The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Digitization
- On display for the first time since the 1990s, a World War II billboard goes up at the National Museum of American History. [via O Say Can You See?, NMAH]
- A nice look into Iron Mountain, a company that securely stores the records of companys, archives, and governments around the world. [via The New Yorker]
- The Internet Archive has a new collection of prominent and historically notable pieces of software, the Historical Software Archive, that you can play in your internet browser. [via Internet Archive Blogs]
- Jurassic Park is getting even closer to reality - Blood molecules found to survive for millions of years in a blood-engorged mosquito. [via The Torch, SI]
- Personal digital archiving is becoming more and more a part of our lives with the increasing prevalence of email and digital images occupying our world. The Library of Congress has an awesome new resource to share, Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving, to help you preserve your digital life. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- A preview of the National Museum Natural History's plans to renovate its Fossil Hall. [via Around the Mall, Smithsonian Magazine]
- This week, the National Portrait Gallery welcomed the arrival of Nelson Shanks’s The Four Justices, a tribute to the four female justices who have served on the U.S. Supreme Court. [via Face to Face blog, NPG]
- In São Paulo, Brazil recycling doesn’t happen in tidy blue bins, but rather through an informal network of independent waste collectors called catadores who search the streets gathering cans to be sold as scrap metal. A mobile recycling center gives the catadores the opportunity to create stools or other objects made of soda cans to sell. [via Wired Design, Wired]
Earlier this year I briefly wrote about the history of the Smithsonian Photographic Services cold storage vault and promised to follow up with a series of posts examining each of the collections it houses. The first collection I’d like to introduce is Accession 11-008 - Office of Public Affairs Photographic Collection, which documents a variety of significant events in our institutional history from 1960-1970. The collection consists of 35mm and 120mm black and white negative roll film that we are scanning as digital contact sheets. The varied content on the film details public and private events such as notable visitors, exhibit openings, and special donations, as well as building renovations, behind the scenes work, and staff portraits.
This collection overlaps in a very interesting way with other collections we have at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Prints made from select frames of this film have made their way into the records of our internal staff newspaper, The Torch, as many of the images were used in the publication to illustrate to staff the goings on around the Institution. Prints made from this collection also show up in our central file of photographs that documents the history of the Institution. To aid us in cataloging this collection, we rely on information from the negative sleeves, a handwritten logbook that is sometimes less than decipherable, and any information we can glean from related collections. With the addition of the Office of Public Affairs Photographic Collection to our holdings, we now have the complete set of original film that can fill in any gaps missing from our other photographic holdings documenting the Smithsonian during the 1960s.
- Unlocking the Vault, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Cabinet of Curiosities, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 10-001 - Smithsonian Photographic Services, Negative Log Books, 1959-1999, 2008, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 11-008 - Office of Public Affairs, Photographic Collection, 1960-1970, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 371 - Smithsonian Institution Office of Public Affairs, The Torch, 1955-1960, 1965-1988, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 95 - Photograph Collection, 1850s- , Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Proving yet again that there are still many mysteries left to be solved in the world, an unknown insect builds an intricate fence around their eggs. [via Colossal]
- Thousands of World War I soldiers' last wills and letters home are now available online. [via Motherboard]
- By now, most children across the country have started their new year of school and hundreds of thousands of "first day of school" pictures were taken. Cheri Frost at PetaPixel offers this humorous/educational piece on printing images to preserve them. [via PetaPixel]
- In the spirit of "back to school," the Library of Congress has compiled a list of video resources that K-12 educators can use to help teach about digitial preservation. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- The power of maps and satellite imagery: Take a glimpse at what Chicago looked like before the Great Fire. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- The QWERTY keyboard, DOS, VHS, and Blu-Ray, are but a few examples of standards that came to effect our lives in subtle ways. Take the number layout on your phone, seems pretty straight forward now, but in the 1950s Bell Labs tested no less than 17 different layouts before coming to what we use today. [via Paleofuture, Gizmodo]
- Keeping it straight: A discussion of the how to tell seemingly identical digital files apart from one another. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- The National Library of Medicine recently released online a rare 1921 silent film on cancer prevention. [via Circulating Now, NLM]
Preservation of born-digital video is one of the more challenging types when it comes to digital files. As we noted in August, the Archives worked with Smithsonian Channel programs on DVD this summer. This project helped us develop workflows we are now adopting with some born-digital video.
Video on authored DVD is complicated. If you have ever viewed the files on a computer, usually you will see an AUDIO_TS folder and a VIDEO_TS folder. The VIDEO_TS folder contains VOB, IFO, and BUP files and the AUDIO_TS folder is empty. The VOB (video object) files contain the video and audio streams, subtitles, and menus; VOB is the wrapper or container. IFOs are information files or directions that the DVD player uses and the BUP files are backups of the IFO files. The video codec itself is MPEG-2 with either linear PCM, AC-3 or DTS audio within the VOB wrapper. The Archives also has received other video containers and codecs on DVDs and external drives that include MOV, AVI, MPG, and SWF formats. Workflows are to be developed for those separately.
We have seen a wide range of playback quality with these DVDs. The videos are lossy, meaning there has been compression to get smaller file sizes, resulting in some loss of data from the original production file.
The Archives’ policy is to transfer all digital files to our server and create a copy as soon as possible after receiving them. We do this because specific media, software, and hardware can become obsolete quickly, and it also allows us to determine current preservation requirements. Just copying VOB, IFO, and BUP files directly off the authored DVD breaks the menu functionality that one sees when a DVD is launched from a player or computer. Our solution has been to create a complete disk image or ISO of the DVD. This ISO file can be mounted to a computer for viewing with appropriate player software as if it was an actual DVD with the user menus in place. This serves as our preservation master.
An access copy, which should easily play back in multiple viewers on a computer while retaining menus, was desired as well. This was the tricky part, as results were mixed when testing various software programs. Either the video menu was missing or artifacts (distortion or waves in the picture) were introduced into the video. Timecodes (running time of the video) also were corrupted.
Working with the Smithsonian's Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) team in the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), we started testing ffmpeg, which is a popular and free command-line tool for converting, streaming, and recording video and audio. We successfully have been able to create one VOB by stitching all the VOB files together and then using ffmpeg to transform that VOB file into a playable MPEG-2 with an MPEG wrapper that is supported within the enterprise DAMS used internally at the Smithsonian. Ffmpeg also retains original timecode of the authored DVD from the concatenated VOB files, in addition to any original subtitles on the disc.
While the access MPEG-2 file lacks the menu’s functionality, there is a brief screen of the menu at the beginning of playback. When asked why it is important to capture the menu the answer is the information that is displayed. In the example of the baby anteater video screenshots here, its menu provides dates and times when it was filmed (at least according to the settings of the recording device), which is not always apparent from the DVD file directories.
This workflow, though, is not the final solution. Some videos on authored DVDs that were created with a Mac have not been successfully transformed to date and more research is needed. Digital preservation always will be a moving target. As tools and software change and mature, there also is the need that procedures do the same through regular evaluation to make sure the right approaches continue to be taken with digital assets.
- Digital Video Preservation: Continuing the Conversation, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Digital Video Preservation: Further Challenges for Preserving Digital Video and Beyond, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Born Digital Video Preservation: A Final Report, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Refining Conversion Contract Specifications: Determining Suitable Digital Video Formats for Medium-term Storage, Federal Agencies Digitzation Guidelines Initiative