playback 1996

Session Transcripts

March 30, 1996, Afternoon

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STEPHEN GONG: My name is Stephen Gong, and I'm with the University Art Museum at Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. I'm going to moderate this wrap-up session. If you'll hang on just a little bit longer, I want to make sure we have a good conclusion to this ground-breaking conference. We've asked Luke Hones from BAVC to join us and Debbie Hess Norris, of course, who gave a presentation earlier this morning along with Deirdre.

LUKE HONES: Steve, could I make a comment on documentation real quick? There are evaluation forms in your packets, and we're going to need documentation from you, because this is the just second phase of a process that will continue where this conference ends. This round table will be documented not only with transcripts, but we've been photographing it as well, and we need your evaluations, so please fill them out.

STEPHEN: What I would like to do, as much as I can, is just play traffic cop. I think that all throughout the conference, we have been hearing some very good suggestions on things that we all need to do to move forward. And I've made my own sort of list, and I want to ask the other presenters up here to fill in a little bit, and rather than just having an open-ended question and answer, sort of suggestions. I'm going to try to group some of these, and we're going to take them in turn, such as the need to raise public awareness, or the need to insure better documentation of our practices, things like that. You please, out there, keep track and if there's an issue that you believe we can move forward on, make your we don't lose that, but if we move through them, I think it will help in our own documentation of the conference proceedings so that coming out of it, hopefully, we'll have a clear cut sense of the next steps we want to take. I do want to start by complimenting Sally and Luke and BAVC for the hard effort. I know it's been more than three years that I know for certain that they've started into this kind of effort of moving into preservation, and of course there are a number of precedents before this conference, including the Media Alliance's own efforts. This meeting has been very special because of all of you out here. We've had a lot of meetings in the moving image preservation field, meetings to get the Association of Moving Image Archivists started, and itself was over a ten year history. In our meetings before, largely at meetings at the National Alliance of Media Arts Centers, it has been very much people with a great passion and concern for the materials, but without the necessary technical background. At subsequent meetings, people like Jim Wheeler and Jim Lindner and others have joined us to provide that kind of technical expertise that we've so desperately needed. And yet, somewhere along the lines, we've always felt as we concluded those kinds of meetings and discussions, a sense of uncertainty of where to go forward, and how to make the larger impact, to really step through and cross a threshold where we were starting to honestly address these kinds of issues. I think this conference goes that much further, because from the planning, we involved the field of conservators, and our own - in the discussion group that I was involved in, on ethics, it was a wonderful interchange, and I have gained so much, and have a stronger sense of where we fit in on a whole area of practice. The fact is, we don't have to reinvent the wheel. The fact is, I think the conservators field, and all the professional associated fields - what they do is, they allow a place for discussion so that the individual does not feel isolated. So that individual practice using the best technical knowledge can be put out there in the open, and is open to criticism, and if it is a valid procedure and practice, it can be sustained and shared, and that's how real change comes about. So with that, I would say - I believe each and every one of you individually will take away from here approaches, procedures, in your own specific case, and that is one way that we move forward. What we want to try to talk about here, though, is the collectivity. How we as a whole group of stakeholders - and I think that's a good term - here we have archivists, we have curators, conservators, we have people involved in caring for collections of all kinds, in a commercial realm as well as in a nonprofit or arts field. These are all part of our cultural legacy and our heritage, and I know from people who are involved in looking after commercial collections, these are no less of importance, and they bring no less of a passion and a commitment to the preservation of their objects. So how can we move together collectively is the thing I think we want to keep in mind, and I will just note a few, and then I'm going to ask for some comments from my fellow speakers up here. I noted that we talked about specifically the need to increase communication in the field. We noted the need for database, for an active database of equipment, manuals, and the expertise that relates to obsolete formats. There was the need to impact the education system and the training of conservators, archivists and the like. There was the need, repeated again and again, for increased and standardized documentation. That's documentation in the acquisitions all through the conservation treatment process. Furthermore, there would be the need for a priority list of investigation into the science of, perhaps and most importantly, cleaning and remastering. That's a little bit of my list. Debbie, did you have anything that you would suggest that we should be discussing?

