A New Archivist’s First Time at AMIA

When I Googled “work conferences” for tips, other searches showed up like “I hate going to conferences”, “work conference anxiety”, and “how to survive a conference”. Although conferences present a great opportunity to create and strengthen connections in your field, learn new skills and concepts, and see what your peers are up to, they can be difficult. As a new archivist, I am beginning to learn first-hand just how useful (and sometimes challenging) conferences can be. Having recently returned from the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA)’s 2018 conference in Portland, Oregon, it now seems like an appropriate time to write a digest of my time at AMIA and the state of this particular conference, from a first-timer’s perspective.

The first thing that struck me about AMIA was that, with its maybe 800 attendees, it is relatively small, especially when compared to the only other conference I have attended, hosted by the Society of American Archivists (SAA), in which a few thousand attendees converged on Washington D.C. in August.

However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. AMIA’s smaller numbers meant that I didn’t have to constantly battle people for space in elevators, conference halls, and poster sessions. Talks at AMIA always had enough seats to accommodate the numbers in the room, and even when chairs did run out, there was always enough room to pull in a few more.

The smaller group at AMIA also meant that people were able to give and receive a lot more face-time with their fellow attendees. At every committee meeting that I sat in on, meeting leaders called upon members by name, and everybody seemed to know the expertise of other members, which bolstered the sense of community at AMIA. It was also fairly common for presenters to call upon people by name during Q&A sessions, since they clearly had some level of an established professional relationship. The smaller numbers also made it easier to introduce myself to strangers, since I wasn’t crabby from being in crowds all day, and I was encouraged to partake in this who’s-who world of archivists.

In meeting new people, I was greatly aided by one of the programs that AMIA offered, in which seasoned veterans of AMIA volunteered as guides for first-timers. Volunteers wore bright yellow badges to encourage first-time conference attendees to say hello or ask for guidance, which, as a first-timer myself, I thought was a nice service that gave me a hint of who was at least somewhat approachable. Luckily, my supervisor Rebecca Fraimow was one such volunteer, and she graciously introduced me to many of her friends, colleagues, and former classmates while at AMIA.

Along with new faces, I was also able to see some familiar faces, since conferences are a natural meeting point for colleagues normally distributed around the country. This is especially true for me and my colleagues, who work with the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), a collaboration between WGBH and the Library of Congress, which is dedicated to preserving content from public media creators around the United States. Because of the wide distribution of colleagues involved in the AAPB, we are often limited in our ability to meet personally, which makes the ability to meet at conferences all the more important.

At AMIA I was able to chat with Jason Corum, a WGBH employee who now works remotely from California; Rachel Curtis, of the Library of Congress, to whom I am constantly sending files, and with whom I and Jim Hone of WUSTL had a long conversation about the vagaries of mid-west and east coast weather; Callie Holmes and Mary Miller of the University of Georgia, partners with WGBH in the Peabody Project; and of course Evelyn Cox and Laura Haygood, two students at the University of Oklahoma who were presenting a poster called “Collaboration & Replicability: Passing on the Knowledge of AV Station Creation”, which was based on their work as Fellows at the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority as part of WGBH’s Public Broadcasting Preservation Fellowship. Since it is so rare that I see all of these far-flung colleagues, AMIA provided a great opportunity to connect with them in person.

Another positive part of AMIA was that there was personal time factored into AMIA’s schedule. Each day around 12pm and 6pm, sessions would cease so that conference attendees could take naps, grab food, or go sightseeing around Portland, which, as somebody who gets grouchy when I’m hungry, I greatly needed and appreciated.

Of course, the talks that these breaks were scheduled around were also great. My favorites tended to be more theoretical than technical, since as a new archivist I am curious to hear perspectives on how the field may change in the course of my career. The most interesting talk to me was the prescient “Everything In your Archive Is Now Fake”, a discussion on how deepfakes (artificial videos created using AI image synthesis) risk the credibility of the entire notion of the archive as a place of storing authentic videos of real events.

Other conference standouts were a panel on intersectionality, multiple discussions of regional archives, and a talk on working with challenging material, which ranged from the physically challenging (ex: movie-set ephemera), to the morally challenging (ex: pornography). Although I believe that the archives are still fairly conservative in many aspects, I was nonetheless glad that AMIA was willing to have challenging conversations about what archivists can do to improve representation of these types of collections.

