Progress continues on the optical media project here in the Preservation Department. All discs in the University Lecture Series collection have been ripped and are now in the process of being permanently stored. If permissions allow, certain lectures will also be uploaded to the Special Collections’ YouTube channel.
Technically speaking, most of the time so far has been spent navigating the Ripstation, a combination hardware/software system designed to rip large number of optical discs. The collection includes more than 1000 discs, primarily formatted as CD-DA, DVD Video, or data discs. Each of these formats requires a slightly different approach to preservation, typically in the form of what software is used.

The Ripstation at ISU Special Collections.

The Ripstation at ISU Special Collections.

The majority of the discs recorded before 2010 were formatted as Compact Disc-Digital Audio (CD-DA). Because this is also the format most commercial CDs use, Ripstation’s proprietary software (also called Ripstation) was best-suited, as it is optimized for this sort of collection. Discs were ripped into two different formats for both preservation and access purposes. For preservation, the BWF 96khz/24bit format was selected for its lossless, uncompressed quality and its ability to embed desired metadata within the wrapper’s header, thus greatly reducing the chance of intellectual separation between content and metadata. For access, the .MP3 format was selected, because it is widely accepted and supported as an accessible audio format. In addition, of the available output formats, .MP3 can be most easily transcoded into an .MP4 file to upload to Special Collections’ YouTube access channel, with little risk for losing any data.

This transcoding for the access copies is handled by Adobe Media Encoder, as is uploading directly into the Lecture Series playlist. To match the access copies from the magnetic media, part of the Lecture Series collection that has already been uploaded, the desired output is an .MP4 with audio wrapped inside with a logo (YouTube only accepts video files). After upload, we apply closed captions to all files for accessibility.

An overview of the settings used in Media Encoder.

An overview of the settings used in Media Encoder.

For the DVD-Video carriers in the collection, the desired output (perhaps somewhat obviously) differs from the CD-DA carriers. After some experimentation with variants on a data validation workflow, our conclusion was that the optimal output for Special Collections’ purposes was an .ISO disc image, which can be mounted easily as an access copy for researchers.

As the project progressed, some discs we encountered were neither CD-DA nor DVD, but simply data discs onto which .MP3 or other media files had been “dragged and dropped.” These were ripped with the DataGrabber software, and their original file format was maintained.

A selection of the optical discs held in the Lecture Series Collection.

A selection of the optical discs held in the Lecture Series Collection.

What metadata Ripstation uses and where it draws them from varies by the software used, which itself varies by the format of optical disc being ripped. Ripstation’s primary software is the program of the same name, which is intended for CD-DA-formatted discs, typically commercial ones. For automatic metadata population, an internet connection is required, so Ripstation can scour private and open-source databases for the artist, album, track titles, and other relevant metadata per disc. Acquiring metadata this way would not be helpful to the project because of the singular and noncommercial nature of the content. Due to this constraint, as well as networking limitations, this particular Ripstation was left offline.

So from where could the software draw its metadata? Ripstation has accounted for this possibility in the design of the User Data feature. Typically, the names of ripped files could be an assigned structure of metadata that would look something like %D_%A_%Y . Each letter corresponds to an established metadata category, so files named according to this structure will look like “[AlbumName]_[AlbumArtistName]_[AlbumDate]”. This system also allows for user-input metadata, in the form of a .TXT file in the program folder. The User Data system, which allows up to 10 user-defined metadata categories (%0 – %9) and can be used with all Ripstation software, is what we used for this project.

Each disc file was named according to its AV number and container number, according to the information available in the masterlist. For later discs with no container number available, that value was substituted with the date of recording. Batches were named with the reference number of the collection, the container number of the first disc, the container number of the last disc, and (if CD-DA or DVD) the disc type.

Now that all 1000 discs have been ripped, the next phase is twofold: 1. Documenting the project (of which this blog post is a part) and 2. For the lectures without permissions restrictions, encoding and uploading to the Special Collection’s YouTube Channel. This process has already begun, with over 5000 minutes of audio made publicly available so far.

Board Members of the Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium (ICPC) at the Law Library in Des Moines for an annual retreat.