DEBBIE HESS NORRIS: I've got lots of lists. But if you break them into categories, Stephen, you've gotten most of the areas that we've really talked about. The question is not only developing these lists, which we need to do and get your input on, but really identifying how do we insure that some of these activities continue? And some things are more straight-forward and easily done. For example, we can continue the work of the working groups, perhaps, though unfunded at the time. There's still a lot of work that these groups can do, particularly in collaboration with others who may want to join in, for example, the working group on ethics made great progress, and yet there's probably more that they could do if they continue to pursue these areas, and those areas of ethics definitely dovetail directly with the issues of documentation that you addressed. Not only the issues of documentation, but the importance of continuing to investigate, for example, cleaning techniques for videotape materials, to insure that we have a real good understanding of the short and long term implications of these various materials, and to encourage those who are involved in cleaning of videotapes to share their knowledge and to work collectively in much the same way that is done traditionally in the conservation field. All this is part of those ethical considerations, so I would strongly encourage this group to continue those discussions. But in terms of my list, it's actually quite similar to the one that you presented, it's just a matter of hashing this out, for example, as someone who's directly involved in education and training of conservators - and there are only three graduate programs in conservation in the United States - I guess you are probably aware of that. The University of Delaware, Buffalo State College and New York University that train conservators in the broad areas of the conservation of cultural property; there's also a program at the University of Texas that's dedicated primarily to the library and archival materials, so I suppose you could say that there's four. As I sat here, as someone who's involved in education, one thing I think the educators can make a commitment to - including magnetic media in the curriculum, so that all conservators are better informed about these materials from a preservation point of view, but I'm still at a loss as to how to develop individuals who are entirely dedicated to the preservation of video materials, along the lines of the work that Jim Lindner does, for example, and so many of you do, involved in the conservation and restoration of video. I'm not sure that the existing program can really take that on, but there must be programs in place that could begin to really dedicate themselves to training conservators in these areas.

STEPHEN: Luke, do you have anything to add?

LUKE HONES: I wanted to add one thing that I think is important when - for people who are dealing with those of us who have more of a technical bent. And that is, especially people who are interested in the idea of video conservation, and working on that inside the field of conservation. And that is, I think it's important that those individuals take some basic video production classes and actually get involved with doing productions, so it's clear to them the process that is going on. Because while there were a lot of technical issues discussed during this round table, in a lot of instances there was a very broad brush that we talked about, some of the technical issues, and I think it's important that anyone who is interested in what's happening with videotape needs to know how those programs on videotape are created. And I could just suggest that one of the best places possibly in most communities is a public access station, where it's usually a reasonably inexpensive way of learning how to do video production, and also there's a lot of opportunity for video production.

DEIRDRE: I was posing an analogy that, particularly for an audience concerned with television, that there's not much controversy over the significance of a broadcast like Ken Burns' series on the Civil War, and that to make this, it was dependent largely upon what was then the photographic record - a relatively new medium at the time, barely thirty years old, and it was as important that what was preserved were...[change of tape]...then-young medium of photography, which has been preserved, as well as the letters and diary entries of the people living at that time. A documentary maker a hundred years from now, who wanted to look back and make a comparable program about the Gulf War, would have to have access to home video. Because during this war, letters, diary entries, snapshots largely were covered in the home video format. And I used this analogy, because I felt that in thinking about the significance of cultural material, that while the home market is something that many would like to ignore, the manufacturers, sometimes the conservators, it's baffling - overwhelming - to contemplate what it would mean to deal with the large arena. We as scholars, as people concerned with our own time, really do need to think about the broad realm of what is a significant document, and how we explain ourselves, how we know who we are.

