May 112015


During Preservation Week, we featured daily posts about the department-curated exhibit, Beyond the Book: The Changing Nature of Library Collections. Aspects of digital preservation are also included in the exhibit to represent the increasing amount of audio, visual, and born digital materials coming into the collections and the pressing need to care for the physical and digital content. The exhibit highlighted five library collections of varying formats that have been digitized – films of Northwestern football games, audio tapes of a clarinetist, videos of improv classes, and two flat paper collections.

Film, video, and audio materials have a special set of issues that complicate preservation. Acetate film and magnetic media are made of materials that are inherently unstable and degrade. As the physical object deteriorates, digitization is the best preservation option to keep the contents accessible. Old media formats need playback equipment that can be hard to find, such as reel-to-reel tape players. After digitization, the audio and visual files are much larger than a JPEG or text file and require more storage space on a repository server. Digital files must always be monitored as technology and best practices change. Of course, the physical objects are also kept and stored in archival housings and environmental conditions.

University Archives is home to 2,400 film reels of Wildcat Football games dating back to 1929. The ongoing “Game Savers” initiative is raising funds to preserve these films. Digitized films are available on AVR, the Library’s recently-launched media repository. This video from October 1970 shows Northwestern’s first win of that season, beating Illinois 48 to 0.

Magnetic media is represented by both a video and  an audio collection. Videos of workshops led by improvisational theatre innovator Viola Spolin are just one part of the extensive Viola Spolin Papers housed in Special Collections. Audio recordings from the Robert Marcellus Master Class Archive were digitized are also available on AVR . The audio here is the master class from July 1, 1977.

Highlighting the importance of access to these library materials to students, faculty, and researchers is an underlying theme of the exhibit. Digitizing collections that aren’t readily available or cannot be easily handled is a good way to make them accessible. The Melville Herskovits Library of African Studies digitized almost 600 South African posters that are available to the public through the Digital Image Library. The Transportation Library Menu Collection includes over 400 menus from 54 national and international airline carriers, cruise ships, and railroad companies. Digital images of these menus are available through the online finding aid.

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