This year I became an official Board Member of the Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium (ICPC). The ICPC hosts an annual meeting for preservation professionals in Iowa and the surrounding region SOS (Save Our Stuff), a Preservation Destination program, and training for the Iowa Museums Archives and Libraries Emergency Response Team (IMALERT). As a board member I get to go on an annual retreat with preservation friends, eat chocolates and donuts and discuss organizational business. Life could not get any more fun! Although I cannot shed light on the top secret information that only board members are privy to (just kidding, it’s actually pretty boring), I will share some of the awesome and curious things that we saw during our visit to Des Moines.

Top: State Library of Iowa building. Image courtesy of Flicker. Bottom: The Capitol building. Image Courtesy of RDG Planning and Design.

The board meeting is usually followed by a tour of whatever site hosted the retreat. This summer we were super lucky to meet at the State Library of Iowa. The library’s archivist, Tom Keyser, led us on an extended tour of the buildings and the underground tunnels beneath them. I took pictures of several things that intrigued me, which I will share in this post.

In the reading room of the State Library of Iowa.

Our first stop was in the reading room of the State Library of Iowa. Tom showed us the most fascinating medical “reference book” that I have ever seen – a replica human skeleton! All of the bones and the associated muscles are labeled in Latin. Before the days of medical school residencies in hospitals, young doctors did their training in the private practices of more experienced doctors, often in rural areas. The plastic skeleton was mailed out to young doctors as study material, then mailed back to the library when it was no longer needed.

Left: The key to interpreting the skeleton. Top right: The skeleton’s library accession number. Bottom right: There is a small hook fastening on the side of the skull to keep the top closed (I anticipate that the brain is inside).

Instead of walking out the building and crossing the street, we went to the basement and walked through a series of underground tunnels to get to the State Capitol. Apparently, many people who work in the two buildings walk the tunnels in the winter for exercise.

The tunnels right next to the State Library were built in the 19th century, and as you move close to the Capitol, the tunnel construction becomes increasingly more contemporary.
We saw a seemingly endless corridor that branched off the main tunnel and an abundance of mysterious pipes of varying dimensions and types.
In the oldest part of the tunnels we saw (bottom left) brick panel ceilings,  (top left) large enclosed areas filled with dirt almost all the way up to the ceiling, and (right) the spookiest janitorial closet ever.

Once we finally made it out of the sub-basement and into the Capitol, color and decorative elements assaulted the eye from every angle. I noticed that the beautiful floors in the State Library were made of mosaic, while in the Capitol the floors are tile.

Floor mosaic in lobby of the State Library of Iowa.
Details of floor tiles in the State Capitol

Both buildings feature a dome, although the Capitol’s dome is much larger.

Left: The interior of the dome in the State Library of Iowa. Right: The interior of the dome in the State Capitol

Both the exterior and the interior of the State Capitol had been renovated. The work was divided into 9 phases, starting in 1983 and ending in 2001 with the total bill of $41 million dollars. The Law Library, which is located inside of the Capitol, had been renovated as well.

Left: Interior of the State Capitol. Right: The Law Library.

The reading room and stacks of the Law Library feature some interesting outdated elements. There is a dumbwaiter, which used to carry books all the way up and down the 5 floors of the State Capitol. There is also a lovely sink and mirror combination in one of the side rooms. It does not have a currently functional plumbing unit. Small iron posts sticking out of the tall columns remind the visitors that the library used to be illuminated by gas lighting. The poles, which are difficult to see in the photograph below, were used to mount the gas lanterns.

Left: Dumbwaiter. Center: Historic sink and mirror. Right: Mount for a gas lantern. Image courtesy of the Iowa Legislature website.

The most rare and valuable books in the collection are housed in the locked A.J. Smalls Room. Some of the highlights are an atlas of hand drawn maps of the Des Moines River and an early edition of William Blackstone’s Commentaries.

Left: Hand-drawn maps of the Des Moines River. Right: Fire-charred copies of Blackstone’s Commentaries
The Iowa State Capitol on fire in January of 1904. Image courtesy of the Iowa Legislature website.

The Commentaries suffered fire damage during the 1904 fire. There is anecdotal evidence that diligent librarians were throwing these books out of the window in order to save them.

The 100 County Court Houses of Iowa.

