We’re moving! 15,000 boxes, that is!


Ever wonder what 15,000 boxes looks like? It’s likely that you haven’t, but if you check out the video below, you’ll find out!

The WGBH Media Library and Archives (MLA) just began the process of moving our off-site storage to a new location. Our off-site storage unit currently stores 15,000 boxes, or 400,000 items, within 8,000 square feet. While our WGBH vault stores our master-level programs and original materials, the archival records held in our off-site storage include all of our non-master, or circulating films and tapes, as well as over 60 years of administrative and legal records. Each box needs to be removed from its shelf; transported from the current location (shown in the video above) to the new location; and then placed in the exact same order as they were in the original location. Maintaining the original order allows our archivists to continue to record and monitor the exact location of each item, ensuring that we maintain efficient circulation of these materials for our producers, researchers, and other staff.

Peter Higgins, Archives Manager, with assistance from Rebecca “Becky” Philio, Archivist, is leading this important effort to protect WGBH’s archival records and materials and securely transfer them to the new location. The move will be completed within the next several weeks, and we’ll look forward to showing you the “after” photos and videos!


To be continued…

1991 solar eclipse footage from NOVA

We’re getting ready for this month’s solar eclipse and thought we’d share this historic footage from the WGBH vault! In July 1991, NOVA recorded the particularly long six and a half minute total solar eclipse atop the dormant volcano Mauna Kea, the location of a major astronomical observatory in Hawaiʻi. The footage, originally shot on 16mm film, was featured in NOVA’s 1991 documentary Eclipse of the Century and has been digitized and preserved by the WGBH Media Library and Archives.

The Advocates

The Advocates was a weekly debate program that aired nationwide on PBS through much of the turbulent decade of the 1970s. Policy issues selected by the show’s editorial staff ranged over the many hot political topics of the day, from the Vietnam War to same sex marriage, campaign financing reform, abortion, affirmative action, nuclear power, federally funded health care, and many more.TheAdvocates

Americans are still battling over many of the same issues today, and possibly the simple and civilized Advocates format could serve us well in our own uncivil times. Using a courtroom setting, and shooting often at Faneuil Hall or in the WGBH studios, staff producers deployed an array of impressive witnesses over the years, from Billy Graham to Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, then-senator Joseph Biden, Michael Dukakis, novelist Pearl Buck, Hubert Humphrey, and Antonin Scalia – hundreds of eloquent spokespersons over the life of the series.

We’re excited to bring these complete programs to Open Vault and most feature sync-able transcripts so you can follow along.
Keep checking back as we continue to add more programs.

Complete programs can be found at this link.

The Advocates on Open Vault collection was funded by the Open Society Foundations.  As a part of Open Society’s Youth Initiative Global Debate’s program, The Advocates will be featured in an online collection of debate resources offered by IDEA, the International Debate Education Association.  IDEA is an international network that trains young debaters and inspires informed discussion around the world.  To learn more, please click on this link. 

Job Opening: Senior Developer in the Media Library & Archives

If interested, please apply at http://www.wgbh.org/about/employmentOpportunities.cfm and reference Job Requisition # P-0783.

WGBH is looking for a creative and energetic Senior Developer to lead the development of a digital asset management (DAM) preservation system for the WGBH Media Library and Archives.

The Senior Developer will play a leading role in designing and implementing the architecture, workflows, and applications for WGBH MLA digital library services. The system will be based on the Hydra Project technology stack, which includes Ruby on Rails, Blacklight, Apache Solr, and the Fedora Commons repository. In addition, the Senior Developer will work on web based projects for the Media Library and Archives, including the implementation of a website to give scholars and researchers access to material in the WGBH Archive.

Working closely with the Media Library and Archive’s Director, Project Manager, and a WGBH Interactive Designer, the Senior Developer will specify, document and develop the technical architecture of a prototype digital asset management system for digital preservation. They will develop user interfaces to the system. They will also continue to develop the Open Vault website: http://openvault.wgbh.org.

Specific duties include:

  • Gather requirements and develop specifications for the digital library architecture; work closely with digital object creators and managers to understand their needs.
  • Working with open-source applications and toolkits, design and implement a multi-purpose repository infrastructure that supports the ingestion, preservation, and delivery of digital objects.
  • Test, evaluate, and recommend potential toolkits and applications for inclusion in the repository architecture.
  • Design and implement workflows to extract, transform and repurpose metadata and digital objects as needed.
  • Customize open source applications to provide front-end interfaces to the repository for end-user delivery.
  • Maintain digital library architecture, troubleshooting issues whenever they arise.
  • Keep abreast of community-wide developments in the realm of digital library software and infrastructure.
  • Contribute to the development of Open Source applications.
  • Write and maintain documentation.
  • May supervise junior programmers.

Please note that this position has the possibility of being extended based upon funding levels.

Responsible for maintaining a working environment that leverages the potential and diversity of the department’s entire staff. Provide direction and leadership in such a way as to nurture, create and maintain an environment that is (1) free from discrimination, intolerance and harassment and (2) provides employees with equal access to opportunities for growth and advancement including professional development whenever possible.

