Working with a couple archivist on a podcast concept, and I'd like some feedback.
The basic premise is to reach out to libraries and archives that have unique/one of a kind works that can't be publicly released for various reasons about those artifacts and those various reasons.
Artifacts we're planning to discuss include:
- UCLA Film Archive's DuMont collection (specifically, the 10 episodes of captain video.
- Murder at Full Moon (Steinbeck's lost werewolf novel) from the University of Texas
- Broadside TV collection at East Tenn. State
I'm looking for Artifact suggestions!
Ideally, we'd like to run 6 episodes for the first season, so I need at least 12 artifacts, because chances are good that at least half the people we reach out to won't want to speak with us.
I'm also open to suggestions on form, but that'll really come later.
My chief focus at the moment is on content that Exists in university archives or library holdings, but isn't in general distribution.
The big answer for "why isn't this more widely distributed?", in my experience so far, has boiled down to:
1) We didn't think anyone cared.
2) It would be too expensive.
3) We're not sure if we're allowed to.
4) Pay Me.
1) and 2) are often wrong.
3) and 4) can be bigger problems (which is to say that "Pay Me" is usually more about turning profit than it is about the cost of archival.)
There are also works that present other challenges. The works of Henry Darger for example (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Darger) represent a massive logistical challenge, in addition to all the usual stuff.
I'd love to talk to the folks who manage that collection about those challenges.
Still really enamored with the idea of doing a podcast where we talk to the people who run archives about unique media objects in their collections, and what prevents those media objects from being distributed.
Gotta figure out:
1) What to call it
2) If I should host it (I get Angry about these things, maybe I should not) or get someone else to
3) Which additional institutions/artifacts I should reach out to/about beyond the 6 or 7 on my list right now.
@ajroach42 I feel like a complete episode guide to "Mysteries at the Museum" would probably surface a dozen interesting collections at (sometimes interesting in their own right) various institutions, but I can't put my fingers on such an episode guide (like, one that indexes museum and collection info for each featured artifact)
@ajroach42 with the plus being that they're already amenable to talking about their pieces and collection ;)
@ajroach42 oh, oh my! okay, you've got a hefty back catalog of eps to spend with Don Wildman and crew. They hit a fairly broad spectrum of museums over the years, from uni museums to topical museums like the spy museum and the newseum, all the way down to the local historical societies and local weird museums scattered around. You'll love it honestly.
@ajroach42 it's one of our go-to "we want noise on but not screaming or explosions oh yeah, just throw Don on" shows
@djsundog Captive Collections is a good phrase. Is that an original coinage or is that what these things are called?
@ajroach42 newly minted just now for your appropriation (though definitely has possibilities for a naming collision with something else using that phrase - I did no due diligence before tooting)
@ajroach42 🙇 it's all yours if you want it, my friend, but do not feel any obligation to use it if something else comes along ;)
@ajroach42 How about recordings that aren't allowed to be released due to them being (purposely) based on another work and the original composer disliking the results? The one I remember (but which looks like it might have been sorted out in the end?) is the electric version of the Planet suite by Tomita.
@Username_Here_ASAP I'm reaching out to my top 10 institutions today.
What are the chances you want to host this thing so that I don't yell at the curator of the Paley Center for Media.
@Username_Here_ASAP I'm not concerned with your ability to interview as much as I am with subject matter expertise.
An interview is just a conversation, a good interview is a conversation where you know enough to ask the right questions, and are wise enough to keep quiet most of the time.
@Username_Here_ASAP Which is to say, I'm confident that you'd be an excellent interviewer.
I'm also confident that you could become a subject matter expert in short order, if this is something you want to pursue.
I'm planning on hitting this pretty aggressively in terms of arranging conversations, etc.
I want to have 6 episodes in the can before the end of August, so we can really take our time editing and getting things ready.
@Username_Here_ASAP If you want to be the on air talent, that'd be awesome. If you don't, that's understandable.
@Username_Here_ASAP Who have you ever met in your entire life that's better at conversation than you?
Like, in the nearly two decades that we've known one another, I've watched you manage to find common conversational ground with the full literal spectrum of the human experience.
You are, at heart, a story teller.
Let's help tell some stories.
@ajroach42 mannnnnmm you got me choked up.
I got a trip in August for my birthday with Randy and Ash and her best friend, gonna be in PCB from the 19th-26th(ish), with plans that Sunday as well, but until then I'm totally accessible and amenable to this concept. I would very much like to be a part of this.
@email@example.com I don't have any suggestions I can think of at the moment, but I definitely want to listen to this.
@ajroach42 IIRC Brown University has some books bound in human skin. You can't check them out, but you can reserve time with them at the library.
That the kind of thing you mean?
@dustin That's a surprisingly common thing to hear.
Usually the text of those books is found elsewhere, and what makes those objects unique is the object itself.
