Monday, June 09, 2014

The Digital Transfer Project- Preserving a University's Analog Past

There they are. Rows of and rows of analog videotape, sitting on shelves stretching yards and yards down the wall. Perhaps the last time a videotape from these shelves was played was 10, 20, or  30 years ago. Each day the videotape sits there, the magnetic particles may start flaking off the polyester base. This breakdown process occurs when the binder that holds the magnetic particles on the polyester base decays on the videotape. These particles may eventually just flake of the tape itself. And remember, polyester can stretch and shrink.

If the videotape had been played over the years, it may have been subjected to a misaligned tape path around the spinning playback heads, or the cassette may have been ejected prematurely, causing tape additional damage. Also you may have difficulty finding an operational playback machine, or one that is in good working condition.

"Each day the videotape sits there, the magnetic particles may start flaking off the polyester base." 

What can universities, campuses, and companies do?
In an interesting sequence of events, the topic of transferring analog videotape to a digital format took on great significance in a very short period of time.  At the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the original impetus to begin transferring videotapes occurred with the gradual removal of VHS players. This occurred when existing or new classrooms were converted to totally digital equipment, and the VHS player would be removed.  This happened on a much larger scale with the construction of Centennial Hall, the first major building to be digitally controlled. In the summer 2014, an e-mail from the IT department was sent to the campus explaining the importance of transferring old analog videotapes, and to be aware of the copyright law. This notice was also included in the campus newsletter, and was quickly picked up by the La Crosse Tribune. The story, "Tale of Tape" explains the magnitude of a duplication project and what it takes to get it moving.

Before long, the story became very popular with the media. CBS affiliate WKBT-TV picked up the story, and did a live 3 minute feature on the idea of transferring videotapes to digital formats.  The story, by  reporter Brittany Schmidt, does a good job of explaining the dilemma of duplication, and the actual process of transferring the videotape to a digital format. In transferring the footage, we typically consider DVD or Blu-Ray, but also a digital media file saved to a portable drive or on-line.  In addition we utilize Mediasite streamming technology and YouTube. On-line video storage web sites allow you to collect analytical utilization data about who is watching, when, and from where, something you cannot easily do with hard media. The duplicated media is then entered into a database, with appropriate metadata, for easy searching.

"On-line video storage web sites allow you to collect analytical utilization data about who is watching, when, and from where, something you cannot easily do with hard media."

After the WKBT story,  FOX and NBC affiliates, WLAX and WEAU carried another version of the story, focusing additionally on how these new digital formats work well in digital classrooms. Duplication is only one part of the project. The other critical issue is to be aware of current copyright law.  To ensure the university was following the correct protocols, a draft of  providing "copyright guidance" for the campus was shared with University of Wisconsin- System Counsel in Madison. After a thorough review, this was distributed to the entire campus to help faculty and staff navigate the sometimes confusing regulations covering copyright of multi-media materials. Support is provided faculty to help to obtain rights, purchasing digital copies, and duplicating copyright-cleared video material. In addition IT provides assistance in editing the material, uploading it to various on-line storage options, and how to promote their materials through social media.

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