Jul 222015


Moscone Conference Center, San Francisco

Moscone Conference Center, San Francisco

Recently, the American Library Association held its annual conference in San Francisco, CA. The Preservation and Reformatting Section (PARS) of ALA sponsors interest groups and programs. While attending various sessions, I noticed several talks had a similar theme: community-based preservation outreach. These presentations described programs or projects that seek to provide preservation education to organizations and individuals who have little resources and are often within under-represented communities. I was particularly mindful of the subject matter because a colleague and I organized a similar session for this conference. Jessica Bitely, Director of Preservation Services at NEDCC, and I are co-chairs of the Promoting Preservation Interest Group and our session highlighted audiovisual preservation efforts geared specifically at small institutions and individuals.

The Promoting Preservation session first featured 2 speakers from the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), Lauren O’Connor, Preservation Resources Fellow, and Kelly Haydon, Preservationist. Their dynamic presentation, “BAVC Resources: Empowering Communities in Audiovisual Preservation,” laid out the ways BAVC interacts with local arts and cultural organizations, artists, and individuals to provide the basic preservation education, digitization, and access to resources. They discussed BAVC’s Preservation Access Program and the upcoming AV Compass tool.

The NEA-funded Preservation Access Program’s purpose is to make preservation more accessible. There is a “preservation disparity,” as larger institutions have an infrastructure and knowledge base to implement these concepts, but individuals are left with very little. Even offering basic information about storing and preserving digital files is already more information than most already have.


The critical aspect of BAVC’s job is explaining preservation to those outside our professional field. They shape the importance of these items to the groups they are working with as “Media = Memories.” This makes a physical object take on a deeper meaning. Lauren and Kelly used the Rodeo Ex Machina Dance Company as an example; video tapes were found in a basement and are the only record of the works by the modern dance company, in existence from 1976-1982. A Preservation Access Program grant funded digitization of the tapes.

Through a Mellon Foundation grant, BAVC is currently building AV Compass. This web-based resource will contain a suite of educational tools for individuals and small institutions. The purpose of AV Compass is to provide an educational resource that speaks to people outside of the AV preservation field –  to identify media, understand risks, and take responsibility for their collections. It is not just enough to make a preservation plan, it’s important to be able to articulate that plan.

Siobhan Hagan discussing regional AV archives during the Promoting Preservation Interest Group.

Siobhan Hagan discussing regional AV archives during the Promoting Preservation Interest Group.

Siobhan Hagan, Audiovisual Archivist at the University of Baltimore, also spoke at the Promoting Preservation session representing the Regional Audio-Visual Archives (RAVA) Committee through the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), of which she is co-chair. RAVA Committee’s responsibilities are to “enhance communication and collaboration between regional archivists and explore initiatives that bring greater attention to the value and challenges of regional audiovisual materials.” Siobhan mentioned how broadcast archives of local TV stations exemplify unique collections needing help. RAVA’s tumblr blog contains many other interesting examples. Conveying the value of the content held in these archives is incredibly important for advocacy

Siobhan discussed the committee’s efforts to firstly identify all the regional AV archives and then reach out to determine the overarching support and resources needed. This was done through a survey to find regional archives and gather information about organization types, formats held, needs, and more. The survey is designed start the conversation that will lead to a more in-depth survey and future collaborations for grant funding and resource sharing.

Speaking in a different interest group session, Annie Peterson, Preservation Librarian at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, described her recent efforts to partner with other institutions in her talk “Strategic Planning for Collaborative Preservation.” Annie realized the preservation needs of local cultural heritage institutions, including her own, far exceeded their individual preservation capabilities. Common obstacles among the organizations included a lack of funding, storage, knowledge of resources, and even collection disaster plans.

Slide from Annie Peterson's talk "Strategic Planning for Collaborative Preservation" given in the Preservation Administrators Interest Group session.

Slide from Annie Peterson’s talk “Strategic Planning for Collaborative Preservation” given in the Preservation Administrators Interest Group session.

With an IMLS planning grant, Annie and others came together to approach the project in 2 phases. The first was performing a qualitative needs assessment, the second was strategic planning. They have accomplished initial goals of raising awareness of mutual challenges, fostering community, and creating an open space to discuss issues and problems. The success of this project so far is a great example of local coordination and collaboration, and hopefully can be used as a model for other underserved regional areas.

In the Digital Conversion Interest Group session, Erica Titkemeyer gave a talk about a grant-funded AV digitization project at the Southern Folklife Collection at University of North Carolina.

The Southern Folklife Collection is "is an archival resource dedicated to collecting, preserving and disseminating vernacular music, art, and culture related to the American South."

The Southern Folklife Collection is “is an archival resource dedicated to collecting, preserving and disseminating vernacular music, art, and culture related to the American South.”

The Southern Folklife Collection (SFC) is “an archival resource dedicated to collecting, preserving and disseminating traditional and vernacular music, art, and culture related to the American South” and hopes to increase research and “public recognition.” The Mellon Foundation grant, called “Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources,” supports the preservation and access of audio, video, and film media in the collection. As the Project Director and AV Conservator, Erica detailed the project’s workflows, digitization standards, technological requirements, scalability, access/delivery, and desired outcomes. Browsing the collections is available through audio and video streaming as well as a blog and traditional finding aids. The project is a great example of how a larger institution with infrastructure can sustain this undertaking to preserve regional arts and music heritage.


