WGBH Receives National Endowment for the Humanities Grant to Support Preservation of Historic Public Broadcasting Materials

Helping to preserve public media history, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded WGBH a $750,000 Infrastructure and Capacity-Building Challenge Grant to support the work of the WGBH Media Library and Archives (MLA). Today’s announcement will allow MLA to develop a digital asset management system, improve Open Vault, our public access website, and support the digitization of 83,000 WGBH-produced audiovisual recordings that are currently stored on obsolete and deteriorating media formats.

The grant was one of 218 grants announced yesterday by NEH, totaling $43.1 million. These are the first awards made under NEH’s new Infrastructure and Capacity-Building Challenge Grant program. Totaling $13 million, these grants will support infrastructure projects at 29 U.S. cultural institutions in 20 states and the District of Columbia, including the work of the MLA.

“There is a rich history that has been chronicled over the years by public media. Yet, as the years go by, this record of our nation’s news, culture, science and more becomes increasingly more vulnerable,” said Karen Cariani, the David O. Ives Executive Director of WGBH’s Media Library and Archives. “This grant will help our continued pursuit of preservation, ensuring this content remains a rich historical resource for researchers, academics, journalists and the public.”

As America’s preeminent public broadcasting producer, the source of fully one-third of PBS’ prime-time lineup, WGBH has been on the front lines of history for nearly seven decades. WGBH productions – from local radio and television to nationally distributed programming – have documented our collective cultural heritage in moving images and sound. Programs to be preserved as part of this grant include Save the Planet with Meryl Streep, The Machine that Changed the World, Julia Child and Company, All Our Children hosted by Bill Moyers as well as American Experience, NOVA, FRONTLINE and many more.

In 1979, WGBH became the first public broadcasting station to develop an archive, staffed by professional archivists. For more than 35 years, MLA staff have preserved, cataloged, and provided access to materials produced by WGBH. The group currently manages and preserves nearly 1 million audio, video, film, and digital assets dating back to 1947.

The National Endowment for the Humanities and WGBH together: Exploring the human endeavor

About WGBH

WGBH Boston is America’s preeminent public broadcaster and the largest producer of PBS content for TV and the Web, including Masterpiece, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, Nova, American Experience, Arthur, Pinkalicious & Peterrific, and more than a dozen other primetime, lifestyle and children’s series. WGBH’s television channels include WGBH 2, WGBX 44, and the digital channels World and Create. WGBH TV productions focusing on the region’s diverse community include Greater Boston, Basic Black and High School Quiz Show. WGBH Radio serves listeners across New England with 89.7 WGBH, Boston’s Local NPR®; 99.5 WCRB Classical Radio Boston; and WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR® Station. WGBH also is a major source of programs for public radio (among them, PRI’s The World®), a leader in educational multimedia (including PBS LearningMedia™, providing the nation’s educators with free, curriculum-based digital content), and a pioneer in technologies and services that make media accessible to deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired audiences. WGBH has been recognized with hundreds of honors: Emmys, Peabodys, duPont-Columbia Awards and Oscars. Find more information at wgbh.org.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

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.

From thousands of tapes to 17

On March 11, 2013, WGBH Media Library and Archives’ Archives Manager Keith Luf and Digital Archives Manager Michael Muraszko loaded 7,010 tapes from the WGBH vault onto 12 palettes, which were then shipped via an 18-wheeler to be digitized at Crawford Media Services in Atlanta, Georgia for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting.  Only a few months later would the WGBH MLA in collaboration with the Library of Congress be selected as the permanent home for the American Archive collection, an initiative to identify, preserve, and make accessible as much as possible the historic record of public media in America.

WGBH’s tapes were stored in 306 archives boxes, totaling 459 linear feet (longer than 1 1/2 football fields!) and comprising more than 6,400 hours of content. In many cases, the archives staff knew only the program title of the tapes — they often knew nothing about the recorded participants. The content dated back as early as March of 1947 and was as recent as 2005. The MLA sent material on 15 different video and audio tape formats, the majority of which had exceeded the manufacturer’s intended lifespan. MLA’s Keith Luf compared the situation to a child’s 18 year old cat, which everyone knew wouldn’t — and couldn’t — be around much longer.

In June of this year, WGBH’s 6,400 hundred hours of content was returned. In addition to the original 7,010 tapes, the content was delivered as digital files on a second copy — on 17 LTO-6 tapes…. stored in one box!

From 7,010 tapes to 17!
From 7,010 tapes to 17!

And with the digitized material came a new ease of accessibility — the MLA staff have been able to easily watch or listen to the digital files and discover content they never knew had been sitting in the vault for all these years. Among the new discoveries includes a 1967 10-minute monologue by American historian and activist Howard Zinn on the social unrest of the times; a recorded speech given by JFK in either 1962 or 1963 at the Armory in Boston; and a 1975 video recording of a cello class taught by Harvard professor Mstislav Rostropovich, who during the recording asked a graduate student in his class “What kind of a name is Yo-Yo?”

As additional funding has become available, the MLA has recently coordinated with Crawford on the digitization of 800 more hours of 3/4″ videotapes and 1/4″ audiotapes, which will be shipped out next week.  Who knows what we’ll find next!?