Ann Wilkens of Wisconsin Public Television reports on the American Archive

Hello friends and colleagues!

Wisconsin Public Television is proud to have the opportunity to participate in the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. Now that hundreds of hours of our content have been made digitally accessible, we are able to actually view our old programs, enrich the metadata, and eventually share our content with the public. Here are a few observations:

• From the beginning our programming has been innovative, educational, and reflective.

• Our work with the AAPB has given us a jump start on our in-house digitizing. The hours digitized by Crawford represent about 3 percent of our collection. With some urgency we’ve been digitizing analog formats to uncompressed Quicktime files with priority on older unique items on 3/4 inch videotape and 1 inch videotape. 1 inch videotape is extremely reliable. We’ve had a handful of problems playing back 3/4 inch videotape but that too for the most part has been successful. Whew! We’ve got breathing room with our film holdings because of their stability under proper storage conditions. On the other hand, that format is the least accessible.

• Much of the programming from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s has been lost. Viewing what we do have from that time period is hindered by the age and robustness of the format and playback equipment. So, when we were finally able to watch programs through the Archival Management System (AMS) it was like opening a treasure chest. Every program offers a glimpse at our past. And they are just plain fun to watch.

• We’ve discovered that programs we thought we produced were produced by others. As I’m sure you know, old tapes usually have very little metadata, perhaps a title and date (created? Aired? Dubbed?) on the label and that’s it. There was really no way to be certain of its provenance. After watching the digitized content through the AMS we discovered programs that were produced by other PBS or commercial stations. We will return those to you as we are able!

• What should we do with the analog tapes now that they are digitized? Good question. The usual archival practice is to always keep the original. In this case the original and the technology are going to be obsolete in the near future and the cost of digitizing analog again (if better technology comes along) is time consuming, expensive, and what would we gain visually by doing it? We need to make sure we responsibly manage the digital collections into the future. (This is the part where I wish I was a manuscript archivist.) We are at this time retaining the originals.

• We’ve elected to receive the proxy and mezzanine files from Crawford. Our aim is to incorporate the proxies in our online database (under development), use the mezzanine format [mpeg2 mxf] in our production workflow, and archive both formats to LTO. As for the preservation files (JPEG2K), we will leave those in the care of the Library of Congress. Their mandate is to care for them for the life of the Republic plus 500 years, by which time I will almost be ready to retire.

Ann Wilkens has been the media archivist at Wisconsin Public Television since 2004.

Ann Wilkens, Media Archivist at Wisconsin Public Television
Ann Wilkens, Media Archivist at Wisconsin Public Television

One thought on “Ann Wilkens of Wisconsin Public Television reports on the American Archive

  1. Anne, it’s great to hear about your experiences with the American Archive project. And it’s interesting how closely some of the things you mention parallel the experience at WILL. The media archives that remain in our possession show some truly amazing work done by past generations of producers at our station, and I’m excited (to say the least) to be bringing it back to public light. But we’ve also somehow lost almost everything produced by WILL-TV from the 1950s through most of the 1960s, including content we know about from former producers. As result of that loss I’m determined to never let that happen again, and it’s a tough challenge without more resources. But that’s what the American Archive is for.

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