The only thing that I thought was lacking from the talks were more substantive discussions of attracting and supporting archivists of color and the collections of people of color (POC). I admit that I’m biased since not only am I a POC, but also because my first conference was SAA, where POC issues were a main focus, both of which probably makes me more critical of AMIA’s relative lack of discussion on representing historically marginalized groups (like various POC communities, the LGBT+ community, the disabled community, etc.).

However, I still think that it is worth mentioning that I would have liked more of a discussion on what archivists and archives can do to support archivists and collections of color, since I think it is and will continue to be important as demographic shifts occur in the US. I also would have loved to have seen a committee dedicated specifically to archivists and collections of color (although I was encouraged to see that there’s an LGBT Committee and an International Outreach Committee, which has engaged in foreign-language accessibility, like Pamela Vízner Oyarce’s collaborative effort with Lorena Ramírez-López, Erwin Verbruggen, Gloria Ana Diez, and Jo Ana Morfin, to translate the AMIA website into Spanish, and to find Spanish-language resources to link to the AMIA website).

Although I believe that AMIA has work to do in fostering these discussions, I was impressed by the scheduling of screenings, which helped me step outside the standard conference fare of talks and mixers. I especially enjoyed the Archival Screening Night, where the audience was treated to as many six-minute video segments as three hours would allow. The videos were a refreshing way to see what my fellow moving image archivists had been working on and was a reminder that we have the privilege to work with really cool material with some great history. My personal favorite was a Singaporean kung-fu film from the 1970s that was banned by the government of Singapore for its depiction of corruption and crime, resulting in the film being stored in the lead actor’s refrigerator for over 30 years.

All in all, AMIA was fun, informative, and enjoyable. The conference reaffirmed for me that conferences are more than their commonly-held perception as a thing to be survived. The care that I saw for people on the individual level at AMIA demonstrated to me that it is a true community, one with flaws, but a community nonetheless. I believe that Casey Davis Kaufman and the rest of the AMIA board put it best when, at the opening session, they sang that “we are AMIA”.

Preserving Older Episodes of Antiques Roadshow: Step By Step

Antiques Roadshow is one of many iconic shows to have come from WGBH, and is a staple in many households. Growing up, Antiques Roadshow was one of my family’s go-to shows. We would make a game of sitting around the TV and trying to guess the value of the objects being appraised, and although we didn’t play for anything besides the pride of being the one to make the closest guess, Antiques Roadshow will forever be associated with the memory of those lively guessing-games.

WGBH’s Media Library and Archives (MLA) began work on digitizing and preserving older Antiques Roadshow episodes in 2018.  Previously, Antiques Roadshow had digitized old episodes and footage tapes in their own department on a one-off basis as needed to create new episodes out of vintage material from previously-visited cities. After discussing with the MLA, however, Antiques Roadshow decided to take a new approach: they wanted to partner with the archives on a larger-scale project to digitize all the original raw footage tapes related to each city they planned to revisit for the season, and ensure that the MLA had the opportunity to ingest (process and preserve) the digitized “preservation master” files of the digitized footage before it was re-edited for broadcast. Before switching to file-based cameras, Antiques Roadshow shot about 70-100tapes of raw footage in each city they visited, in formats including Betacam, Digital Betacam, DVCam, and Mini DV.  Since each season includes seven vintage shows, that meant that we would be digitizing between 600 and 700 tapes for each season’s material.

Because of the amount of material and the short turnaround time to get it digitized and processed for Antiques Roadshow to begin their production process, the MLA decided to work with Memnon, a Sony-owned company and digitization vendor based out of Bloomington, Indiana, rather than digitizing all the material in-house.

Since I was fairly new to the archival profession when the project began, this project was one of the first on which I worked, and was instrumental to my learning WGBH’s process for working with LTO tapes, a tape-based data storage technology, which I can explain in greater detail:

LTO
An LTO tape. The MLA currently uses LTO-6 tapes, which are able to hold 2.5 TB of uncompressed data.

