiting any potential uses and values of digital media.

Ultimately, I have ended up flipping Benjamin’s argument on itself in favor of digital surrogacy. Without the tangibility of a photograph, the lack of materiality becomes the defining feature of the surrogate. It sounds strange, but hear me out: instead of viewing the elimination of the material vessel as a limitation to the uses and value of a surrogate, the creation and dissemination of digital representations of physical photographs constructs a framework for preserving these very qualities. Through the surrogate’s inseparable relationship with the socially constructed centrality of the original, and its inherently material existence, the digital object is both referring to the original, and existing as a unique object to be valued, maintained, and used. Therefore, although the material elements of the photograph are “lost” during digitization, the surrogate itself takes the place of the aura, as the more a work is reproduced, the more significant it becomes. The best way I can describe this is through the Mona Lisa. How many times have you seen reproductions of the image of that mysterious woman? How many of you have seen the actual painting? Do you remember any of the paintings in the room with her? I certainly don’t. Because you have encountered the reproduction on such a large scale, the act of viewing the original painting is greatly enhanced, and almost ritualized. The material qualities are so apparent in this encounter that it hardly matters that you have studied its content hundreds of times before.

So, is it good to have a healthy dose of skepticism, and follow Jean Baudrillard’s idea that technology will only create a self-referential society, devoid of actual meaning? Or do we need to move forward and embrace new theories of digital cultural heritage that promote new contexts for understanding digital surrogates through connections with their physical counterparts? What are some of your thoughts or experiences with digital surrogates, either as a researcher or practitioner?

Member Spotlight: Bronwyn Dorhofer, University of Oregon Portland

As our readers know, we here at the ArLiSNAP blog like our job postings. Today, we’re going to switch that up a bit and shine a spotlight on one of our “success stories,” Bronwyn Dorhofer.The original job posting can be found archived here: http://arlisnap.org/2012/02/17/job-posting-access-services-and-outreach-librarian-pt-university-of-oregon-portland-library-and-learning-commons-pllc/)

My current position is as Access Services and Outreach Librarian for the University of Oregon Portland Library and Learning Commons, a small satellite campus which serves the diverse research needs of students pursuing degrees in the spheres of architecture, digital arts and product design. My primary responsibilities are to manage the circulation and access services department, supervise and coach student workers, and to design outreach and marketing materials to promote library services to our Portland community.

I originally found the advertisement to my position through ArLiSNAP in February 2012, but was not officially recruited by the University of Oregon until March 2013. I was interested in this position because I was looking for professional librarian opportunities within the city of Portland which allowed me to continue working in an academic environment which had a commitment to serving art and design students. With my background in art history, museum and academic libraries and access services, this felt like a perfect opportunity for someone beginning their professional career. Thank you, ArLiSNAP!

Guest Post: Alison Verplaetse on the Summer Educational Institute for Visual Resources and Image Management

Alison Verplaetse took part in the most recent Summer Educational Institute on June 18-21, 2013. Find out more about this program at http://sei.vrafoundation.org/index.html

The Summer Educational Institute (SEI) is an excellent learning and networking opportunity for anyone currently involved or interested in a career in image management. As a fairly recently degreed librarian, I found SEI incredibly valuable: it not only taught immediately applicable skills, but also provided me with insight into future avenues of the profession. I would recommend SEI to anyone considering pursuing a career in Visual Resources as it provided a perfect opportunity to gain a broad perspective on what people are accomplishing in this area of librarianship.

SEI provided a unique opportunity to learn about the core aspects of image management –namely, metadata, imaging, copyright, and outreach–from top experts in their respective fields. I am incredibly grateful to have been a participant at SEI, and I feel I gained knowledge and professional connections that will benefit me throughout my career. Here is a quick run-down of the workshop sessions and speakers:

Our first afternoon at the institute included a lecture on Intellectual Property Rights given by the University of Michigan’s Associate General Counsel Jack Bernard. Mr. Bernard’s presentation was thoroughly engaging and informative, providing compelling copyright case studies that illustrated the essential tenets of copyright law in an accessible and useful way for library professionals.

The second day of SEI was the Metadata Intensive part of the workshop. The first session began with a Metadata Overview by Jenn Riley, the Head of the Carolina Digital Library and Archives at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library. We discussed the most popular metadata schema currently used by cultural institutions and participated in completing sample metadata records in VRACore.  In the afternoon’s session, Greg Reser, the Metadata Specialist at University of California, San Diego, introduced the group to the concept and application of embedded metadata for image professionals.

The third day at SEI was an Imaging Intensive taught by Alex Nichols, the Academic Technology Coordinator at the Visual Resources Library at Michigan State University. His sessions spelled out the best practices and standards for digital imaging in terms of equipment, image quality, and workflow. In conjunction with the late afternoon session regarding the “Tools of the Trade,” in the Visual Resources field, this day introduced me to a number of relevant and useful applications for managing digital images.

The final day of the conference was organized in an “unconference” style, allowing us to interact and hear the ideas of our colleagues regarding collaboration, project management, keeping current in the field, and several other areas of visual resources management.  In a similar vein, the afternoon’s session, entitled “Expanding Your Role,” presented us with great ideas for reaching out to the community, both the people we serve in our profession and other professionals.

