Collections


[originally posted July, 2017]

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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.

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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.

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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!

Hortense Butler Heywood papers and microscope slides, early 1900’s

Hortense Butler Heywood was an entomologist who was also a prolific illustrator. A lot of her work focused on the study of dragonflies. The collection of her papers at Iowa State University Archives includes several dozen microscope slides with samples of dragonfly parts. Below are images of some slides and their extreme-zoom closeups. The slides are in fragile condition and would be tricky to view in the reading room on the light box. Digitizing them made a lot of sense. So we did it! And we loved every minute of it. A link to the complete Heywood digital collection can be found on the bottom of the  Women in Science and Engineering webpage:

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, how did we do it exactly?  My first idea was to use the camera attached to the microscope to generate an image. But, sadly, the picture was too blurry and indistinct. Plan B was to use a light box and our nice Nikon D4 SLR camera on the copy stand. The massive resolution of the image files made it possible to zoom in and see the details of the specimens. Without magnification the samples looked like tiny specs of debris. With magnification they were intriguing and presented a direct link to Ms. Heywood’s illustration work.

Organizing the slides

Making sure the slides are organized and ready to go before reformatting starts.

The photo setup

Positioning the slide so that only a minimum amount of cropping is necessary.

Digital imaging

Shooting raw files, at 600 dpi.

Mindy McCoy is editing in Photoshop

The only alteration to the raw files was to crop the images  and to save them as TIFFs.

Lawrence H. Skromme farming goods catalogs

Another digital  adventure, which promises to be ongoing for a while, is working with a comprehensive collection of ephemera related to farm machinery and equipment. The cards, pamphlets and catalogs  date from mid-1800s to early 1900s. This collection is frequently requested in the reading room by students and professors involved in courses on mechanical engineering, agricultural sciences and history of farming.

Archivists from ISU’s Special Collections have already written some blog posts about the Skromme collection: Ephemera in the Archives and Agricultural Machinery Product Literature.

Party in the front. Butcher & Gibbs Plow Co., Imperial Plows advertisement card, date unknown.

Business in the back. Butcher & Gibbs Plow Co., Imperial Plows advertisement card, date unknown.

Many of the catalogs have been used extensively in the field (literally in the field), folded and stuck into pockets, left in barns and tractors – you get the idea… And keep in mind that the paper they were printed on was never meant to last (ephemera!). Direct physical handling of this stuff basically kills it. So, this large collection was a wonderful candidate for digitization. And what fun it has been to review! See for yourselves…

Powerful lady of multi-tasking. J.M. Childs & Co., Tiger Self Dump Wheel Horse Rake advertisement card, not dated.

This image of a patriotically-clad woman riding a roaring tiger, while also managing to plow, has been very inspiring to me.

Project Management:

Clearly, these objects need to be available online so a large number of people can see them. Working on several concurrent digitization projects requires collaboration, concise and clear communication and tight organization across department lines.  Adopting a project management software tool has really enhanced our efforts.

We use Meister Task to track progress of items as they pass through the Selection-Conservation-Digitization-Metadata pipeline. The software is easy to use and visually pleasing. I will even venture to say that using the interface is somewhat intuitive.

Repairs:

What about numerous conservation repairs that are needed to stabilize the super-fragile and damaged ephemera for digitization? My strategy has been to expedite without cutting corners. Using remoistenable (pre-coated) tissue has helped save time. One benefit is the quick drying time. Another benefit is the ability to use 5 gsm or 3.5 gsm tengucho tissue with ease and expediency. The tissues are pre-coated with a mix of diluted wheat starch paste and 4M methyl cellulose, per handout from the 2009 LCCDG/ACDG session. Most of the paper that needs to be mended in this project is lightweight and fragile, so the thinner tissues are a good fit.

Applying remoistenable tissue mends. C. Altman & Co., Buckeye Annual Catalog, 1889

For  many of the pamphlets, the covers have become detached from the textblocks. Since they will be digitized on the OpticBook book-edge scanner, which also functions as a flatbed scanner, it would not make sense to reattach the pages. The materials are archival and are meant  for study purposes, not for display, so I consider toning fills to be unnecessary.

Not attaching covers to textblocks; not toning fills. Aultman, Miller & Co., Swedish Buckeye Catalog, 1899.

