The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Web/Tech
With over a decade of experience appraising and acquiring the Smithsonian's institutional records, it's rare that I come across a type of document I've never seen before.
Cordelia Rose, former registrar at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, now the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City, presented me with one of those rare instances last summer. During a "fit of tidying," she came across two "scrolls" which she had created in 1986 and 1987 to map the information flow surrounding the registration and loans processes. They were then used by a programmer, Jay Vanatta, to create the first automated systems for the museum's collections.
At the time of their creation, Ms. Rose considered these to be working documents and hadn't thought about possible historic value. She had created them quickly, using materials that were convenient for the task at hand, such as post-it notes and sheets of paper glued end to end. The scrolls were simply part of the path to the final product. In her blog post last week, “To Post-it or Not to Post-it,” Kirsten Tyree provides a detailed description of one of the scrolls and the steps undertaken to preserve it.
The Archives has taken a similar stance on what we now refer to as "Life Cycle Management Documents" (key specification and design documents created during the development of an information system). These records must be kept during the lifespan of a system, but one year after the system is replaced, the records may be destroyed.
What makes these scrolls significant is that they have survived. Ms. Rose kept them as teaching tools, but they now represent the many manual processes that were being automated across the Smithsonian and throughout the museum world during the 1980s, few of which are documented in the Archives.
What is also valuable about these scrolls is their subject matter. Most records created by a registrar's office pertain to an individual object, collection, or exhibition. With the exception of collections statistics, there tends to be little documentation within the Archives of the larger scope of a registrar's work or how it is accomplished.
Finally, the personal touches included in these scrolls make them particularly interesting. Ms. Rose illustrated the documents with photographs and thought bubbles as the work progressed. These weren't just maps and workflows, but a celebration of a major and rewarding accomplishment.
- To Post-it or Not to Post-it, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Records and Information Management Month: The Registrar, The Bigger Picture, 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
- This just in: two new videos that explore the Archives' Collections and the work done here.
- This week marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; the Library of Congress has a series of blog posts about it and the Newseum launched a new interactive civil rights history map. [via The Library of Congress blog and InfoDocket]
- The National Zoological Park is overjoyed that last Friday Giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth a brand new baby panda! [via The Torch, SI]
- Speaking of zoos, Google now offers tours of some of the world's most famous zoos through its Google Street View. [via PetaPixel]
- The Archive's own Pam Henson, Institutional Historian, is profiled in the Women's Caucus of the History of Science Society's section on careers for non-traditional academic jobs for women in history of science.
- For your everlasting listening pleasure, the video game music in The George Sanger Collection at the University of Texas at Austin Videogame Archive is being preserved. [via The SIgnal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Best of Both Worlds: Museums, Libraries, and Archives in a Digital Age by Secretary G. Wayne Clough, explores the use of technology by museums, libraries and archives to open their collections and programs to the world and is now available for download for free.
- For your use: a new guide to archiving digital video. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- An interesting intersection between artists, museums, and digital records: The XFR STN at the New Museum will be used to preserve audiovisual materials from the New Museum’s archive as well as be open for use by any artist to preserve their moving image or born-digital materials whose formats have become obsolete. [via Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, SIA]
- Just a little stale: Folks at the National Museum of American History open up a can of fortune cookies from the 1930s for the first time. [via O Say Can You See?, NMAH]
- The Smithsonian's Transcription Center is continuing to evolve and engage with users in order to make collections more accessible. [via Smithsonian Collections Blog, SI]
- The Smithsonian American Art Museum recently acquired 100 photographs by legendary photographer Irving Penn. [via The Torch, SI]
- Free for use: The Getty has just made available 4,600 high-resolution images of the Museum's collection free to use, modify, and publish for any purpose. [via InfoDocket]
- Out of this world: NASA's efforts to digitize lunar film are hightlighted in this video. [via PetaPixel]