“Click Capture, Press Play”

I spent last week in Savannah, Georgia as part of the annual Association for Moving Image Archivists Conference.   As part of the conference, I represented the XFR Collective on “Click Capture, Press Play,” a panel on regional archival digitization organizations with co-presenters Hannah Palin from the Moving Image Preservation of Puget Sound (MIPoP), and Pamela Jean Vadekan from the California  Audiovisual Preservation Program (CAVPP).  While all of us have similar missions to preserve at-risk media, especially within a regional context, there were striking differences.  In our early discussions in preparation for the conference, however, it was great to talk with other archivists recognizing and addressing this clear need in the community.

In our presentations we each screened a brief sampling of our work and updated the community on the status of our organization and work.  One of my takeaways from the presentations of my fellow panelists is that CAVPP was recently actually in a very similar place from us!  In 2011, the first full year of their preservation work, they digitized 50 items and worked with about 20 organizations.  We are still completing our first year of digitization work and have been able to dive in relatively quickly to digitize about 40 items.

Pages from regional-digitization-initiatives

I also noticed that our regional differences determined organizational structures.  For example, Hannah Palin is the only full-time audiovisual archivist in the state of Washington!  This is shocking, but also quite a  contrast: New York City is full of audiovisual archivists.  This is fundamental to XFR Collective: we have a lot of skilled volunteers able to handle digitization equipment and obsolete media.  We also have been able, mostly through bartering, borrowing, and to only a small degree buying, to put a rack together at under $1000.  It’s interesting to note that if these items were purchases outright, as in the case of MIPoP, the equipment amounts to about $15,000.

Some other major differences are that while we do almost all the work on premise, we do not hold on to the digital files. CAVPP works with cultural institutions throughout the state of California, but it outsources digitization to 3rd party vendors while hosting the resultant digitized files.  This is something we, as a very new organization without initial grant funding, cannot contemplate.  Maintaining large digital files on behalf of organizations would limit our ability to work with organizations and, in some part, this has influenced our decisions to push our educational non-profit mission further.  This not only entails educating the content creators on best practices for their analog and digitized materials, but reaching a larger audience through participating in community events and publicizing our mission through conferences and panels like AMIA.

While it is too much to discuss the conference presentations in full,  Kristin’s next post will talk a little more about the conference panel and her experience as an audience member and the panel organizer.  Rebecca, the panel moderator, prepared some great questions for us.  We, unfortunately, ran short of time before we could answer them, but  I’m going to take advantage of this space to address them here as a way to finish up this post.  I’ve also made the  AMIA presentation available here.


1. How do you envision the user community for the materials you’re digitizing?
It’s actually exciting to think that our user community will access these digitized content via the Internet Archive with, quite possibly, little understanding of the original context.  They may be able to reuse some of the material for creative purposes.  They may use them as teaching aids, as we have been fortunate enough to do in some of our presentations.  It’s hard to tell what will happen, but I think that by bringing all this material out of the traditional archive or institutional repository, we’ll be able to reach a lot more people that would never necessarily go into a university archive for approved research.

2. How are you facing the problems of selection?

It’s an ongoing discussion.  Not everyone in the collective agrees wholeheartedly on what to preserve.  Factors bandied around and discussed include the region of creation, whether minority or women were the content creators, and whether the content is performance or ephemeral art. Each of us has values these factors differently. We’ve also even discussed whether its enough for us to simply like an organization’s mission and the individuals we’d work with.  Ultimately, we’ve decided that we’ll decide anew each (at this point 6 month) cycle.   Each of the core members will bring determining factors to the table for a transparent (blogged) discussion.  While we’re wrapping things up and discussing this right now, the XFR Collective will be able to post soon about our next cycle members.

3. What are some of the most frustrating challenges you’ve faced?

It’s hard to set aside enough time to document everything that we’re doing when we have so little time to get a lot of work done each week.  This is especially pressing now that Kristin and Rebecca are in different states and we now have Pamela coming in each week.   I think this may surprise people, but ultimately I do think our time and the lack of time we can each devote to the collective is the biggest limiting factor right now.
4. If you were going to advise another grassroots a/v archive starting up to do similar work, what would you tell them?
If you can do it, do it.  There’s no shortage of content that is at the end of its life.  Our organization is still waiting for its non-profit paperwork to come through, but in the meantime we’ve been able to accomplish a lot while very organically arriving at a mission statement over the course of almost half a year of meeting each week.