A quilt featuring images of the 100 county court houses of Iowa hangs high up from a balcony railing in the library. The court houses are organized on the quilt in alphabetical order of the county. On the floor underneath it there is a small stand with a printed chart that explains which building is from which county. Even though each square on the quilt bares the name of the county, it is really hard to see the text from down below. Iowa actually has 99 counties, not 100. But Lee County has two court houses – one in the south and one in the north of the county, bringing the total for the state to an even hundred.

Many Mrs. and the lone Mr. Governor of Iowa.

The display case in the Capitol that I found the most fascinating, features doll representations of spouses of Governors of Iowa. The porcelain-faced dolls all have the same facial features, with different hair styles, and include 40+ wives and 1 husband. The dolls wear replicas of garments that the actual people had worn to their spouses’ inaugurations, thus showcasing many decades of fashion. It appears that some of the gowns would benefit from ministrations of a textiles conservator.

Top: Preservation Alert!! Doll with visible signs of damage in the fabric on her dress. Bottom: Commemorative plaque on the side of the display case.

The State and Law libraries have a breadth of material ranging from fiction to notable Iowa-related legal documents, as well as digital resources. Be sure to visit them on your way through Des Moines.

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Lennox intern –  Amanda Gedeon holding a CD from the ISU Lecture Series Compact Disc Digital Audio Collection


How many CDs and DVDs do you still have?

If you lived through the 90s and the 2000s, chances are you do or at some point did have quite a collection going for you.

They might’ve been meticulously organized, a replacement or even a backup to a larger analogue collection – or maybe they were abandoned the moment you could get iTunes to copy every track for you, onto a device half the size of a CD case or even smaller.  Maybe you still have a couple DVDs mixed into your shelf of Blu-rays. Maybe you haven’t touched a disc of any kind in years.

In the grand scheme of things, CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs – collectively referred to as optical media because of how the discs are read – might not seem very historical. A lot of us can clearly remember their rise to prominence, which makes it difficult to conceptualize them as an at-risk media carrier.

As the 2019 Lennox intern, my project this summer is to develop and implement a workflow for the preserving the Library’s optical disc collection. The majority of the content in the collection is recordings of the University’s Lecture Series.

Part of my curriculum in earning my M.A. in Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image from the University of Amsterdam last year included working on a similar project for VIAA, an organization based in Gent, Belgium tasked with digitizing, archiving, and making accessible heritage materials from Flemish memory institutions like museums and research libraries. A significant part of their focus is on audiovisual material, which these institutions may not have the expertise or the resources to preserve individually. My work with VIAA consisted primarily of research and documentation preparation for their CD/DVD transfer project. At Iowa State I will be moving past this phase of project management and focusing on workflow development and testing.

To this end I’ve spent these first two weeks of my time here becoming familiar with the Parks Library administration, department structure, practices in use, and in particular learning the technical details of the Ripstation – a combination hardware/software device designed to copy large batches of optical discs. My next steps are to draft a rough workflow aiming for two separate outputs: a to-the-bit identical copy of the data as it’s stored on the physical discs, transferred to University storage; and an ADA-compliant access copy to be uploaded to the Lecture Series’ YouTube channel, pending permissions. The workflow will also require a variation to handle processing damaged or difficult discs.

This is an exciting chance to formulate and put in place a practice that could remain at ISU as long as there are optical discs to process. I especially look forward to the technical details that this project holds.

[The preservation department of Parks Library here at Iowa State University offers an internship every year generously funded by the Lennox Foundation with the goal of providing experience and education in preservation work within an academic library to a graduate student or recently graduated student of a preservation or conservation  program. The 2019 recipient of the Lennox Foundation Internship for Preservation Education, Training, & Outreach is Amanda Gedeon.]

Left: A 4-H knit cap. Center: Iowa State Can Koozie. Right: a stereoscope with two images mounted on board.

The Artifact Collection

Organizing storage has always been a problem for museums, libraries, and archives. Space is limited and comes at a premium. Housing and archival practices must be sustainable for the collection to remain within the limits of its designated space in an organized, coherent fashion. Pressed by this need for such a prized commodity, staff are even undertaking a massive transfer of books from the general collection stacks in Parks library to an off-site storage facility. It is imperative to revise current practices for the artifacts storage area in order to provide an efficient framework for the future.