Antiques Roadshow’s original analog footage is stored in WGBH’s state-of-the-art, climate-controlled vault, so the first step is to identify how many tapes there are for each city and what formats they’re in. Peter Higgins, WGBH’s Archives Manager, then sends this information off to Memnon. Memnon then digitizes the files, and then sends the digitized episodes on hard drives to WGBH. My part begins after the hard drives reach my desk.

When the hard drives full of newly-digitized files from Memnon land on my desk, the first thing to do is to make a quick check to ensure that all files are present. For each episode, there are eight* parts that are expected:

 

  • a preservation master file (large, high-quality version of the episode; 10-bit uncompressed video in a .mov wrapper)
    • a MediaInfo file (a program that provides technical information about media files, including the codec, file size, bit rate, pixel size, etc.) with metadata on the master file
    • an MD5 checksum of the master file (MD5s are a unique string of numbers and letters that is generated to check for any corruptions when moving files)
    • a QCTools report (an analytics file that helps users find possible video corruptions)
    • an .xml sheet with information about the preservation master file
  • a proxy file (smaller, lower-quality version of the episode)
    • MediaInfo on the proxy file
    • an MD5 of the proxy file

*Memnon also sends an email with .csv files containing the MD5 checksums for the contents of the drives

ANRO_memnon
A sample of Memnon’s deliverables, with all eight parts.

After checking that all parts are present, I put the master files into the Avid ISIS, a shared storage system that gives the Antiques Roadshow department the ability to access the files and edit them for future episodes.

Once the master files are in Avid, I put all of the files from the drives onto LTO-6 tapes, for long-term preservation in WGBH’s vault. When saving onto LTO tapes, we also create a duplicate tape, so that at the end of the process we have one tape that will be stored in WGBH’s vault, and another that will be stored in WGBH’s offsite storage facility (which I will refer to as the vault-LTO and offsite-LTO, respectively). This ensures that if one tape is damaged or becomes corrupted, a useable copy is saved elsewhere.

LTO_Setup
The MLA’s LTO station. Our two LTO decks (on the left) are hooked up to the computer, allowing us to write to two LTO tapes simultaneously.

At WGBH, we use a pre-written script to write files to LTO tape. This script tells the computer to grab files from the drive, copy the files onto the LTO, compare them against the original files on the drive to ensure that they’re an exact match, and then run FITS on the contents of the drive. FITS stands for File Information Toolset, a tool developed by Harvard University that combines a number of command line tools to generate technical metadata, including MD5s, for each file. This creates the LTO tape that goes to WGBH’s vault.

Since our script and our set-up allows us to write to two LTO tapes at once, I use the script to write to both the vault-LTO and offsite-LTO simultaneously (there are other manual options for writing to both LTO tapes depending on the set-up of the LTO decks). When the script has finished running, I like to first check the destination files in the diff folder that FITS generates, to make sure that the script ran fully and without errors. If the destination files say that all the files are not identical (it will tell you at the bottom), this means that both the vault- and offsite-LTOs have identical files. Afterwards, it is vital to compare the MD5s generated by the script in the FITS folder against the .csv file of MD5 values sent from Memnon. This can be done by running a diff command on the two lists, which should match one another. If any deviate from Memnon’s MD5 values, email Memnon and ask about it (a lot of the time, it is simply that they had run the MD5 on an older version of the file and had forgotten to send the updated MD5).

ANRO-fits
The contents of the folder created by the script. The script creates a file list, virus scan, a diff folder with two destination files, a fits folder with FITS files for the contents of the two tapes, and a .zip drive of the fits folder.

After confirming that everything matches (and re-uploading and re-checking any files that are confirmed to be corrupted), I record information about the LTO tapes in the MLA’s access database (PIM/MARS) and digital preservation database (DAM) so that users can request the tapes if they need to access that content. The LTO tapes are then sent off to their respective locations, and Memnon can then send the original analog tapes back to WGBH.

Hopefully this gives a sense of what the workload is like for this phase of the Antiques Roadshow project. The amount that we’ve digitized for this project to date is still just a fraction of Antiques Roadshow’s at-risk tape library, but going city by city, eventually we can make sure that all of Antiques Roadshow’s history is not only preserved, but is re-usable by our producers and for contemporary viewers.


Headshot

Miranda Villesvik joined WGBH’s Media Library and Archives in 2017, where she is an archivist.