Frances Harrell is a Preservation Specialist at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, but also a volunteer at a small historic house and society in Boston. She spoke about preservation efforts from this volunteer point of view. The Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club, a community women’s group formed in 1896, worked to save the historic Loring-Greenough House in 1924. Some of the archives of the JPTC have been digitized through the Digital Commonwealth (Massachusetts Collections Online), where they are available as well as the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). It was especially interesting to hear Frances describe how an all-volunteer staff affects consistency, prioritizing, and progress on projects. These are some issues a small institution faces while trying to engage in the broader digital world. The strong theme of her talk was how these types historic societies need help and advocacy – from the preservation field and larger institutions that have hosting and digitization capabilities.

The underlying purpose of the projects discussed at ALA is not only preservation outreach, but also an attempt to include minority voices into the larger cultural heritage conversation. This is exemplified by the collaboration between New Orleans institutions, communication with regional AV archives and local communities, and digitizing efforts based in larger institutional infrastructures. Reaching out to small organizations and individuals, teaching them the importance of their collections, and assisting with preservation and access plans are important initiatives that can hopefully find sustainability beyond grant funding in the near future.

Jul 102015


Northwestern University Library is home to one of the largest collections of original source materials relating to the Siege and Commune of Paris (ca. 1870-1871). The collection includes newspapers, books, posters, pamphlets, caricatures, and photographs. During 2013-14, a large-scale project was undertaken to digitize over 1200 of the photographs, now viewable here. Many of these photographs are housed in albums which needed to be stabilized before they could be safely handled and imaged. In order to capture information on the backs of the photos, such as photographers’ stamps and handwritten notations, the decision was made to temporarily remove the photos from the albums wherever possible and scan them individually. As Project Conservator for the Siege Digitization project, my role was to treat the damaged albums and act as the conservation liaison. I worked closely with Special Collections and Digital Collections staff to develop a streamlined workflow for tracking the albums and consulted on safe handling techniques.

The first phase of the project was to treat a dozen damaged photo albums prior to re-cataloging and digitization. As professional conservation ethics dictate, all treatment needed to be minimally invasive and retain as much of the original structure as possible. Additionally, the repairs needed to be sturdy, since the albums would be handled by multiple people during the cataloging and digitization processes. Efficiency was also important, as the goal was to have all albums treated within three months in order to stay on track with the project schedule.

No two albums in the collection are alike, making this project a nice overview of 19th century album structures. Approximately half of the albums have thick, laminate pages with pre-cut windows into which mounted photographs, like cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards, may be inserted. The remaining albums contain photos adhered directly to the pages. The albums exhibited the kind of damage one would expect to find in a collection of commercially-produced albums that have been handled extensively over the past 140 years, including worn covering material, damaged spines and endcaps, splitting joints, and detached boards.

Many of the pre-cut windows were torn at the edges, evidence that the photographs had been previously removed and replaced. In some instances the photos were misaligned or slipping out of their windows. The photographs themselves, the majority of which are albumen prints, are in fair condition; most exhibit some discoloration and fading but only a very few are bent or torn.

Treatment of the albums included surface cleaning, spine and joint repairs with toned linen and long-fiber paper, consolidation of the leather and board corners, and hinge repairs to reinforce board attachment. Some repairs, like mending the torn edges of the pre-cut windows, were postponed until after completion of the digitization phase of the project.

About six months after the treatment phase of the project was complete, we moved on to phase two, removing photos from the window albums for individual scanning. The goal was to set up a workflow that would minimize handling of the fragile photographs and allow for streamlined movement and tracking of the albums between Special Collections, Preservation, and Digital Collections.

The initial plan was to place each photograph in a thin Mylar® sling, allowing for easy removal and replacement by digitization staff. However, we determined that the bulk and weight of adding so much Mylar® to the albums would strain the already weak bindings. Also, having the Mylar® slings there might encourage more handling of the photos in the future, which we are hoping to discourage by providing high-quality digital surrogates. Our solution was to have each album pass through the conservation lab on its  way to and from the imaging studio. I removed each photograph by slipping a thin bone folder underneath to help ease them out of the windows. Each photo was placed in a numbered paper folder and sent to Digital Collections for scanning.

This image below illustrates the workflow for this phase of the project. (Click to enlarge. Note: SPEC = Special Collections, DC = Digital Collections.)

Project Workflow

Project Workflow (click to enlarge)

At first glance, this seems like a lot of back and forth and possibly not the most streamlined approach, but it turned out to be advantageous in a number of ways. Most importantly, it meant that I was the only person doing the actual removal and replacement of the photos, minimizing the risk of further damage to the album pages. Another advantage of this particular workflow was that the albums were returned to the conservation lab after being scanned, which allowed me to complete treatments—like mending torn pages—once the photos had been replaced. It was also a chance to check up on treatments completed six months earlier. The albums had been handled extensively by multiple people since I’d last seen them and I was happy to observe that most of the repairs remained intact. In the few instances where my previous repairs turned out to be not quite sturdy enough, I had the opportunity to perform touch-up treatment before sending the albums back to Special Collections.

Another success of this project was improved communication between the three departments. Digital Collections shared their Google Docs project calendar with me so that I would know when to expect the next albums being routed to the conservation lab, which helped me plan my work and keep the project running on schedule. As a result of the Siege project and other similar efforts, both Special Collections and Digital Collections staff are increasingly likely to ask Preservation staff for advice on safe handling and consultation on a range of material- and condition-related issues.