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IU media preservation initiative underway, looking for equipment

  • Jan. 7, 2015

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.

By MJ Slaby

Roughly a year after Indiana University announced a plan to digitally preserve its media collection, the university is on a quest to find equipment.

“We are well on our way to starting, but the challenge has been locating playback materials that are not manufactured anymore,” said Laurie Antolovic’, IU executive director for the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative.

As the university hunts for equipment, construction is also underway on a space to digitize that will require about 25 hires to meet the goal of December 2019 completion for the initiative. IU President Michael McRobbie announced the project in his October 2013 State of the University address as a way to preserve rare and aging artifacts.

Some of the older playback equipment is so rare, it takes a grant of $40,000 or more to buy one thing, said Antolovic’, who is also IU deputy chief information officer. She said even working VCRs are difficult to find.

“We had to put out a call on campus to see if departments still have VCRs,” she said.

The challenge is the project uses state-of-the-art technology and technology that’s 50 years or older, said Andrew Dapuzzo, project manager for Memnon, a Belgium-based company that IU contracted with for the initiative.

“It’s an interesting mix of old and new,” he said.

Memnon’s space for the initiative – most of the first floor of a building in the IU Technology Park on Tenth Street – is under construction. The company is setting up an Indiana office just for this job, Antolovic’ said.

She said IU asked Memnon to work only on the IU project for the first 12 months the company is here.

“We are 100 percent IU right now,” Dapuzzo said. “We are focused on providing the best possible service to IU.”

Dapuzzo said staff from Europe will come to Bloomington for part of the process, but Memnon hopes to hire locally for both engineers and operators.

Once space, equipment and staff are ready, Antolovic’ said the project will start with audiovisuals before moving to motion picture film. Many of the items are dirty or have mold on them because of improper storage.

“We estimate that about a third of our collection has to be cleaned in some way,” Antolovic’ said. She said the media has been separated into two groups. 

The first is about 10 percent of the total holdings and are the most fragile. Those materials – including open reel film, tapes and cassettes – need one-on-one attention from the IU staff in the Archives of Traditional Music, Antolovic’ said.

The other 90 percent are “more stable carriers,” Dapuzzo said and will be preserved by Memnon.

“If we don’t do anything, audiovisual is on the faster track to disappearing,” Antolovic’ said. “For some things, we have the only copy.”

All the items will have two digital copies so there is one at IU Bloomington and a back-up in Indianapolis, and the original file will be kept and cared for as well, she said.

Plus, she said the items will have metadata so they are searchable and photos to see what the original looked like too.

“The overarching goal is to make access easier so that they (the media) aren’t brought out and risk damage,” Antolovic’ said.

Once items are digitized, she said they will be available to the public, as long as copyright laws are followed. She said people can access the files without having to come on campus to the libraries.

“We don’t want to lose files,” Antolovic’ said. “We’re not preserving for the sake of preserving. It’s also make the information accessible and useful.”