The artifact collection is no small deal. There are over 4,000 objects in the special collections storage space. These range from the typical swag bracelet you might get at an engineering college event to signed Greek Life paddles from the second half of the 20th century to surveying equipment used in the construction of Iowa State College in 1858. There is quite a range of both types of artifacts and sources. Items began being accessioned as far back as 1993—nearly 30 years!

The artifacts in the special collections stacks.

Artifact overflow on the map cases.

The artifacts occupy two aisles of rolling stacks, a back wall of stationary shelving, and are sprawled along the tops of map cases in an adjacent aisle. As the rest of the storage space hosts archival and special collections, there is no more room for the artifacts to go. This is not simply a case of having too many artifacts and not enough shelf space: many of the artifacts have been housed improperly, resulting in wasted space both inside the box and out. Small pins have been placed in much larger boxes along with wads of tissue. This tissue often conceals additional artifacts, putting them at risk for loss. Some artifacts are without proper housing or without any housing at all.

Housing Issues. Clockwise from top left: Framed certificate stored without an enclosure. Multiple boxes have made artifacts difficult to retrieve. A small pin housed in a much larger box. Artifacts stored in non-archival housing.

 

A fair few of the artifacts (nearly 300) do not have records in our museum database, Past Perfect, making them impossible to search for and retrieve. These are at high risk for dissociation, one of the ten primary agents of deterioration, as related artifacts are in separate locations, often without proper documentation linking them. This has rendered the purpose of the artifacts—to be utilized by researchers and archivists—null. At the same time, staff with extensive institutional knowledge of the artifact collection have moved on to other positions, taking some of the objects’ origin stories and associations with them.

Our goals with the artifact rehousing project was to provide documentation for all of the artifacts in the collection, and to implement a more sophisticated and effective housing system than the current method of just throwing things onto the shelf in a box.

Buttons and ribbons in box without label tags or protection.

 

Lead Processing Archivist Rosalie Gartner, Head Conservator Sonya Barron, and myself, Assistant Conservator Cynthia Kapteyn examining artifacts during a meeting.

The Process

We began surveying at the beginning of October, 2018 for 1-2 hours a day. This involved examining the item, inferring its place within the collecting scope, and brainstorming ways to categorize them during the rehousing phase. We entered this information into Past Perfect, our museum database software. As the lead on this project, I organized PastperfectLogosurvey times with colleagues and managed the various tasks involved with documenting objects and researching the collection. Additional time was spent outside of survey hours adding photos into the database as some pictures were blurry or dark, and some records did not have photographs. I utilized the project management software to converse with archivists. There we could ask questions about how seemingly arbitrary artifacts fit into our collecting scope by creating a task. I made tasks for items that needed records in the database so archivists could add them. Tasks were also used to note exact duplicates to be considered for possible deaccession by archivists, or flat, paper objects that could be added to their associated archival collections.

RustedHorseshoe_2003_126

A rusted horseshoe in need of a little TLC (Tender Loving Conservation!).

The main challenge at the beginning of the survey was coming up with housing categories into which we could organize the various objects. Archivists had to come to an agreement about how the objects should be grouped that also satisfied the requirements of preservation and supported ‘browseability’ by staff. In preservation, we wanted to group items by type, and, at a deeper level, subject. For instance, grouping buttons together or textiles together would result in better and more compact housing. Each type of object would then be grouped by subject, such as agriculture or 4-H—two notable collecting areas for the library. This would allow safe, effective and secure storage while supporting archivists’ ability to see a variety of related items at once.

Educational Opportunities

Throughout this process, several resources have been extremely useful. STASHc provides useful solutions to various storage situations, such as this tutorial on hanging rolled storage for oversized objects. We participated in Planning your Re:Org Project, a webinar  that helped us to reconceptualize our storage planning process through worksheets and examples that took us through the processes several institutions went through using the Re:Org method. Free additional workbooks and resources are available on the Re:Org Method page hosted by ICCROM.

 

 

 

FarmCropsIDSeeds_2008_102

One of two boxes of farm crop identification seed vials.

Looking Forward

We are closing in on the final leg of the survey, after which we must organize the object records into working spreadsheets that can be used to plan the rehousing. This plan will involve calculating for rolled and hanging storage for large flat textiles and garments, and possibly incorporating vertical storage for long, thin items like surveying rulers, canes, and flat, obtuse objects such as muskrat skin stretchers.

