Share in our discoveries across three projects as we work to provide the first intellectual access to our hidden treasures relating to work and labor in early 20th Century New England, the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair and its period, and Boston local TV news.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Creating Finding Aids in CollectiveAccess

You will be hearing more from the project catalogers and interns about the process of creating finding aids in CollectiveAccess, the online database system we are using for our 50 collections of work life. But first, a preview from a non-cataloger. Katrina Dixon will correct my errors of fact. In the meantime, here's front line experience from a learner.

CollectiveAccess is Web enabled, which means that the entire Northeast Historic Film team and our student interns can sign in and do their work in the cataloging software online. Katrina is midway through her instruction of Tim and Betsy, our Simmons GSLIS interns, in how to move their catalog records from the GoogleDocs where they were created into the database.

Here we are editing the Leadbetter Collection, the screen for basic information, including Collection summary, Biographical and historical notes, and Primary extent of collection, in this case, 16mm film.

There is an associated database for "entities," these being personal names and organizations. By recording these names in their own related database we are able to build an authority file, including a number of entries from the LCSH name authority, with donors, creators, and people depicted.

Places are entered into a Georeference field, which draws on Google Maps. This utility is under discussion; CollectiveAccess was originally built with GeoNames, another utility, but Seth Kaufman tells us today that GeoNames has been down for a week. Reliability? Always a factor to weigh when building a complex set of catalog records.

Georeference for South Lincoln, Maine, location of the Leadbetter Collection spool mill.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Color of the Hidden Treasures

When you think of old movies do you think of Black & White films? I wanted to share with you some examples of color that I have found in some of our collections. These frames are from the films in the Camp Runoia and Medomak Camp Collections. While I am a great admirer of B&W film, I am a bigger fan of Kodachrome especially from the 1940s and 50s. When stored in proper condition these films still maintain their bright and vivid colors that bring the images to life.

But I have also noticed that the colors of early Kodachrome 16mm film ( which was introduced in 1935) faded and did not last as well as the later Kodachrome (late 30s-50s). On some reels of film that I have inspected, the filmmaker assembled together various films on a reel and sometimes used various film stock (sometimes of lesser quality) and the less superior film did not fare as well (color faded, warped edges, etc.) even though the films were stored on the same reel and film can. I have included a few frames from those films from the same timeframe and part of these collections for comparison.

Before Kodachrome there was Kodacolor for the amateur filmmaker. When I was inspecting the films in the Aurelius Hinds Collection (part of the 50 Hidden Treasures) I’ve found that they had 4 Kodacolor films. What is so interesting about Kodacolor is that at first they look like black and white film but upon closer inspection you can see the texture of the film caused by the cylindrical lenses embossed in the film. The black and white images under magnification look like normal images except they have very fine vertical lines throughout the image. It is very expensive to have a laboratory transfer them to color so these films are often transferred as is in Black and White with the fine lines showing on the images.

Kodacolor was developed in 1928 for 16mm home movie making. Also known as "lenticular" film, Kodacolor used a special panchromatic black and white film stock embossed with tiny "lenticules." The process also used tri-colored lenses (green, red, blue-violet)on the camera and projector. When projected the images transformed into a color film on the screen. Although not from our collection you can see an example of Kodacolor images here at the Living Room Cinema website. This type of film did not last after Kodachrome was introduced and was discontinued in 1935.

Not all old movies are Black and White. I hope that the examples give you a sense of the sharpness and brightness of well preserved color film (as well as what happens when they are not preserved) and the vividness of these treasured memories.

Screen Capture-Top image:Faded 1936 color film of Medomak Camp leader taking boys on hike.
2nd from top: Faded Ansco film ca.1940s-Camp Runoia instructor with girls in rowboat.
3rd:Kodachrome ca.1943-Camp Runoia- campers and Captain of boat.
4th:Kodachrome ca.1946-Medomak Camp instructor with "Cubs."
5th:Kodachrome ca.1939-1941-Medomak swimming instructor and boys.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Repositories of Cultural History

Kenneth Crews, Columbia University; Sam Brylawski, University of California Santa Barbara; Robert Clarida, Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman; Robert Wolven, Columbia University Libraries; Karan Sheldon, Northeast Historic Film; Eric Schwartz, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.
The Kernochan Center for Law, Media & the Arts, Columbia Law School, with the Rockefeller Archive Center, hosted a day on digital archives and legal issues on Friday, April 16. "Archives and library special collections are repositories of cultural history," yes, we think so, and then we spend a day on legal hurdles.

Thank you to June Besek, who called me with the invitation to participate in the afternoon panel on Sound and Video Archives with the congenial group pictured above. Sam Brylawski suggests we read Besek's study for the LOC's National Recording Preservation Board,
Copyright Issues Relevant to Digital Preservation and Dissemination of Pre-1972 Commercial Sound Recordings by Libraries and Archives. PDF download on the CLIR Website.

