Hello, my name is Tanya Yule and I am one of the five, in the first cohort of the AAPB Public Broadcast Preservation Fellows. Later this month I will be receiving my Masters in Library and Information Science, and an advanced certificate in Digital Assets Management from San Josè State University, with an emphasis in archives and preservation. When I began the program at SJSU it was with a focus on photography preservation; this was initially a means of utilizing my background in historic photography practices as a way to protect and preserve images for future generations. However, through my work at the Hoover Institution Archives (where I am an intern), I began to fall in love with working in all areas of archives, not just with photographs, and have had the fortunate experience to process incredible collections that range from the Russian Revolution to the Vietnam War, each providing a unique glimpse of someone’s life that I get to describe, organize, and preserve for future generations. When the fellowship was posted, I had a “this was made for me” moment and applied instantly. I have wanted to work with A/V media for quite sometime, and have yet to have the opportunity, until now.
For the last three-months I have been entrenched in material spanning the globe; each item as unique as the next, and giving me more in return than I was prepared for. As I am sitting here trying to tap out a structure and synthesis of what the heck just occurred during the American Archive of Public Broadcasting’s Preservation Fellowship, I am almost overwhelmed with the task.
The specialness of this particular fellowship has been based in the opportunity to work with at-risk magnetic media, multiple stakeholders, and learn a very complex technique for capturing. I was fortunate to be able to work with two amazing San Francisco based non-profit organizations that focus on representing arts and culture for underrepresented communities, and have been pillars in what they do for several decades. The collection I worked from came from the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM); CAAM isn’t a traditional archives, but their holdings are significant and represent a wide range of diverse films and documentaries; many which have appeared on local and national PBS stations over the years. The collection contained U-matic, Betacam, and Digibeta tapes, many which haven’t been viewed in decades. The majority of the fellowship was spent over at the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), under the watchful (and extremely patient and knowledgeable) eye of Jackie Jay. I was fortunate to be able to have my experience take place with the help of a staff that do this work daily, and could help me capture and learn in the best possible situation. I would like to also give a shout out to Morgan Morel for suffering though my lack of commandline knowledge, he has inspired me to take a python class when this is all over.
What is in a name?
While inventorying the items for the collection at CAAM, I couldn’t help but be curious about some of the titles: Anatomy of a Springroll, Dollar a Day, 10 Cents a Dance, A Village Called Versailles, Sewing Woman, to name a few. Since all of the items are on some form of video (magnetic media) it isn’t as easy as just popping in a deck and taking a peek. While capturing in the dark room with my noise cancelling headphones on, there were moments that I would literally laugh out loud, or cry; the subjects are heavy, as is the perspective and history, my work at the Hoover Archives had helped prepare me for dealing with difficult collections, especially when it comes to visual materials regarding war and atrocities.
Cleaning, cleaning, and some baking!
I soon learned that the majority of my time was in making sure that the decks and tapes were in tip-top shape before capturing. It is quite amazing how much time is spent cleaning tapes, cleaning the decks, baking tapes (in a really high tech food dehydrator), re-cleaning tapes, and re-cleaning machines, as well as setting up levels and making sure that the item being digitized is as close to the original as possible. The cleaning ensures that there is no transfer of dust or debris from another tape, and that the output from the deck is precise. I am extremely fortunate to have my digitization station at BAVC, as they understand the fundamentals of video preservation and digitization, and helped me learn more about the process then I thought I would be capable of in such a short time.
About the collection
As archivists often times we really don’t know what the collection is “about” until the end, there are usually surprises, and most the times these records don’t come with a “read me” file, so I figured I would save this portion to the end as well. The collection as a whole speaks to the diversity of Asian American life, culture, and experiences; evoking the universal struggle of the human condition. When curating the featured films for the AAPB Special Collections page it was difficult to choose, however, many of the films tell the history of women who have defied odds, been outspoken, or who had sacrificed so much for so little in return, I wanted to put these women upfront and recognize their stories and the ones who decided to tell them.
Having this wonderful opportunity to participate in this fellowship while completing my degree allowed me to expand my technical and historical knowledge base, which I am forever grateful for. I would like to thank SJSU and my wonderful advisor Alyce Scott, James Ott and Davin Agatep at the CAAM for helping me out with the project, the entire preservation crew at BAVC for making sure I didn’t break anything, and of course the AAPB and all of the wonderful WGBH folks that made this fellowship happen.
If you are interested in learning more, here is a Q & A I did with CAAM when I started, you can also follow #aapbpf for photos of the stations and process.
Written by Tanya Yule, PBPF Spring 2018 Cohort
The Public Broadcasting Preservation Fellowship (PBPF), funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, supports ten graduate student fellows at University of North Carolina, San Jose State University, Clayton State University, University of Missouri, and University of Oklahoma in digitizing at-risk materials at public media organizations around the country. Host sites include the Center for Asian American Media, Georgia Public Broadcasting, WUNC, the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, and KOPN Community Radio. Contents digitized by the fellows will be preserved in the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. The grant also supports participating universities in developing long-term programs around audiovisual preservation and ongoing partnerships with their local public media stations.
For more updates on the Public Broadcasting Preservation Fellowship project, follow the project at pbpf.americanarchive.org and on Twitter at #aapbpf, and come back in a few months to check out the results of their work.