Skills Required:

The ideal candidate:

  • Has experience implementing digital archives, using repository software such as DSpace or Fedora Commons.
  • Is Unix proficient.
  • Has some experience with Blacklight, Hydra, Ruby on Rails and/or Solr.
  • Can demonstrate understanding of Internet technologies including HTML, CSS, JavaScript and XML (particularly XSLT, XPath and RDF).
  • Has worked with web services such as REST, SOAP and/or XML-RPC.
  • Is familiar with one or more RDMS, such as MySQL. Experience integrating with, or extracting data from, FileMaker Pro will also be helpful.
  • Is familiar with online media workflows (from post-production to compression to distribution).

WGBH is a Mac shop, with LAMP servers. Candidates should be prepared to share and discuss code samples.

Educational Requirements:

To perform the required duties, the Senior Developer must possess the skills and qualities required to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, and more than 3 years of work experience developing web applications. Demonstrated interest in library or moving images archive issues preferred.

Department Overview:

WGBH produces the best and most well known television, radio and online programs for public media. The WGBH Media Library and Archives preserves and helps re-purpose WGBH creations into the future. The MLA establishes the policies and procedures for the access, acquisition, intellectual control, and preservation of WGBH’s physical media and digital production and administrative assets. The MLA also offers production organization of archival materials from projects start up to shut down, research services, rights clearances, and licenses WGBH stock footage. This is a full-time, on-site position with benefits, starting as soon as possible. It is funded for 12 months, with the possibility of renewal after that. Moderate travel may be required. We work hard, but believe in work/life balance.

Archiving Theater – An Ephemeral Art

by Jessica Green

As I watch and catalog the Elliot Norton Reviews as part of my internship in the WGBH Archives, I am constantly reminded of the ephemeral nature of theater. One of the distinguishing aspects of theater, and of the performing arts in general, is its willingness to change and grow every night, as each new audience fills the room.

Elliot Norton. Copyright WGBH Educational Foundation

A performance is in a state of continual flux from the first day of rehearsal through the last curtain call, even if attempts are made to reproduce the exact same show every night. The temperature is different, the lead actor has a cold, the lead actress ad-libs a few lines, the audience is bored, the audience cheers loudly, the country’s president was assassinated the day before… Any number of things can affect the mood in the theater and the experience of the performance for the actors and audience. Some of these changes are intentional and some are beyond our control, but every run of a show is a string of singular experiences; there is no definitive artistic product, no archival record for future generations to experience.

Several of the Elliot Norton Reviews I have come across so far discuss changes that were made to a play between different productions or during the run of the show. Norton valued the ability of the audience to judge a performanceand determine what does and does not work, what is too long, and what is not funny. He encouraged the testing of plays in different cities with different audiences before taking them to Broadway.

In his book, Broadway Down East: An Informal Account of the Players and Playhouses of Boston from Puritan Times to the Present, Norton gives us a dramatic retelling of Boston theater history as it rose to become:

…a city where plays and musicals are tested, prepared, often revised, and made ready, not for us but very often at our expense, for New York.

Respected in the Boston theater world in the 1950s-1980s for his ability to recognize aspects of a show that could be changed to improve its quality, Norton was invited to premieres and his advice was taken into consideration before the producers from New York arrived.

Perhaps the most famous Norton story is when he suggested a pivotal change to Neil Simon’s smash hit, The Odd Couple: the return of the Pigeon sisters in the third act. This revision transformed the initially boring third act and the show became the tremendous success we know so well today (probably through the TV or film version).

In WGBH’s Elliot Norton Reviews programs, Norton discusses his likes, dislikes, and questions about performances he has seen with the actors, director, and other theater makers who produced it. Together, they work through script analysis and give us a glimpse into the creation and reception of theater pieces we know and love today such as The King and I, Richard III, and Annie with such talented actors as Yul Brynner, Al Pacino, and Reid Shelton in Boston theaters between 1958 and 1982.

Since there is no way to preserve each and every performance of a production, especially considering strict Equity rules for production recordings, the Elliot Norton Reviews are an invaluable resource for documenting the evolution of plays. The slippery nature of theater and the performing arts in general discourages its complete preservation in the way we think of archiving film or photography. We cannot archive the actual experience, but we can capture ephemera and recordings that capture aspects of the show.

One group that I am involved with that is attempting to preserve the American theater tradition through archiving theater materials is the American Theatre Archive Project (ATAP), an initiative of the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR). A collaboration between regional teams spread out all over the US (with New York’s team paving the way), ATAP is working with theaters of all sizes to assess what types of records are being produced, held onto, and used for a variety of purposes ranging from research to marketing. The mission is to assist these theaters in archiving their records through workshops on best practices, in order to make them available to researchers and theater makers, and to preserve their legacy for future generations.

As Co-Chair for the Boston Team of ATAP, making the Elliot Norton Reviews available to the public, first in catalog form and then hopefully as digitized episodes down the line (fingers crossed), is a fun and worthwhile undertaking. They offer incredible insight into the history of Boston theater productions in a dynamic way that cannot be experienced through reviews and photographs. Check out ATAP’s beta site to read about their mission, see what teams in your area are working on, and even get involved!

by Jessica Green


  • Norton, Elliot. Broadway down East: an Informal Account of the Plays, Players, and Playhouses of Boston from Puritan times to the Present: Lectures Delivered for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Boston Public Library Learning Library Program. Boston: Trustees of the Public Library of the City of Boston, 1978. 8. Print.
  • Collier, Jay. “One of the Deans of Theater Criticism, Elliot Norton, Exits the Stage.” WGBH Alumni, Pioneers in Public Media. WGBH, 20 Oct. 2003. Web. 10 June 2011..