And now for some highlights from our artifact collection…

 

4-H Dress and pins. Date of origin unknown according to donor paperwork.

 

 

 

De Vry 35MM Film Projector found in the stacks with reel still inside. Our AV and Film Preservation Specialist, Rosie Rowe, identified the film as Kodak Safety acetate.

 

CarversBluePigment_2007_349_003

 Dr. George Washington Carver, educated in agricultural sciences at Iowa State College, was more than just a researcher and producer of peanut products. He also studied dyes and pigments. See this article by ISU professor in textiles and clothing Eulanda Sanders, and ISU alumni PhD candidate Chanmi Hwang for more information.

 

Be sure to check out a great blog post by staff in Special Collections for more neat artifacts!

Image courtesy of www.comicsbeat.com
An image from the pages of Wonder Woman, with Trina Robbins’ signature in the lower left corner. Photo credit: www.comicsbeat.com

History and background

The term “underground comix” defines a style of small press or self-published comic books produced outside of the mainstream styles. The Underground Comix Collection in Iowa State University Library’s Special Collections includes over 1,500 printed comics, hand-drawn sketches and related materials ranging from 1947 to 1995. Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist Amy Bishop notes that while many of the pieces in the collection made their way to the university library in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, records indicate that there are some comics in the collection from as recently as 2007.

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Daily
Fight Girl by Trina Robbins, 1972. Underground Comix Collection,
MS 0636, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the artists who worked in this style created comics that discussed controversial topics and mocked conventional society. Their work explored mature themes like drug and alcohol use, sexuality, violence, feminism, anti-abortion and anti-war sentiments, Black Power, and LGBTQ+ issues. In doing so, the artists and the publishing companies did not adhere to the Comics Code Authority (CCA), which was introduced in 1954 and was intended to censor comic book content. At one time, Underground Comix were banned books.

The official logo of the Comics Code Authority (CCA).

As an aside: While doing a little online research, I came across an interesting blog post on this subject. It was published by The Robert E. Kennedy Library of Cal Poly State University on their Special Collections blog. You could take a brief detour and read it: “Understanding Underground Comix: An Introduction to the Moore Collection.

Covers of selections from the Moore Collection of Underground Comix, Special Collections of the Robert E. Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University. Photo credit: CPSU

People

Many artists published with Underground Comix instead of a larger company because it gave them the opportunity to present their work with less censorship of the X-rated content. Underground Comix greats included cult figures like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Richard Eugene “Grass” Green, Denis Kitchen and Trina Robbins.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton at an event at Lucca Comics & Games in 2014, Tuscany. Photo credit: Creative Commons

You may be surprised to learn that popular TV shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Johnny Quest, and Space Ghost drew their first breath as underground comix. In fact, Trina Robbins, a female artist who published with Underground Comix, was the first to draw Wonder Woman. Richard “Grass” Green was the first African American comix creator to participate in the movement.

Photo courtesy of the Jewish News of Northern California.
Trina Robbins, the first woman comic artist to draw Wonder Woman, poses in a book shop next to her creation. Photo credit: The Jewish News of Northern California.

ISU Library Special Collections also holds a related collection of Clay Geerdes photographs (MS 0630). Clay Geerdes took numerous photos of Underground Comix artists and of their work. Geerdes’ photographs have appeared in many publications and were published as a book, “The Underground Comix Family Album“, in 1998.

Left: Gilbert Shelton inks a page for his Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in Venice, CA, July 1971. Right: Gary Arlington gives a few tips to Armageddon artist Barney Steel in his San Francisco Comic store, 1971. Images from the Clay Geerdes Collection, MS 0630, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library

Conservation treatment

The library’s collection of 3-dimensional artifacts contains a few dozen buttons from the early 1970’s. The buttons feature some of the iconic characters from Underground Comix. Assistant conservator Cynthia Kapteyn and I have recently run into a box of these buttons in the process of doing a comprehensive survey of the library’s artifact collection.

Underground Comix buttons, 1971-1972, Artifact Collection, 2009-R035, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library

Recently we have been seeing lots of Comix at the Preservation lab, both printed issues and artist sketches.

