Digitizing Videotapes from the Rosendahl-Adelphia Collection

Back in spring semester 2013, LMU Library News featured a series of posts celebrating Preservation Week. My contribution to the series discussed digital video preservation and cited the preparatory work involved in gearing up to digitize The Bill Rosendahl-Adelphia Communications Corporation Collection of Public Affairs Television Programs. I’m happy to report that much progress has been made on this front over the past few months thanks to a generous grant from The Riordan Foundation.

With this grant, the Library has outsourced digitization to a vendor with expertise in transferring archival audiovisual materials. The Department of Archives and Special Collections and the Digital Library Program have teamed up to manage LMU’s first large-scale audiovisual digitization project. Last week 758 videotapes, in various formats including 3/4″ U-Matic, Betacam, Digital Betacam, and DVCPRO, were shipped across the country to our vendor’s facility where they will be inventoried, inspected, and, finally, transferred to digital files.

The journey from analog videotape to digital video file officially began with a selection process. The job of archivists and preservationists often involve making difficult decisions and informed compromises. Prioritization is essential. To this end, we selected 767 programs out of over 3,450 in the collection that best represent the output of news and public affairs cable access shows produced and hosted by Bill Rosendahl in the late 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. The series selected include “Week in Review,” “Local Talk,” and “Personal Best.” Nineteen programs containing election specials and interviews with former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan are also part of the digitization project.

A successful pilot project was completed with a small sample of 9 tapes in August. Meanwhile, we prepared the other 758 tapes to go out in one large bulk shipment on September 9. In late summer, the tapes were retrieved and pulled from shelves in the Library’s basement storage area. C.J. Adams, Systems and Digital Library Program Assistant, and two wonderful student assistants Zane Kansil and Seth Coldren were instrumental in this part of the process.

One of the crucial steps in our project was the assignment of unique identifiers for the project’s digitized files. Shilpa Rele, Digital Program Librarian, devised a file-naming system, in which each digital surrogate has a unique identifier that will link to its analog counterpart. During the retrieval process, the tapes were labeled with their IDs, as depicted in the photo below.

BetacamLabels

Betacam tape from 1995 labeled with a ‘Digital ID’: sc_brac002330001

Once all of the tapes were retrieved and labeled, they were packed with bubble wrap in shipping bins. By the end, 44 bins were packed and ready to go. On the big ‘pick-up day,’ we transported these bins from the basement to the loading dock on first floor of the Library. A Campus Distribution Center truck arrived at the dock, geared up to transport each of the 30-lb bins. With an assembly line in place, it took almost no time to get the bins on the truck. From there, the shipping containers were processed and picked up via UPS for their cross-country trek.

By the end of this semester, we will receive digital video files on hard drives and DVD access copies of 767 programs from the Rosendahl-Adelphia Collection.  Over the next few months, we will be conducting in-house quality control of the digital files and devising ways to make the collection more accessible to our campus community. Finally, we hope this project will usher in new workflows, tools, and policies, and ultimately, serve as a model for future digital A/V projects at the Library.