Whew! A lot happened in a just a few days at SEI. The best part, though, was getting to know my fellow participants. I met an excellent group of like-minded individuals whom I look forward to working with again in the future, and I was able to bring back a wealth of knowledge germane to both my current and aspirational professional endeavors.

Guest Post: Shannon Robinson, ALA 2013 – ACRL Arts Report

Shannon Robinson is the Fine Arts Librarian at Denison University.

The American Library Association (ALA) Annual held in June 2013 was my first ALA conference. I was awarded the New Members Round Table’s (NMRT) Professional Development Grant to attend the conference. I have been a member of NMRT for about a year. Similar to ARLiSNAP, NMRT members are students and new professionals. The group focuses on career development and leadership opportunities within ALA.

In the past year I also joined the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) Arts section. ACRL Arts is the area of ALA that supports librarians and specialists working in the visual and performing arts. At the conference, ACRL Arts held a committee meeting followed by two presentations.

Amanda Meeks and Michelle Strizever presented Uncovering Hidden Art Collections about their summer 2012 work as the Smithsonian Libraries interns for artists’ books. Amanda and Michelle are also co-coordinators of ARLIS/NA’s Book Art Special Interest Group. Librarians who catalog and maintain artists’ book collections face many unique challenges. Many library staff members don’t understand preservation needs of artists’ books, which are actually artworks. Book art collections often share funding with other, more popular collections and book art collections would greatly benefit from better cataloging (including visuals in the item records). During their internship, Amanda and Michelle curated an exhibit of artists’ books from the Smithsonian’s collection. To promote the exhibition, they held a well-attended opening reception and blogged about the collection on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

Alex Watkins made the case for Why Open Access Matters for the Arts. It doesn’t seem like a strong case; after all, Alex reminded us, arts journals are the lowest journal prices of all the disciplines. However, universities around the world can’t necessarily afford these journals. Art history scholarship about a community (particularly non-western) can’t even be read by that community! For patrons of these libraries, open access is the only access. Another important point Alex made is that paywalls create a divide between academia and the public. The general public is very much engaged and interested in the arts yet cut off from much of the research and intellectual conversation about the arts. Open access invites the public to participate in this scholarship.

I was very impressed with both presentations and met new librarians at the meeting. I recommend joining the ACRL Arts listserv and, if you are a member of ACRL, join the section – it’s free! NMRT and ACRL Arts have made my ALA membership worthwhile.

Guest Post: Olivia Miller, ARLIS-SE 2013 Travel Award Winner

Olivia Miller is a recent MSLS graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and winner of the ARLIS/SE 2013 Professional Development Travel Award.

The Pasadena conference was an excellent first-time experience for me with ARLIS/NA!  My favorite session was probably the “Evolution of Art Reference and Instruction” on Saturday.  As a future hopeful reference and instruction librarian, it was exciting to hear about how others incorporate research into their professional lives. Speakers touched on subjects such as assessing online reference, librarian and faculty collaboration for graduate courses, providing reference and instruction for Arts Management students, and various mobile technologies that can be used for reference and instruction. I would argue that one of the best elements of the conference was just the ability to see what others believe to be important enough to dedicate the time to research and share it with others.

Presenting my topic talk, “Power Up: How to Collect for Video Game Design Students,” at the Art and Design School Division was an amazing opportunity to share my research and have great conversations with others about my ideas. Even if my collection suggestions end up not working for some institutions, I hope they at least sparked more ideas and got attendees to thinking more about these students as a user group that would highly benefit from their attention.

Getting involved with the Graphic Novel SIG was a perfect end to a fun conference weekend.  A personal and academic interest with this format brought me to the meeting, but the fact that it was new and everyone there seemed so excited about starting this new group made me want to try to help out. At this point in my professional career (the point where I’m on the job hunt), I had a hard time feeling like I could dedicate myself to a Division, Section, or SIG without knowing where I will be professionally in a few months or next year. The Graphic Novel SIG seems to be made up of individuals with a variety of interests in graphic novels, be it from a perspective of cataloging, collecting, reference, programming, space planning, and more. I felt very comfortable being in an unusual place in my career with the attendees (not that I didn’t in others, just this one moreso). I hope that wherever I end up starting my professional career at, I will be able to incorporate graphic novels into collections or programming.

-Olivia Miller

Guest Post: ACRL 2013: Professional Development Cross-Training

Erin Elzi is a Technical Services Librarian at the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture in NYC. 

ACRL 2013: Professional Development Cross-Training

The annual ARLIS conference is rapidly closing in, and while I know many of you are gearing up for the first (or third… or 23rd) time, I’ve just returned from ACRL 2013. The theme of the conference was: Imagine, Innovate, Inspire, and I’m feeling just that – Inspired! Innovated! Imaginative! So lend me you ear while I tell you about an important part of professional development: cross-training.

