Digitizing Public Media at the Center for Public Television & Radio at University of Alabama: An On-the-Ground Report from PBPF Fellow Hannah Hurdle During a Pandemic

The Alabama Experience; Gather Unto Thy People

I am so grateful I was able to continue my fellowship with WGBH and The American Archive of Public Broadcasting last semester. Comparing the Spring 2020 semester to Fall 2019 while working on my digitization project with the Center for Public Television and Radio at the University of Alabama (CPT&R) is like night and day. Because I was already familiar with the equipment and my station was set up, I was able to get to work much earlier in the semester, and I was able to digitize 26 hours’ worth of tapes before I had to leave the University mid-March due to Covid-19.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, midway through the Spring semester, I had to complete the rest of my work at home. Thankfully, this was less of a challenge than it could have been. All I had left to do, since I could no longer digitize material, was finish writing descriptions for the programs, create proxy files, run MD5 checksums, create GUIDs, and complete my special collection. While it seemed like a lot, I felt more capable completing all of this than I did last semester.

One of the biggest challenges I ran into included running MD5 checksums on my master files. The work of creating an MD5 checksum was probably the longest part of the process. It took almost five days to be completed. I also had issues with the Archival Management System (AMS). Unlike last semester, my CSV files for the tapes ingested into the AMS easily; however, the AMS kept timing out, which meant I had to upload multiple CSV files over a period of several days just to get all the GUIDs made. However, this entire process was still much easier compared to last semester. Last semester was definitely a learning curve.

Access The Alabama Experience Collection online.

In the end, I built off the The Alabama Experience special collection I began in the fall and was able to add an additional 48 programs. All the new programs are either from The Alabama Experience series produced by CPT&R or they are different specials or programs produced by the Center. This semester I only worked with BetaCamSP tapes. Some of the programs I digitized include:

Life Time

The program focuses on children with disabilities and the many difficulties and realities they face, which may improve with adulthood, but will also take different forms as they grow older. This piece looks at the lives of children and adults with down syndrome to see what their lives are like as well as the lives of their families.

Tracing the Free State of Winston

The program traces the free state of Winston going from the Sipsey river to Native American ceremonial grounds and the natural bridge. It also looks at Winston’s role in the civil war, their actions to stay on the side of the Union or to remain neutral, and the consequences that came from those decisions.

Where We Once Stood: The Lincoln School Story

Julian Bond, American social activist, leader of the civil rights movement, narrates this program.

The program looks at the Lincoln School in Marion, AL. The Lincoln School is far more than an instructional center; rather, it was a school ahead of its time. This piece focuses on the significance of the Lincoln School for African Americans when it came to education. It highlights the history of Marion as well as the history, impact, and significance of the Lincoln School.

Triptik: Traveling Alabama’s Highway 90

The program travels along highway 90 where there are a variety of things to see and people to meet. Some stops along the way include Steve Foley’s place where he works as a horse trainer, Norm the Tireman, fishing on the Causeway in Mobile Bay, historic homes in Mobile, Church Street Cemetery, Whataburger, Mobile International Speedway, and Freeland Produce.

Gather Unto Thy People

The program follows along with dedication day, a time to celebrate and visit with past loved ones, at churches all over the state of Alabama. These churches include: Bivens Chapel Methodist Church in Jefferson County, Mount Zion Freewill Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa County, Cathmagby Baptist Church in Elmore County, and Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church in Marengo County. The piece highlights these churches individual traditions for their dedication days, the preparation involved, the history behind dedication day, as well as individual stories about passed loved ones.

Overall, I have learned so much and gained considerable confidence in my work as a digital archivist. Before I started my graduate degree at the University of Alabama in Library and Information Studies, I did not have much interest in archival work. I never would have thought I would participate in an opportunity like this. While I was worried about it when I started this fellowship back in August 2019, I am so glad I took on the challenge. I have learned a lot not only about digital archival work but also about myself.

This blog post was written by Hannah Hurdle, a University of Alabama Public Broadcasting Preservation Fellow at the UA Center for Public Television and Radio.

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