Left: An issue of E.C. Comics Tales from the Crypt, 1953, PN3448 S45 T34x, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library. Right: Crime SuspenStories, 1952, PS648 C7 C74x, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

The printed issues were from the 1950s, published by E.C. Comics. Many of the covers and pages had become torn and creased over time. Chunks of brittle paper have been lost, since these prime examples of ephemera were printed on low quality wood pulp paper and were not made to stand up to time and the relentless deterioration mechanisms of oxidation in cellulose. Mindy Moeller, Senior Conservation Technician, has repaired hundreds of pages using light weight Japanese tissue, pre-coated with a mixture of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose and activated with a light application of de-ionized water.

Mends and fills made with pre-coated Japanese tissue are visible around the edges of the back cover.
Left: A large fill in a back page was made with Japanese tissue that was pre-coated with a mix of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose. Right: A detail from an artist sketch, Underground Comix Collection, MS 0636, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

One of the oversized boxes within the collection holds a number of drawings by an unknown artist associated with Underground Comix. The sketches were taped together with masking tape. The adhesive from the tape has started to penetrate through the paper, giving the paper a translucent oily quality and causing the sketches to stick together.

Using a micro-spatula, Sonya is lifting the edge of a small “speech bubble” fragment, taped over a previous version.

The artist had gone through a fascinating editing process, while creating their story line. If the artist was dissatisfied with a given cell or a speech bubble, they would rework the image or text on a fragment of paper and tape the new fragment over the segment they did not like. The artist used small loops of masking tape to stick down the fragments, so that the tape would not be visible past the edges of the stuck-on fragment. But over time the adhesive from the tape had leeched into the paper, making the tape underneath show through.

Left: A smaller fragment of paper is attached to the larger sketch with loops of masking tape. Right: Masking tape is lifted and a previous iteration of the sketch is revealed under the small fragment.

Masking tape was removed from the sketches and adhesive residue was reduced as much as possible. Mends of Japanese tissue were used to hold the sketches together in place of tape.

A heated spatula is used to remove fragments of masking tape from the reverse side. A Japanese tissue mend runs along the mid-line of the sketch (note the faint white tint).

The artist’s “edits” were reattached to the sketches using small hidden hinges made from Japanese tissue, using wheat starch paste. The sketches look and function in much the same way as they did before the conservation treatment. But the damaging tape adhesive has been removed, so it will no longer contribute to deterioration of the paper.

Other mentions

In the past, the Underground Comix Collection has been mentioned, exhibited and written about by other people on campus too. The Special Collections and University Archives blog, Cardinal Tales, has featured the Underground Comix Collection in 2015 in a post titled “Not Your Ordinary Comic Books”. The staff at Special Collections has used some rather spooky Underground Comix titles for the library’s Halloween Pop-Up Exhibit.

The Special Collections department featured Underground Comix in their Halloween pop-up exhibit in 2017.

The ISU Daily student newspaper had published the article “Underground Comix Have Rich History” in 2013. Student writer Victoria Emery had interviewed ISU College of Design professor John Cunnally about his scholarship related to the collection.

This is my humble homage to the candid and unapologetic art of Underground Comix artists. The image on the left is part of the cover of “The R. Crumb Handbook”, by R. Crumb and P. Poplaski, 2005.

[originally posted July, 2017]

Video_Preservation_Rack_1

A Common Video Preservation Scenario: A researcher requests a copy of a show held in your special collections. It’s a university production from the 1970s, a unique recording on ¾” tape. This tape is an “at-risk” item, because the inherent vulnerabilities of magnetic based media. What do you do? Do you send it out to a vendor, or do you digitize the tape in-house? Where possible, it’s best to digitize at-risk items in-house. It’s faster, it’s more economical over the long-term, and you can maintain your own quality-control standards.

AV preservationists have spent un-countable hours of our lives discussing the best capture format for analog video preservation. But actually… how you send the signal from the deck to the computer’s capture card is the most important aspect of digitizing analog video. You can capture 10-bit 4:2:2 anything, but the quality of what you’re capturing is linked to the signal you’re sending. So with this fact in mind, this post will describe the necessary equipment and guide you through the basic setup required for digitizing your at-risk analog video in-house.