William J. Maher, University Archivist at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, offered an overview on barriers to digitization, exhorting us not to pass on our backlogs. The Hidden Collections initiative has allowed us to muscle up to get through our generation's backlog. In the 1980s Northeast Historic Film established collecting practices in largely unexplored areas such as home movies and committed to respecting the fonds and the value of these records...and now we are on a drive to further expose these collections to research.

The Sound and Video Archives roundtable was moderated by Kenny Crews, Director of Columbia University's Copyright Advisory Office. Each of us shared experiences and dilemmas and were offered provocative examples. Robert Clarida opened our eyes to the notion of secondary liability when we offer moving images online from our repositories and provide persistent unique identifiers. "Having a license plate on something may not be a good idea. It may be an archival advantage, but not to your advantage to be identified with it" in case of infringement down the line.

Moving image colleagues in the house: Peter Kaufman, Carol Radovich, Dwight Swanson. Ricky Erway of OCLC Research reported on a survey of digitization projects from Boutique Collections to Massively Massive (publication June 2010). A favorite moment was Robert Sink of the Center for Jewish History noting that we should seek contact with rights holders as promoting potential future donations and support. He urges us to undertake not just a risk assessment (in a day focused on risk) but an opportunity assessment.

The meeting will be streamed online and law students will prepare a transcript for posting.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pondering the Aboutness of Home Movies

Home movies are about families, right? So the main subject heading for them would have to be “Families.” But working with these two collections of home movies, I’m experiencing the different shadings that can exist in images made for a similar purpose.

My Photographic Archiving class is currently reading Susan Sontag’s essay collection On Photography. In it, Sontag writes: “Through photographs, each family constructs a portrait-chronicle of itself—a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness.” Certainly home movies do the same thing. Both of the families whose films I’ve been looking at, the Whipples and the Birds, have succeeded in creating portrait-chronicles.

It’s been challenging to think about choosing a single term to describe each collection as a whole, since there are variations of settings and activities within them. Whereas, upon the evidence of the film images, the Birds’ suburban existence seems circumscribed within an area not far from their home, the Whipples’ is much more expansive. The Bird footage, with its birthday parties and backyard baton-twirling, fits quite cozily into the heading “Families,” perhaps with an addition of “Manners and customs.” But for the Whipples, who spend their summers on a 4000-acre estate, and much of the rest of their time at the beach or on a yacht, my gut leans toward “Recreation” as a heading at least equal to “Families.” I can’t help thinking of them as Kennedyesque in their energy and range of pursuits. Still, I’m not saying they lavish any less attention on their kids, or on portraying the closeness of their family, than the Birds do. But I think researchers who are looking for images of recreation during the late 1920s would find some great material in the Whipple Family collection.

I guess I’m just saying that sometimes I seize up and wonder how judgmental I’m supposed to be about the people in the movies. Well, this is what we’re supposed to be doing, describing the films in an authoritative way. Anyway, I’m not privy to their “real” lives or selves—just what happened when they decided to turn the camera on.

Archival Theory vs. Local Practice

One of the issues that I have had to grapple with during the internships that I have done through Simmons College is that of archival theory vs. local practice. Often times, the two do not correspond very well and can even be directly contradictory. I was initially surprised at the relatively small size of the NHF collection level finding aids compared to the size and scope of the finding aids I was being asked to draft for class assignments. The latter could be several pages in length with each level of minutia vigorously defended by archival theory. What has become more apparent throughout my internships is that this approach is oftentimes not necessary, practical or even possible for many institutions.

Each institution must adapt archival theory to suit their own needs and formulate their own best practices. This allows them to achieve the end goal of providing access to their collections that could not have been accomplished through the constraints of some traditional archival methodologies. In talking with the staff here at NHF, I learned that they have adapted the standards to favor their item level focus in order to provide their users with the kind of access they desire. EAD is used and an overall data structure standard with PBCore to describe the collections at the item level. With the larger of the two collections I am working on, the Charles S. Houston collection, there are fifty-seven reels of film, all of which will be linked to the main finding aid. Also, NHF will be able to attach digital objects to these items to give their users a taste of each reel. For example, I have been selecting both photos and clips to represent the collections I am working on that will accompany their collection level finding aids on the NHF web site. This approach suits both the administrators of the collections at NHF and their user community, which is ultimately the point of an archive. Of course I understand the necessity of learning overarching archival theory, but it seems as if educators could do a better job of explaining the difference between theory and practice so that entering into the workplace is not as much of a culture shock for many students, such as myself.

