Digitization Successes of the American Archive

By Emily Halevy, Director of Media Management Sales at Crawford Media Services

Migration at Crawford Media Services
Digitization at Crawford Media Services

Hi everyone! My name is Emily Halevy. I’m the Director of Media Management Sales at Crawford Media Services. Hopefully by now, stations have been able to work with Chip and David- our fabulous project managers- and are well on their way to receiving their digitized content.

I want to take a moment to first say how much this project means to me. Growing up, I was an army brat and moved nearly every year of my childhood, sometimes even twice a year, until I hit 10 years old. My sister and I figured out that by the time we’d moved out of our parent’s house we’d moved a total of 24 times. I say that because there weren’t many constants in my life … just my sister, my parents, and PBS. I used to lay my blanket out in the living room floor, sit on it with my stuffed animals pretending it was a magic carpet and watch Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, 3-2-1 Contact and all the other children’s programming for hours on end. No matter where we lived, no matter where life took us, I always had my blanket and PBS. I feel like in some way I’m now helping to preserve this programming much in the same way it helped me preserve some sense of stability throughout my childhood. To all of you who helped those great programs find their way into my home and my life, I thank you.

Enough about me! Let’s talk about this project!

The task as outlined was to digitize 35,000 hours of audio and video content across 55,000 tapes, and transcode another 5,000 hours of born digital content from approximately 100 stations. Easy enough, right?! Well, our first head scratching, “how are we gonna do this” moment came when we realized that we would actually need to hold the majority of this content simultaneously. Fifty-eight pallets of tapes and hundreds of additional boxes to be exact. So, we allocated some of our space to creating a secure crypt with temperature control and FM-200 fire suppression.

Pallets of media arrive to be digitized.
Pallets of media arrive to be digitized.

And then we thought, hmm … how is everyone going to barcode their materials consistently, so that  when they arrive there is no issue with scanning them? Well, it turned out the easiest solution was for us to print the barcodes and ship them out to all of the stations.

Then we realized, huh … while this project is one project, it’s actually more like 100 different projects with clients all over the country. Even in Guam and Alaska. And about Alaska … Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands to be specific … a truck run was impossible. We couldn’t do a Fed Ex or UPS run. So, our solution was to have the station book their tapes as luggage on Alaska Airlines, which just so happens to fly into Atlanta. As for our other stations, where possible, Chip was able to coordinate shipping between stations, using 53 foot pharmaceutical, climate controlled trucks, instead of overnight carriers. We project this logistical feat has saved the project approximately $85,000 in shipping costs, which will in turn be used to digitize more media. Yay!

Crawford's tape bays for digitizing various analog formats.
Crawford’s tape bays for digitizing various analog formats.

Now for the files … three for video tapes, two for audio tapes and one transcode for born digital. And then there’s the BagIt container … each source tape yields up to 27 objects including the media essence files, closed caption files, SAMMA migration log, technical metadata files, checksums and so on. That’s nearly 1.5M pieces of information generated and tracked throughout the project!

Along the way, we’ve uncovered a few priceless gems, including Robert Frost reading a selection of his poems from WFCR, a Frank Zappa interview from KGNU, an Ayn Rand speech from WFCR, and film studies major and movie buff David Braught’s favorite: three tapes from KQED that were actually labeled as “Over Easy” programs. These three turned out to be interviews with film director Akira Kurosawa and a tribute to Japanese Cinema, which included interviews with Kurosawa, Coppola and Lucas. These tapes were thought to be lost. No longer thanks to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting!

Here are some other little factoids:

  • Tapes are being digitized 24 hours a day, five days a week and even some weekends to stay on schedule.
  • Thousands of ¼” reel-to-reel audio tapes and ¾” Umatics have been baked.
  • The project will result in over 1 Petabyte of new data, 2 Petabytes with the copies.
  • We are just starting to tackle born digital. Our original data estimate for born digital was in the neighborhood of 6 TB of data. We now anticipate handling over 33,000 files, which will result in around 280 Terabytes of data.
  • To date, we’ve written over 1,000 LTO-5 data tapes.

We have thoroughly enjoyed working with all of the stations over the past year and a half. As we wind down this phase of the project over the next few months, we hope that the American Archive of Public Broadcasting continues to grow into what surely will become one of the most educational and culturally diverse archives in the country.

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