STEPHEN GONG: I'll open the floor up for individual comments. Let me start with topic one, then. First of all, one of the fundamental things in moving forward, so we don't leave here with the sense that the conversations are all well and good, and even a publication comes forth, but in two or three years, we'll need to get together again to hash out the same questions about what format should we transfer to, and what cleaning methods should we use, I want to suggest , first of all: is there a way that we can increase and make more effective, the communication in the field. The collective experience so that we can start to have agreed-upon standards upon which, among other things, documentation would be based, and I'm going to propose that a logical - we know there are a number of affinity groups around. I'll first acknowledge that, and some of the individuals in here may belong to the IAC, or SMPTEor others. One of the groups that I would like to speak to, and I know there are some representatives, I want to ask their input, is could not the Association of Moving Image Archivistsand through its various means of keeping the field informed, including a list serve on the World Wide Web, if that would not be a place that we could make a recommendation, that an ongoing discussion be kept up. And I wonder, Greg, could you address this?

GREG: [Unintelligible]

STEPHEN: Right. People who are interested in moving image preservation, broadly so, right now it is made up of people involved in film preservation, as well as magnetic or video preservation. I've gained so much from sitting in, as it were, on the interchange between experts in the field. Yes, Greg?

GREG: Luke mentioned that this conference was the second stage in the process, what are the next stages?

LUKE HONES: Well, we're going to be transcribing all of this, and I know that the people who gave papers here are going to go back with the input that they've received, and they're going to finish a paper on it. And that was really the - the intent was to get this information out to conservators and also the funders who funded this activity were very interested in knowing where the state of video preservation or conservation stood. I think the next steps are going to be informed by what the conservators are thinking.

MAN: [Unintelligible]

STEPHEN: Thank you for that. I would suggest it may be on too quick a track to have all of the proceedings published, but one of the things, if we can note that one of the strong recommendations coming out of it in a summary or conclusion, is to advise or be informed that the National Library of Congress ... Sally, you've been talking to the Library of Congress, unfortunately, they couldn't be here, but...

SALLY: [Unintelligible]

LUKE: They definitely want to hear what happened here this weekend.

DEIRDRE: May I say something? Having given testimony at the New York hearing, what was most apparent to me was what the Library of Congress is looking for is very particular recommendations. And depending on who was giving testimony, they looked for different things. I spoke as a scholar making the case for why this material was valuable, and the question that I was asked was, "Would it be a good idea to come up with a list of 25 titles that could be preserved to raise national attention?" Twenty-five titles. And I said, that's a great beginning. Let's start with 25 titles, but that, by no means, is the end of it. But that was the - I don't mean to be critical, because I see the value in beginning with a best-seller list, your top, Oscar-nominee kind of approach to this. It's a beginning, but they're also looking for partnerships in preservation, and I spoke with another academic, and the follow-up question was, and would there be academic institutions who might be interested in doing this archiving? And I thought, well, most of my experience is that there's less money in universities than just about anywhere else; we barely get paid. And the other question that was asked was, who would be the right group of people to make this selection of 25 titles in television and video. So this is the entire universe. And the suggestion was that perhaps the Society of Cinema Studies might be a good choice. And maybe because I'm not a member, I said I didn't think that was a good idea, either, because of the coalition of professionals who are really involved in determining, evaluating, selecting, prioritizing, needs to be far greater than any single academic group, and needs to involve curators and directors of museums, and artists, and academics, and a much wider array of people. And while I think that they were happy to hear this, they were not happy because they would like some very concrete proposals to implement. If I could just add one point. When the network news archivists spoke, the reaction was very different, and I want to give the Librarians of Congress their due here, because they were very insistent in riding these representatives of the network who were very busy protecting corporate assets and corporate product, in terms of their responsibility to preserve and make accessible to the public what is becoming our record, our knowledge of ourselves in the world, the way in which we think about ourselves, and that this is not an arena that can be seen as something that can be sold, bought, and dealt with in terms of the copyright issues we were referring to earlier. And that they have a responsibility not just to preserve their own investment, but to set the record available - not just for scholars, but for the public at large. So, I think the networks were not terribly enthusiastic about meeting this challenge, this responsibility, but that was part of what was being set out there. So I think in terms of thinking about what this organization of concerned scholars and professionals might do is, in writing whatever testimony you have, you think in very concrete terms about what you think needs to be done, and maybe how this could be implemented in tangible, practical ways. Because I think that's going to be the most useful. There's a great deal of will on the part of the Library of Congress to see this happen, and that was, to me, when I said earlier I'm optimistic, I am very much encouraged that this is happening, but we cannot look to them to provide us with the money or the resources. That's not where it's coming from. They're in a position to broker - to try and put together partnerships of expertise and resources, but it's really up to us to come up with some very practical suggestions.

