Hello! My name is Steve Wilcer. I coordinated with WGBH and WUNC Radio in Chapel Hill, North Carolina as a member of the second cohort of fellows for the AAPB Public Broadcast Preservation Fellowship. I am currently working towards a Master of Science in Library Science at the University of North Carolina and plan to graduate next spring. Prior to my time in North Carolina, I studied musicology at the Ohio State University and was exposed to a wide variety of media formats and materials, ranging from microfiche to medieval manuscripts. I developed a strong passion for libraries and archives through these experiences, which led me to pursue a second master’s degree in library science.
Learning as I work
As someone who just entered North Carolina last fall, my work with WUNC Radio offered me a unique opportunity to learn about the area and its people. Public radio provides a versatile platform for education, entertainment, and awareness programming. I was thrilled to experience the myriads of different programs from WUNC over the years and be able to directly contribute to their preservation for the future. During my portion of the fellowship, I was able to digitize approximately forty assets, with most of them being digital audio tapes. I also continued to develop the cataloging and documentation for WUNC, allowing me to experience the digitization and preservation process from a more holistic standpoint.
One particularly informative component of the fellowship for me was the North Carolina Voices special collection: This collection contains materials from two of WUNC’s special program series: Understanding Poverty and Civil War. Understanding Poverty offered a wide assortment of programs and features on various financial and social issues in the state, as well as how North Carolina has developed over the last several decades. The Civil War series contained family stories of ancestors that lived during or served in the United States Civil War. Both series provided me a valuable, more tangible insight into the people of Chapel Hill and North Carolina as I listened to their stories and firsthand experiences. I also had the artistic opportunity to design our thumbnail image for the special collection as it appears on the AAPB.
Building up foundations
Being the second UNC fellow for the project, I was fortunate that our digitization station was already set up and operational. Getting the station to work was a significant challenge for the first round of the fellowship, but fortunately, the station operated without any issues for me, thanks to all the hard work from everyone involved. One of my duties in the project was to build upon the records for the digitized materials and ensure that WUNC’s personal records were uniform and easy to understand. I frequently consulted with WUNC’s Keith Weston to confirm dates, names, and programming details. In some cases, newly rediscovered items forced us to reevaluate how we defined a particular series or piece of programming, and I would edit our records as necessary.
While the fellowship focuses on digitization, cataloging the physical DATs and cassettes I handled proved to be equally important. Without proper labeling and documentation, a given asset could be unknowingly re-recorded and cost extra time. In addition to our digital master table of records, I was responsible for labeling the physical objects and their cases with the newly-determined local identifiers for WUNC. With these markings, the cases can be quickly scanned for items that are yet to be digitized, which will make future digitization projects easier for WUNC.
I developed a strong personal connection to these items as I cataloged and marked them. Each DAT and cassette had a story to tell, and it was up to me to piece together their metadata and see that they were digitized and made publicly accessible so others could listen to them. Being one of the first North Carolina-based organizations to be included in the AAPB was very exciting for me, as our work here was not only a foundation for WUNC and its archives, but for North Carolina as a state, as well. Materials like the WUNC 1953 sign-on event reminded me how long ago some of these recordings were made, and how many more there may still be at WUNC, waiting to be digitized and heard once more.
Overall, the fellowship has been a wonderful opportunity for me. It allowed me to not only develop my abilities handling audio materials and digital records, but also provide me a way to learn about the area and its people and history. I am incredibly grateful for all the support and effort from everyone that allowed this project to be realized: my advisor, Dr. Helen Tibbo, Erica Titkemeyer from the Southern Folklife collection for her technical assistance, Dena Schultz, our first fellow for the project, Keith Weston at WUNC, and all the staff at WGBH for their supervision, planning, and feedback.
Written by Steve Wilcer, PBPF Summer 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.
Excellent post, Steve. And, excellent working with you this past summer, too.