One of the biggest issues that defines magnetic media as “at-risk” is obsolescence. It’s quite difficult to find and maintain the device needed for analog video playback. Prepare to spend some time digging around online or contacting potential dealers to find a functioning playback device. A good place to start looking for old, obsolete AV equipment is the on-campus video production house. They might have old gear hanging around! Or a local television station may have gear to donate to your archives. Be creative. You need well-maintained, industry-grade equipment with as much related documentation as possible. Those dog-eared operational and service manuals are invaluable for maintaining the functionality of old gear.

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RG-59/U 75 Ohms Broadcast BNC Video Cable

Using correct cables and cabling may be the single most important aspect to setting up a video preservation rack. Know your source signal (composite, component, or Y/C ) and send it out using only the highest-grade shielded cable. Remember: Shielding reduces electrical noise and…its impact on signals and…lowers electromagnetic radiation. Shielding prevents cross-talk between cables… Shielding not only protects cable but… machinery and people as well. [1] http://www.wireandcabletips.com/importance-shielding-cabling/

PRO-TIPS: Cables, Cabling, and Termination
• ALWAYS use broadcast-quality RG59 BNC 75ohm cables for video
• ALWAYS prefer XLR (balanced audio) cables to RCA (unbalanced audio) cables
• ALWAYS terminate open loops with 75ohm terminators at end of signal loops*

*But be careful! Improper termination can affect the video signal. A double termination can cut the video signal in half, while a lack of termination will overload the video signal. This might be where you need professional help.

75ohms_1

75ohm Terminator

CONGRATULATIONS!! You have managed to acquire a professional-grade BVU U-matic deck that supports machine control input. Now you are able to control the deck from a computer via a RS-422 cable, not missing any information at the beginning of the tape. This is good. This is why the RS-422 cable is included on the equipment list.

RS-422 - 2

RS-422 cable for Remote Control

Now what about the capture card and computer? I like the AJA KONA LHi capture card and AJA KONA KLHi-Box. Together, these will allow for seamless capture of composite, component, and Y/C (for analog signals) and SDI or HDMI (for digital signals). The KONA LHi works well with Premiere CS6, but it also has its own software that captures SD analog video as 10-bit 4:2:2 uncompressed v210. The Kona LHi is also able to capture closed captioning and timecode information. All of these are required metadata for video preservation. The preservation master could have up to five streams of data per file: a video stream, two audio streams, timecode, and closed captioning CEA-608. With newer computers, you’ll have to place the AJA Kona Li capture card in a thunderbolt expansion case and send the digital video signal from the expansion case to computer‘s thunderbolt in.

Now. It’s very important to place a Time Base Corrector between the deck and the capture card. You also need waveform and vector scope connected post-TBC, so you can monitor and adjust the video signal, using the scopes as your measurement tools. For example, if color bars are in front of the program, you can adjust the luma, chroma, black (set up), and hue (NTSC only) levels to get the best possible signal from the tape. Also, I recommend having all equipment ‘genlocked’ to the same reference to ensure picture stability. For SD composite video, it’s called blackburst – a composite signal of black with no picture data. With all pieces of equipment timed and in-sync, or locked to master sync, you increase the stability of your capture.

My preference for signal monitoring is viewing the signal directly off the deck, as well as post capture card. This helps pinpoint where any problems might occur in the signal. For example, if there is visible signal error on the monitor connected at the end of the chain (post capture), but the video looks good coming straight out of the deck, you can focus your troubleshooting on the cables, settings, and equipment either at or after the TBC point. It’s also important to have a cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor in order to view the video signal as it was originally intended. AND it’s best to have a CRT with blue-only, underscan, and H-V delay features. ‘Blue only’ allows you to calibrate your reference monitor with color bars and monitor your VTR noise. ‘Underscan’ allows you to see every scan line in the video signal, and ‘H-V delay’ allows you to check vertical and horizontal sync. These features will help you get the best signal out of your deck and troubleshoot any signal errors.

This brings me to the last piece of gear to install in your AV Rack: a test pattern generator. A test generator helps you check proper signal flow by sending a test pattern, like color bars, through the signal path. You can also use the color bar test pattern to set display levels – like brightness – and contrast to ensure your monitor is properly calibrated.