Some of the covers and pages that are detached are also very brittle and have numerous tears. It would take too long to mend them all and the page would still not be stable for handling because of its brittleness. Enclosing a page in a Mylar L-sleeve and calling it a day is an acceptable treatment option because the item can be scanned directly through Mylar.

Enclosing the cover in Mylar after mending significant tears; not mending numerous minor tears. C. Altman & Co., Buckeye Annual Catalog, 1889.

This is one of my favorite, most irresistible images from the Skromme Collection. The artists that worked for these companies were incredibly talented and imaginative.

A cutout advertisement made from thick card stock. Bucher & Gibbs Plow Co,. Imperial Plow advertisement card, not dated.

Plow ink! who would have thought?? Bucher & Gibbs Plow Co,. Imperial Plow advertisement card, not dated.

Preserving history of use:

As I mentioned earlier, certain signs of use are evident when examining the catalogs: fold lines, dirt, water damage, ink stains. But there are other signs as well, which I think of as “signs of life”. They are traces of people who inhabited the world with these paper objects. Even though the traces of personal history are not connected to a famous individual or a specific historic event, the altered paper objects do tell a compelling story about American farm life.

Child adds some embellishments with colored pencils  in the parent’s magazine. Charles H. Childs & Co., Riding Cultivators Catalog, 1892.

The culprit’s signature on the other side of the page. Charles H. Childs & Co., Riding Cultivators Catalog, 1892.

This advertisement booklet had blank pages inside. It was used to write down recipes for baked goods and cakes. A delicious read. Instead of using a book-edge scanner, the pages of the booklet will be photographed with a digital camera on the copy stand. The booklet will be opened and supported at 90 degrees in order to safely keep the nail in place

A page with a recipe is attached to the inside of the pamphlet, using a nail. J.M. Childs & Co., Tiger Self Dump Wheel Horse Rake memorandum book, 1884.

My two short months as the 2017 Lennox intern in the preservation lab have quickly come to an end! Even though it feels like I just started yesterday, I have had the opportunity to participate in so many projects in the lab which allowed me to stretch myself and exercise skills in many different areas. Here are a couple of the highlights:

One of my treatment projects was working on two WWI photographs with major losses.

For reference I used Victoria Binder’s article in Topics in Photographic Preservation entitled ‘Digital Fills for Photographs with Glossy Surfaces’

Ex-servicemen working on engines, before and after treatmentThese two silver gelatin photographs showing ISU’s part in post-war rehabilitation of WWI veterans were selected as part of a group of objects which will be shown in an upcoming exhibit by Special Collections/University Archives. Since the photographs will be on display, the large losses to the image area were determined to be distracting for the overall interpretation. I used Adobe Photoshop and a digital image of the photograph to create a fill for each loss that matched the surrounding image area.

Beekeeping, before and after treatment

Each fill was then printed out on glossy photo paper, which gave it a shiny finish that matched the original photograph nearly perfectly, a feature that is very difficult to reproduce manually with traditional materials. Another great feature of creating fills this way is that the color and exposure can be manipulated quickly and easily to match the original photograph exactly, cutting out a lengthy inpainting and color-matching process. One thing to be careful of while making digital fills, which was discussed at length with the curator beforehand, is that the recreation of lost information can easily go too far, verging on suggesting imagery that may not have existed. Therefore, the fills are very nondescript, focusing on light-dark contrast and overall texture instead of completion of objects or figures.

Another great blog post, “Digital Fills to the Rescue” by Rachel Pennimen, can be found on Duke University Libraries blog Preservation Underground.

Throughout my time here Sonya was working on updating the library-wide disaster response and recovery plan. These plans are a crucial part of the institutional planning, and can help significantly reduce response time and overall damage to the collections in the case of an emergency such as a flood or fire. I helped with the updating process by making sure vendor contact information was current, filling in missing sections, and sifting through extant and potential format options to pull useful information and organization ideas and put them together into a streamlined, yet thorough, plan.

