The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Collaboration. It's the one word that during almost every conference and pan-institutional discussion, everyone says, and hears, a lot. In fact, it's the theme of this year's Archives Month! But why is it so important to collaborate? Because collaboration allows for people with different knowledge and skill sets to come together to solve a common problem. At the Archives, we often work with other Smithsonian divisions and outside groups to solve complex problems in the field of audiovisual (AV) digitization and preservation.
A perfect example of collaborative work at its best is the AV Hack Day from this year's Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) annual conference in Savannah, Georgia. During Hack Day, programmers and archivists came together to create open source tools that tackle common preservation problems that have been identified in the field of AV archiving. Some of the tools created include Hack Day Capture, a tool that works with a Blackmagic capture card and ffmpeg to digitize analog video, Video-Sprites, which eases the process of making web video more accessible, and Characterization Compare, which allows the user to see the outputs from EXIFtool, MediaInfo, and ffmpeg side by side. These tools and all of the others created during Hack Day are available on the AMIA Open Source Github page.
For the past several years, members of the Archives have worked with other government agencies to form a group called the FADGI (Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative). The primary goal of this group is to create guidance for the digitization of still image and audiovisual materials that other archives, public or private, can use when making decisions on how to best preserve their materials. Last month, FADGI released file format comparison charts for still images and analog videos, as well as a set of case histories contributed from eight different units that detail how they are dealing with born digital audio and video content within their collections. The comparison chart for analog audiovisual materials provides information on sustainability, cost, and system implementation for the various codecs and wrappers that are currently being used to create preservation files.
Smithsonian divisions often collaborate with each other as well. Since the majority of the equipment in analog AV archiving can be hard to find, the AV archivists group (AVAIL) here at the Smithsonian created an internal registry of the different equipment owned by each of the divisions, so that we can work together to share resources. The list includes information on the number of decks of a particular type owned by a given division, as well as whether or not they are currently in working condition. This makes it so that when I come across a Hi8 tape in our collections, a format that we do not have a deck for, I can simply consult the registry and contact the appropriate division to see if their deck might be available for me to use. Through the AVAIL listserv, we have also shared our knowledge of different migration errors to help each other solve unusual problems.
Ultimately, it's important to collaborate with others in and outside your field because the knowledge of the many is often more comprehensive than the knowledge of few. Additionally, we are all working towards the same goal of preserving our collections in the best possible way, so working together allows us to optimize our resources and our time. How has collaboration helped you in your field of work?
- Smithsonian AV Archivists Tumblr
- The End of the Beginning: A Born Digital Survey at the Smithsonian Institution, The Bigger PIcture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Audiovisual conservation resources, Library of Congress
- Archives Month across the Smithsonian
- A bold plan from the National Archives - Digitize their analog records, all 12 billion pages of them. [via AOTUS blog, NARA]
- An epic road trip - Collecting on the road with Jason Stieber, National Collector, Archives of American Art. [via Smithsonian Collections Blog]
- Now availble - DigDC, a new online archive of Washington D.C. history created by the D.C. Public Library’s Special Collections department. [via Washington Post]
- Documenting events as the are happening - A conversation with Howard Besser and the efforts of Activist Archivists in saving the records of the "Occupy" movement. [via The Signal: Digital Perservation, LOC]
- From the stacks - Exhibits writer-editor, David Romanowski, talks about his adventures in doing research in the National Air and Space Museum Archives' Technical Files for the Hawaii by Air exhibition. [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- Some thoughts on archival appraisal in the age of distant reading and computational analysis of large sets of electronic records. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Gale/Library Journal 2014 Library of the Year - Edmonton Public Libary - presents this cool video timeline of their 101 year history. [via InfoDocket]
The end of the fiscal year is a time to clear the decks and prepare for a fresh start. Everyone knows about closing out the budgetary year – the clue's in the name – but, there are other tasks, too. For example, performance reviews. Most everyone loathes them – both giving and receiving - yet they are a necessary evil. What's especially difficult is how to administer them with fairness and efficiency. The solution – standard form – is not new. In fact, here are a couple of performance review forms with rating scales and numeric values I found in the Archives. Although the forms are simple and direct, these would never be allowed today. Take a look and see:
The first example is my favorite. It is one page (there is room to write in detailed comments on the back) and can be used for any worker from laborer to upper management. It has a graphic scale, along which are terms to guide the rater allowing them to complete the task quickly and efficiency. The rating scale works from left to right – take a close look at the terms sprinkled along each line. That's right: slovenly, lazy and repellent.
Just two years later the form was still one page, but it is much less "nuanced" than its predecessor and not nearly so descriptive. So if you happen to be giving or receiving a performance review soon, I hope that you enjoyed this historic look back at the time-honored ritual of performance reviews.
- Accession 05-123: Smithsonian Institution, Personnel Records, 1892-1952, Smithsonian Institution Archives