Gesture in the Factory and at Orphans 7

Work life is often invisible. For more than 20 years, however, the sometimes accidental records of labor have been front and center in my own work life. The image in this post is from a 16mm film collection donated by Dr. Guy Leadbetter, Jr., taken by his father at the John MacGregor Corporation, a Maine factory that made birch spools for the Clark Thread Company.

"Vintage wood thread spools" may be found on Ebay, if you haven't any around the house.

Work at the spool factory in South Lincoln was a dance among mechanized saws, lathes, drills, and tumblers. The women in this photo are sorting newly turned spools. Dr. Leadbetter tells us the reject spools became stove wood.

Bob Brodsky of Brodsky & Treadway ( reminded us at a Northeast Historic Film symposium that gesture is one of the most significant things captured in film. We look to moving images for evidence of the twentieth century accommodation of workers' movements and posture to machine pace and adjacencies.

Last week's Orphans 7 conference at NYU was a remarkable assembly of scholars, archivists, moving image creators, donors, families, students. Kathy Dudding brought a selection of films from New Zealand/Aotearoa. The amateur women filmmakers captured travel and also domestic and work life. My favorite sequence, from a sheep station owner, shows her partner hanging laundry, initiated with a memorable clothes-line wipe.

Screen capture: Leadbetter Collection, inspection line at South Lincoln, Maine, spool mill, ca. 1930.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Digitally Speaking

I quite clearly remember the horror of knowing I would have to “go digital” upon entering library school. Database management systems and XML gave me a nightmarish tic. I had applied based upon my love of books - the intellectual content combined with the book as a physical object - the colour, the smell. The nervous tic was soon replaced with a curiosity (and, dare I say, a thrill) while learning these special languages! I became equally interested in hierarchical database relationships and the standards used to create information that could be shared in systems alongside all that goes with it. That said, I never saw technology or digitization as anything more than a companion to our physical collections.

Digitization was first presented as a means of providing access points. We could provide enough information to highlight holdings, to make collections known. Initial digital lists became collection-level and then item-level finding aids found via searchable digital catalogs. This is where I feel most comfortable. Where technology is utilized to provide access to holdings and representations of collections/items.

The information world has shifted more to a technological race. A race to digitize as much of our collections as possible. Born-digital materials are an altogether different issue, but digitizing our physical collections before our technology is even remotely stable means not only robbing researchers and users of the physical experience of a collection, but creating digital information that we are not sure how to preserve over time (while spending a whole lot of money). Research is informed by knowing who is keeping the information sought. Research is also enhanced by knowing how information relates to other materials within a collection, and, furthermore, how these materials relate to the institution housing them. Removing physicality in lieu of quick and dirty digitization is overshadowing our role as institutions - and arguably providing information directly to users.

The digital does not replace the need nor the contextual significance of the physical, and I was glad to hear this sentiment reinforced in keynote speaker Francis X. Blouin’s opening address at the CLIR Symposium. While I see no perfect solution at the moment, I do enjoy the conversation.

Our project serves as a way to provide access points, complete with digital representations of collections, and encourages the researcher to visit and enjoy the full experience of Northeast Historic Film. I was very aware of the "full experience" first when working at James Madison's Montpelier in Orange, Virginia. I would study his letters for curatorial clues and then sit in his garden for lunch. Viewing film specific to a region in that region affects the connection one makes to the information sought, and informs the way it will be used.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Intro. and Making the Hidden Treasures Accessible

Hello, my name is Monica Nicola and I am the Media Cataloging Assistant for the CLIR Hidden Collections Project, "Intellectual Access to Moving Images of Work Life, 1916-1960." I am a recent graduate of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation and the University of Rochester collaborative Master’s Program in Film Archiving and Preservation. In my role for the project, I have been fortunate in viewing images and working with films from some of the 50 chosen collections at Northeast Historic Film (NHF) that haven't been seen in over 50 years. My responsibilities are varied, but one of my main tasks at NHF is to provide accessible reference copies (DVD, VHS) of the collections for the CLIR Project Catalogers. To give you an idea of what is needed to provide this, here are the steps ( in general) to realizing this objective.

The Camp Runoia Collection is a good example to explain the process. The collection consists of over 75 reels of 16mm film of events at the camp ranging from 1928 until the early 1980s. To begin with I need the file and any records of the collection that are in the current database. All collections at NHF have files which include acquisition, donor information, correspondence, previous inspection sheets, etc. The next step is to locate and pull the film collection from the NHF cold storage vault. I have to look at all of the reels and date the films as closely as possible to when they were made. On Kodak film stock I can look for printed date codes on the edge of the films. Also any written/labeled information on the film cans or reels helps to date the film.