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Video Preservation Rack

YOUR EQUIPMENT LIST
• Professional rack*
• Professional-grade decks for each format (U-maticSP, BetaSp, VHS, SVHS, Digibeta, etc.)
• RG59 BNC 75 Ohm cables
• 75 Ohm BNC terminations
• XLR cables
• RS-422 cable
• Time Base Corrector/Proc Amp
• Test generator
• Sync generator
•  ADC Patch bay
• AJA Kona capture card
• AJA Breakout box and cable
• Sonnet Echo Express SE I Thunderbolt 3 to full-height/half-length PCIe card
• Waveform and vector scope monitors
• CRT monitor**
• Computer***
• Calibrated computer monitors
* sturdy, does not wobble, and allows decks to be pulled out easily and safely
** preferably one that has underscan, blue-only, and H/V delay
*** preferably with a high-speed processor, minimum 16GB memory and 1TB storage

Well, I hope this was helpful for anyone wanting to build an AV preservation rack for their special collections. In the next issue of AV Club, I’ll be discussing best practice for embedding technical metadata into files for future digital preservation conservators. Cheers!

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The 150th anniversary of Iowa State University is just around the corner, and to celebrate, Special Collections and University Archives are putting together a brand new exhibit. Titled “We Are ISU: Snapshots of Student Life”, the exhibit will focus on photographs, scrapbooks, journals, t-shirts, and more from past students. There are several collections included within this exhibit, so if you see something that interests you, you can ask the staff in the Special Collections reading room to see other boxes from that collection number to discover what other cool pieces of ISU history may be in there.

The staff at the preservation lab has been busy getting the exhibit ready for  opening day. Boxes from different collections line the book trucks in the lab, waiting to be put on display. A few of the objects have needed minor repair work, like mending tears, removing tape, surface cleaning and attaching hinges for display. This is all done to make sure that the exhibited items are stable enough to be put on display or to be digitized. Each item has been mounted on a custom-fit display stand made from museum-quality mat board. The artifacts will then be installed into the glass exhibit cases in the SCUA Reading Room.

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One of the many book trucks in the preservation lab holding mounted photos for the exhibit.

Conservation Technician Jim Wilcox was able to help me with going through a few of the artifacts for this blog post. One of his favorite items in the exhibit is the Lorris Ann Foster scrapbook, from RS 21/7/147. Lorris created the scrapbook in 2002 and soon after it was donated to Special Collections and University Archives. The scrapbook is full of relics from Foster’s days as an ISU student in the 1940’s, and includes dance cards, photographs, letters, flyers, and even an official University Rule book!  While flipping through the rule book, we came across some of  rules for female students living on campus. The first rule that stood out to me was the female housing quiet hours:

“Quiet hours begin at 7:30 pm and are to continue until 6:30 am.”

The rules continue, listing the curfews the women were to follow, and what days those curfews were extended. Another rule that stood out to me, was this:

“When a woman is leaving Ames at any time she must secure an out-of-town permit from the residence director. Letters of approval for out-of-town trips and all automobile trips should be sent by parents.”

Can you imagine not being able to leave Ames to go shopping without approval from the residence director!?

 

While talking with Jim, I learned some interesting facts about Iowa State University history that I had no idea about. For example, in 1929 Fan Chi Kung, an international student from China, died in a rollover car accident while teaching a fellow student how to drive. Because his family was not able to afford to ship his body back home, he was buried in the University Cemetery. Special Collections holds his photo albums from his time here on campus.

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Photo of Fan Chi Kung sitting at his desk in his room. RS 21/7/49

This photo is from Fan Chi Kung’s photo album, and has the caption “In my room” on the back. According to an information card, many Chinese students rented rooms from a home on Welch Avenue, but it is not clear whether Fan Chi Kung had rented this room there as well. The exhibit captures numerous snapshots of student life from the last 150 years, so you never know what cool things you might discover as you go through the exhibit.

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Special Collections and University Archives Reading room while the former exhibit, the Farmers’ Protest, is removed and the new exhibit, We Are ISU, is installed.

The exhibit opens on March 13th in the Reading Room on the 4th floor of Parks Library, Rm. 403. There will be an online exhibit as well, for people who cannot see it in person. If you are interested in learning more about the earliest student life here on campus, come to the lecture:

What: Student Life at Iowa State: 1869-90
Who: Dr. Douglas Biggs, Professor of History at the University of Nebraska-Kearney
When: Wednesday, March 13th @ 7 pm
Where: Memorial Union, the Sun Room.

To check out the exhibit, visit the reading room from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday-Friday!

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