Full disclosure, I’ve never been to the national ARLIS conference. It’s not that I actively avoid it, it’s just that I’ve received full-support, either through the professional development budget-line or via scholarships granted by my MLS school, to attend SLA, CAA, the IA Summit and ACRL. It’s also not that my workplace will not support a trip to ARLIS, but rather that all the other librarians here go to it, so I figure there’s greater benefit to our institution if I attend other conferences.  Cross-training, or the process of stepping outside your daily, specialized frame of reference, helps make you more than an information professional. It makes you an information ninja.  Ninjas are all at once fast, stealthy and powerful. Professional development cross-training does the same thing by strengthening the skills and knowledge you already have, while introducing ideas to help you solve problems or find that perfect tool you need to get a project off the ground.

Fortunately, my institution supports my quest for ninja status, and each year I basically have my pick of which conference to attend. Last year it was the IA Summit, which was relevant at the time, since we were in the initial stages of redesigning our OPAC. Two years ago I attended my first ACRL conference, while I was still a student, under the guises of a press pass (Here’s a tip: Offer to cover a conference for a publication. It may take care of your registration fee and is a great chance to get published!). While I had known going into library school that I wanted to work in academia – the 2011 ACRL conference reinforced that in every way. I tend to feel a bit out of place when it comes to networking-type situations, and let’s be honest – the networking opportunities are a major reason students go to these conferences. But at the ACRL conference, I never once felt out of place, or unwelcome due to my not-quite-professional-yet status. Much the same way the ARLIS-NY goes out of their way to make MLS students here in New York feel all warm and fuzzy and extraordinarily welcome in their chosen profession. Shop around if you’re still in school – you may find your library niche somewhere unexpected, even within the limitless boundaries of the ARLIS realm.

 

Beautiful Subject Analysis Visualization Poster presented by David Polley and Brianna Marshall
Beautiful Subject Analysis Visualization Poster presented by David Polley and Brianna Marshall

What was so innovative and inspiring and imaginative at ACRL this year?  The uber-popular topics this year seemed to be information literacy instruction and data curation.  While the greater part of these sessions addressed the needs of undergraduates, or disciplines in the hard sciences, I still walked away with some new tools and methodologies we can use for our grad-student only population here at the Bard Graduate Center. Including some fun open-source stuff, like new data visualization tools. Including this MOOC, which has finished, but the materials and lectures are still available.

“Digital Humanities” were also all over the place – both literally and figuratively. The ambiguous term found its way into panels and poster sessions covering everything from community building to subject analysis to online exhibitions to ACRL’s very own THATCamp. Digital Humanities are hot, people! And the projects taking place under its umbrella are often multi-media affairs and involve primary sources – things we art information pros tend to know a thing or two about. Get on board!

Omeka DH Poster session presented by Marc Bess of UNC, Charlotte.
Omeka DH Poster session presented by Marc Bess of UNC, Charlotte.

Then there were the sessions that more overtly rubbed elbows with the ARLIS crowd. A few librarians at the University of Michigan are Mapping the Motor City’s Cinemas. Another group at the University of Florida presented on raising collection awareness through online exhibits.  A duo attempting to create a digital collection of street art documentation discussed the inherent challenges with such an undertaking. If sessions that address larger issues are more your thing than individual projects, how about a panel on building metadata to make better surrogates for images and objects (hint – let’s describe the object in our own words and go from there instead of fitting the items into imperfect, existing controlled vocabularies), or how to incorporate feminist pedagogy into any teaching opportunity (which is primarily about decentralizing the classroom). Or one of the many sessions that covered assessment and proving the value of your library – not as sexy a topic as the others, but increasingly important for many institutions.

Of course there’s always room for improvement (ACRL, if you’re listening, we want more sessions on diversity and grad student services!), but there’s also no doubt in my mind that you found at least one thing in this brief ACRL recap that sparked your interest or is applicable to your own professional or scholarly needs. And that’s just a tip of the iceberg – I came back with pages upon pages of notes. Just fathom how much you would get out of attending it yourself!

 

The Honnld/Mudd Library at Claremont College holds a ReBook book arts competition each year. Brilliant!
The Honnld/Mudd Library at Claremont College holds a ReBook book arts competition each year. Brilliant!

So, should you go to ARLIS this year, and the year after that, and the year after that? OF COURSE! But don’t write off other conference opportunities as well. In addition to elevating you to ninja rank, a willingness to attend other conferences can increase your ability to attend anything at all. If you lack institutional support, or if ARLIS never comes to your town, an ALA or ACRL or SAA conference that ends up in a city near you means all you have to pay is the registration fee.  I know I plan on finally making my first ARLIS conference appearance in 2014 – D.C. is just a mere bus ride away from NYC!

If you’re already going to ARLIS as your one professional development opportunity this year, you can still get some cross-training done simply by attending sessions that may not appear to be your forte.  Are you in reference? Join a discussion on authority records! Catalogers, stop by a session on collection development! Architectural archivists, listen in on the panel of fashion bloggers! See, being a ninja is easy!

Oh – and a final lesson I learned at ACRL: if your library doesn’t already have one, get a button maker! Everyone loves a good button, it’s cheap PR, and making them is like chicken soup for the weary researcher, staff member, and even the faculty or curator’s soul. But it looks like ArLiSANP already knew that!