The 27th of October, while being the very special Fourth Day Before Halloween, was also proclaimed World Day for Audiovisual Heritage by UNESCO as of 2005. This year’s theme for the day is “Archives at Risk: Much More To Do” – something you don’t have to tell us digital stewards twice!
Films, radio and television programs, oral histories, music performances – these and countless other audiovisual treasures hold many 20th and 21st century primary records. The Official Website for Audiovisual Heritage 2014 notes that “it is estimated that we have no more than 10 to 15 years to transfer audiovisual records to digital to prevent their loss” – though much has been lost already. And as digital preservation professionals understand, this not only means creating digital surrogates of the records but also designing the means with which to preserve these digital surrogates.
In celebration and awareness for this internationally recognized day, I thought I’d share a little more about MIT’s digital audio preservation project – particularly the cool-cat collection we are starting with. MIT’s Lewis Music Library is a subject-specific library popular with faculty, alumni, and students alike – in fact music is the second most popular minor here at MIT! My office is on the second floor, where on a given day I might see a student composing on computer software or hear the tinkle of piano keys from a performance downstairs, where bio-engineering majors who are piano virtuosos on the side stop by for a lunchtime performance. The Library offers some personal digitizing outlets as well, which you can read more about here.
In their special collections, the Lewis Music Library has 31 shelves full of recordings on reel-to-reel, audiocassette and videocassette tapes, phonographs, DAT tapes, and film. The impetus for my project was actually some funding for a specific digitization initiative that catalyzed the need for preservation and access to the content once it was transferred.
The first set of digital audio content we are testing in our workflow is a batch from the Herb Pomeroy collection. Herb Pomeroy was a jazz trumpeter and music educator from Massachusetts. In his early career, he played with such jazz luminaries at Lionel Hampton and Charlie Parker. In the 1950s, he put together his own big band, gaining national attention and playing at venues such as Carnegie Hall. Though he had an illustrious and influential career as a musician, he was also well known for his teaching career, helping to found the Jazz Workshop, teaching for 41 years at the Berklee College of Music, and becoming the director of the MIT jazz ensemble the Techtonians – later known as the Festival Jazz Ensemble – for 22 years. You can check out interviews with Pomeroy from the Lewis Music Library’s Oral History Project here.
The collection itself is comprised of recordings of performing groups he was coaching, as well as performances he did around town in big bands and smaller groups. He even played at the Chestnut Hill Mall fairly regularly! We will be digitizing a selected portion of the audio content and walking it through the workflow to test it and identify gaps. Simultaneously, we are evaluating Avalon Media System as a dissemination platform, so people everywhere can enjoy it once it is digitized.
I am delighted to be contributing to the preservation and access of such a cool collection because I think it’s these kinds of records that really underline the impact of the work we do as digital stewards and the significance of World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. Digitization and digital preservation not only ensure the endurance of our historical records and cultural heritage; they also mean expanded intellectual access – for everyone. And that is true step towards the democratization of knowledge. I mean, c’mon… this work is so cool, you guys.
Happy heritage holiday,