Sonya and archivist Laura Sullivan recording information about priority collections in the stacks

One step toward a helpful disaster plan is identifying collection priorities, both in terms of value and sensitivity. To this end, Sonya and I did walkthroughs of Special Collections stacks with the curators to pick out certain items or collections that were especially important to the University. Knowing this information and the inherent sensitivity of the materials in the stacks can help pinpoint objects that should be salvaged first in the event of an emergency. This project taught me a lot about how disaster plans are actually built and are meant to function within a large institution like ISU Library.

My time at ISU was  busy! But I am so happy with all that I learned and accomplished over these two months, and know I will put that experience to good use in my upcoming projects!

Football is a historic tradition at Iowa State and I recently finished a project scanning football programs that range from the early 1900s to the 2010s.

I was able to use our new book edge scanner that made scanning the bound programs easy and gave us a great image. It was been an enjoyable project to see the evolution of these programs over time. From the type of paper used to make the program to the graphic design of the program, many things have changed in football programs over the last 80 years or so. There’s a lot of information shown in these programs beyond just football. While I did get to observe changes in coaching staff and players in the football programs, I also observed a lot of the growth on Iowa State’s campus. By digitizing these programs, I hope that others will be able to observe and appreciate these changes as well. Digitizing these programs is important because there may come a day where programs only exist in the digital form. If paper copies no longer exist, the physical copies we have from the past will become a rare item that will have preserved the information presented in them as well as the traditions they represent at Iowa State.

 On August 8, Sonya and I attended a staff tour of the Library Storage Building (LSB) here at ISU. The offsite storage building holds mostly general collections, with a small number of lower use or larger size special collections items. The tour was a sort of “after” view of the building and storage area, although I was not here to see the “before” tour. The building had been having environmental control issues from leaks in the roof to non-functioning HVAC. “Before” pictures hanging on the wall showed how the staff had to deal with these problems with large tarps and hoses to catch and drain the water away from the collections materials and the electronics powering the compact shelving. After extensive work and repairs including a brand-new roof and HVAC system, the collections storage area now looks amazing!

It was so interesting to hear about the activities that go on behind the scenes at the LSB every day, including interlibrary loans, shelving and organizing newly arrived collections, and working to maintain order of the materials so they can be accessed easily for library users. One interesting thing that I came away with from the tour was just how much environmental control issues can affect workflows. As a conservator, my mind is always on the collections and the impact of inappropriate temperature and humidity on the physical materials. However, the leaks and other problems causes huge problems for the staff as well, who had to wear headlamps at one point just to do their jobs!

Another highlight of the tour was seeing some of the amazing collection materials on display, including trade catalogs with dyed fabric swatches, still vibrant because of the protection from light, as well as some beautiful atlases and architectural sketchbooks. So, go and explore the online catalog, because you never know what treasures are hiding in the LSB!

Just recently we received six volumes of the Ms. Marvel comics. These are an interesting addition to the collection here at Parks Library. It isn’t often that we receive comics like these, but there is a small collection of comics located at Parks. These six comics have been treated with a shield bind to help protect the books on the shelves.

The Superhero genera of comic books is always an interesting read. In this new series Ms. Marvel is a superhero from a new age, and the books themselves are an interesting read. Their art has a healthy amount of silly and seriousness, making the volumes a good light hearted read.

The usefulness of keeping these volumes around is often times not known. Since Iowa State has a very well-known Design college, and comics are a form a literature, multiple colleges on campus benefit from keeping up a modern collection to help students learn and understand the current techniques.

 

Sitting down in front of a computer and scanning pages one by one for hours at a time might not sound appealing, but I find it so interesting to be able to work on a project that allows these special materials to be viewed safely by many people. Recently, I have been working on a scanning project of materials from Hortense Butler Heywood. Heywood was an Iowa native who studied entomology and supported the women’s suffrage movement. A lot of the items I have seen from Heywood’s collection are personal letters, and quite a few of these letters that have small sketches on them. It’s a pretty cool aspect, because even though I will never meet Heywood, I can still see her personality come to life on paper.

It’s also fascinating to make connections with the authors of these historical items. Earlier this semester, I worked on a Pammel Court project, which happened to be where my grandparents lived while my grandpa was going to school at Iowa State. With this project, I found out that Heywood was a teacher for a couple years in Peterson, Iowa, which is where my dad grew up. Finding these little connections makes my work feel so much more personal and makes what can be mind-numbing work more enjoyable.

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