I'm more talking about media items that are otherwise mundane, other than being needlessly unique, almost always as a result of a legal, financial, or otherwise technical hurdle.
@ajroach42 You might be interested in the photographs in the AP Elkin personal archives at the University of Sydney, which are closed access. They contain images of Aboriginal people and the archives are currently working to identify the people/community/communities who have the authority to grant access. https://www.sydney.edu.au/archives/access-the-archives/indigenous-records.html
Her argument largely boils down to "copyrights", "cost", and "the perfect is the enemy, and in this case, righteous vanquisher, of the good". The first two have some validity, the last is sheer obstructionism.
As Bedfordshire's SM states things, the existence of the archive is more important than access to it, and the argument reads (whether it's intended to or not) as one for doing nothing rather than a best or reasonable effort.
Let's look at the objections ...
Copyright is the most legitimate complaint, though even it applies largely to only 20th century works, nearly all published after 1925. (There are exceptions, this is law, jurisdictions differ. But as a rule that holds.) Copyright is indeed hugely culpable for restricting rather than enabling access to works, as UC Berkeley Law Prof Pam Samuelson has said.
Quantity is the first of the red herrings. If you've a lot of something to do, and actually do want to do something with it, doing something is more likely to get you there than doing nothing. This means devising a plan, prioritising works to process, perhaps setting up processes for new aquisitions such that they're archived on arrival. Even a random sampling is better than nothing. Roughly 140 million books have ever been published, unpublished media (manuscripts, notes, etc.) expand that, but the set is finite.
Quality is the second pink fish. Even low-quality digitisation is better than none for billions of people worldwide. And reasonably quality scans are readily attainable. Several false objections are raised (colour scanning is possible and widely practised). And the best way to improve a process is to practise it, see what works, what doesn't and improve it as you go. So long as the originals exist, they can be re-scanned if technology improves sufficiently that this is justified.
Odd Formats is another canard. If standard formats are easiest to process, work on those first. Categorise and clasify exceptions. Come up with reasonable mechanisms for addressing them. One thing about publishing, and even manuscripts, is that formats tend settle into a reasonable set of widely used formats in large part. Again, with practise comes improvement.
Changing digital formats has greater legitimacy. Both file formats and physical media change with time, though that rate of change seems to have slowed. (Physical media similarly went through several stages of evolution though again, eventually settled on a fairly stable set of formats.) Major file formatss (TIFF and RAW uncompressed images, JPG, GIF, and PNG, Postscript and PDF) are now decades old, and remarkably stable. Digital archivists are looking at long-term storage. Phyiscal media are similarly being designed for long-term archival, on the order of millennia, and there's a pretty good possibility that they'll succeed in this. Meantime, online or nearline storage (disk and tape) can be replicated and upgraded with reasonable ease. Raw storage costs for the entire US Library of Congress is on the order of a few thousand dollars of physical media, and is falling by an order of magnitude every decade. (Provisioning, maintenance, and access costs add to this, but again the sums are quite suprisingly reasonable.)
Fidelity to the original is another "perfect as the enemy of the good" objection. True, no copy will ever fully reproduct all aspects of an original, but ... Porquay no los dos? With both the original and multiple copies (perhaps deep scans --- multiple wavelengths, microscopic resolution, penetrating images, chemical analysis), ever-better fidelity can be achieved. And many works within archives are themselves copies, often by hand, of originals. Duplication through time, and the issues it presents, is already integral to archival, and itself plays a key role in historiography and tracing the spread of documents throughout the ancient world.
Funding and its impacts is another legitimate concern, though past experience strongly suggests that increased access and awareness should improve the argument for preserving archives, facilitating sharing and replication, and even in tackling some of the other concerns such as copyright impediments to providing greater access.
So, yeah, no, I find the arguments given highly unpersuasive.
There are other arguments which could be made:
Authors restricting access to works. Here my feeling is that peer pressure form dead people should have an expiry date. The argument largely stems from copyright. Either an author should take responsibility for deleting works, or it becomes the common heritage of later generations.
Cataloguing and classification. I'm surprised this didn't feature in the video. It's a huge problem with current online archives. Essentially, the problem should already be a major part of an archive's work, and translating metadata to digital formats already a part of existing practice.
Integrity and control. This is the elephant in the room for much of the talk. Again, ultimately the works from the past belong to all of the current generation, and future ones. Archivists are their custodians, but not the gatekeepers to them.
I find it interesting that until a few months ago, this video was the most recent one published by Bedfordshire in years. I'm hoping there's been a change in leadership and philosophy there. And at other archives.
It gets right in to the nitty gritty of "good enough is better than not at all" which so many archivists seem to shy away from.
There is something to be said for clarity and fidelity, but that comes after basic preservation and access.
@ajroach42 Oh, thanks for that.
Trevor Owens, The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation, Johns Hopkins University Press (2018)
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