Workflow Dynamics of Digital Preservation

The Smithsonian Channel produces award-winning television programming that engages viewers much in the same way as the Smithsonian's museums and galleries do throughout the United States with their visitors. Just as the Smithsonian is working to digitize its collections for greater access and preservation, the Smithsonian Channel and the Smithsonian Institution Archives are also undertaking various efforts to ensure the digital preservation of these television programs. 

The reformatting workflow for this project has been dynamic, and it should be. During earlier accessions of Smithsonian Channel programming, the progams were transferred on DVDs, numbering in the hundreds. In order to preserve the files digitally and prepare them for ingest into the Smithsonian's Digital Asset Management System (DAMS), the DVDs undertook a lengthy workflow process to ensure the highest level of playability and playback quality.

As part of the project's workflow, and best practices at the Archives, each disc is individually scanned using virus detection software. While this process is lengthy, it is critical to ensuring the security of the Archives' IT infrastructure. The next step in the workflow is to individually create .ISO images of each disc, which retains each program's DVD menu functionality. After creation of the .ISOs, the individual .vobs are extracted and converted to a single .vob using a command prompt script. This single .vob is then converted to an .mpeg, also using command prompt, to ensure the greatest playability across multiple software programs. This process is individually repeated for every DVD within the collection and can take months to complete.

After creation of the mpegs, the associated metadata must be created for each individual file in preparation for ingest into the DAMs. The metadata is applied to each file using Adobe Bridge; however, the metadata cannot be embedded into the actual video files, thus creating a sidecar .xmp file is necessary to hold the associated video file's metadata. Once this process is complete, the .ISO, .mpg, and .xmp files are entered simultaneously into the DAMs to ensure to proper parent (.iso)/child (.mpg and .xmp) relationships are maintained.

Throughout the entire workflow, upon initial receipt, after each conversion, and after upload to the DAMs, each file has been viewed for quality assurance, furthering adding time to an already lengthy workflow. In total, processing the collection of 136 DVDs within the accession took roughly 300 hours to complete.

In an effort to simplify the workflow, archivists from the Smithsonian Channel and the Archives met to develop a plan to achieve maximum efficiency with the preservation of Smithsonian Channel's programming. During the meeting, it was decided to test a pilot program wherein the Smithsonian Channel would send a number of .mov files through a secure server to the Archives to develop a new workflow based solely on the digital transfer of the Smithsonian Channel's programs. While not eliminating the original DVD transfer yet, this process significantly decreased the workflow and time involved in  the entire preservation process.

With the transfer of the .mov files, the conversion process was removed entirely from the workflow. Further, the metadata can be directly embedded into the file header of the .mov files, eliminating the need to create a separate file for the metadata. For DAMs ingest, only the .mov file is needed, as opposed to the .ISO, .mpg, and the .xmp file. In essence, what used to take nearly 300 hours to complete could essentially be completed in as little as a day for a collection of programming.

By making the process of preserving the Smithsonian Channel programs simpler and easier, programs can be preserved more quickly and with less files to work with and a more straightforward workflow there is less likelihood for errors to be made. The collaborative effort between the Smithsonian Channel and the Archives is a prime example of two institutions working together in the effort of digital preservation.

Related Resources

Related Collections

Produced by the Smithsonian Institution Archives. For copyright questions, please see the Terms of Use.