If files,cans, reels or date codes do not provide a time frame the images, under magnification, can give clues by hopefully recognizing styles of clothing, hair, cars, or any signage, etc. I have to say this is also the most enjoyable part particularly if you see some fun, amusing or charming images of the people in these films. The reels then numbered starting at the earliest date (Reel-1,2,3). Each reel is then inspected for any damage, repaired (if needed). One of the most important goals is to provide the least amount of detriment to the original film by transferring the images to BetaSP which will be used to dub reference copies. The original reels are assembled to create 1200 foot reels (which is about 1 hour running time) for transfer. The tapes are dubbed onto DVDs and labeled, ready for viewing. Documentation of the inspection is necessary as well as providing any notable information about the film (gauge, footage, etc.)to the catalogers.

The Camp Runoia Collection was the first collection I worked on practically from scratch and it was (still is for me) a learning experience, quite different than from the school environment I had. And I definitely needed the expertise and guidance of Gemma Perretta, NHF Collections Manager who is a pro in all aspects of this process. The Camp Runoia Collection is now back in the film vault for safe storage. Now that you have an idea of some of my tasks as part of the CLIR project, I will be updating you on the other collections I have been working on and/or any discoveries that I find interesting and hope they will peak your interest.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The CLIR Symposium

The 2010 CLIR Symposium in Washington, D.C. March 29th - 31st offered an invaluable opportunity to explore the CLIR Hidden Collections projects as a community - a community including previous and current project grantees, scholars, and professionals looking to further best practices in creating access to our hidden collections, and, also, seeking the best way to keep the community thriving beyond the granted project periods.

Northeast Historic Film represents one of two media collections funded by the CLIR Mellon Hidden Collections program. Project Manager, Karan Sheldon, and I were glad to split up and offer our sides of various theories and thoughts regarding the best way to provide access to our hidden film treasures. The main theme of our first breakout sessions had us all exploring our usage of scholars in our projects. We then branched into how institutions use emerging professionals and students in grant projects. Both of which really spoke to outreach methods, and the implementation of More Product, Less Process practices. Scholars are likely advocates who can spread the word about collections while singing the praises of institutions, and students (primarily undergraduate populations in university libraries) are used for the quick high-level processing and initial inventory data collection. I like how both groups are used in the development and implementation of management tools/methodology.

I was fortunate to attend a small session focused on the choice and application of standards in a project, and how these choices affect project outcomes. We discussed authority work, collaborations, data conversion issues, and the development of training materials for institutions ranging in size from Ivy League universities to historical societies working with a little less than a handful of permanent staff members. I was one of two people from a smaller institution in the session. I was only one of two people who had been actively defining (providing scope and usage notes) for vocabularies used to describe collections. This is where standards are tricky. We use standardized vocabularies, but not always in the way the defining authority is using them. Why do we not discuss this more? Why are our descriptive vocabularies not transparent and readily available?

Overall, I had a great time getting to know our CLIR community, beginning countless conversations, and am looking forward to continuing them.

Here I am (center) discussing our NHF project poster with Gail Malmgreen (left) of the Tamiment Library at NYU and Mary Morganti (right) of the California Historical Society. We are hoping to help CHS develop the model for their eventual film undertakings!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Research Value

At the Council on Library and Information Resources Hidden Collections program symposium in Washington, D.C. last Monday and Tuesday (Katrina Dixon will report), we considered the impact of More Product Less Process, and discussed the drive for streamlined student and staff output--in tension with subject engagement.

While we are meeting our output goal (ten finding aids through March) and are engaged in team effort to create all-new software tools with CreativeAccess for Moving Images with EAD, we also seize a few moments to celebrate moments of content delight.

One of the collections described last month contains a short edited and intertitled 35mm film about Provincetown, Mass., produced in 1916 by Metro Pictures. As a record of work life we knew that it contained a town crier, a Portuguese fishermen, a woman making bayberry candles, and some footage of fine arts.

We did not know that it depicts the artist and teacher Charles Webster Hawthorne en plein air with his painting students. Hawthorne founded the Cape Cod School of Art, said to be the first outdoor school for figure painting, in Provincetown. He was born in Maine and was a founding member of the Provincetown Art Association in 1914.

Several subject threads arise connecting holdings related to Charles Hawthorne:
1. Hawthorne family home movies at the Library of Congress include film of kayaking; more on that when we describe our Norman Skene film, (he was author of Elements of Yacht Design),
2. Also at LOC, Hawthorne family film of the 1939 New York World's Fair.

This week we received a call from the National Building Museum about their exhibition Designing Tomorrow: America's World's Fairs of the 1930s seeking film of the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. By coincidence, we were surveying our 1938-1940 collections, and talking with the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, and others about the Fair. We expect to find more amateur film of the Fair and its context in our collections and residing quietly in other repositories. Stay tuned.