STEPHEN: If I could wrap up at least where we are with regard to providing additional input to the Library of Congress' efforts to present a report having to do with television materials, I believe, is their mandate, and that is, that proceedings of this conference, abstracts of the papers, we are encouraging individual letters, we are encouraging adding to this process our sense of the priorities that need to be done. I encourage, especially, the individual actions. Now, having said that, Deirdre reminded us, there is only so much that report does. I want to remind us, the Library of Congress plays other very important roles outside of this one study. The Library of Congress helps establish the standards in many areas of library and conservation practice. Not the least of which has to do with cataloging terms - cataloging rules and thesauri. And it seems to me that we have identified a tremendous need to standardize some of the language in our field, and I wonder if anyone who has worked more closely in developing, cataloging and other terminology, other standards and thesauri, if you could share with us what the most effective route would be to have a process of standardization that would be recognized by a body such as Library of Congress, if we could proceed on that. Henry Mattoon mentioned some of the groups that would be involved - the American Library Association, the Society of American Archivists, and MARBI - and I'm not sure what - do you know what that stands for? You'll let me know.

LUKE HONES: I'm just wondering, are the people planning on going to NAB willing to serve as tour guides for the uninitiated? Because you've got to take your walking shoes.

DEBBIE HESS NORRIS: I'd like to follow up on AMIA. I was planning after this conference to go back to my board - again, the American Institute for Conservation, this is the organization for professional conservators in the United States - to suggest that we form a special interest group in magnetic media. Right now, we have a number of specialty groups--photographic materials, book and paper, wooden artifacts, objects, etc. But we don't have anything that even begins to address magnetic media, and perhaps if we form a special interest group, we can work with AMIA on issues of documentation and begin some sort of cooperation. Ideally, you try and get individuals to join both organizations, but sometimes that doesn't happen, so perhaps we can do it on an organizational basis as well.

JIM: I'd like to talk about the importance of relationships with vendors. How many people here buy more than a thousand dollars of videotape a year? By hands. How many people buy more than ten thousand dollars a year? Four. How many people buy more than a hundred thousand dollars a year? There's one person. They are not going to listen to you unless you buy stuff. A message to the world. One of the ways - if you don't have a budget where you buy stuff, is to find the people in your organization that do. And talk to them. A good example of that is, the archiving and the purchasing departments, generally speaking, are different departments in a very big company. Generally speaking, they talk to each other, but their concerns are not cross-fertilized. If you buy fifty million dollars worth of videotape a year, and you're the purchasing department, and you're talking to people in the archive area and the archive people say, you know, longevity is something that's really important to us, the sourcing person will then in turn refer them to the vendor and start having a discourse on longevity. And then all of a sudden the vendors are real interested in it. Which makes a certain sense. I strongly recommend that you develop political alliances within your organization, or even within other organizations that you're familiar with in your region, to try to develop a forward motion in dealing with vendors and convince them that you're worth talking to.

STEPHEN GONG: I want to ask all of your permission to share your names and addresses and phone numbers with one another. Is that - if you do not agree, will you please let Sally or Luke know if you don't want to be listed, otherwise, part of the conference proceedings that will be sent, and hopefully sent in advance of all of the reports being done. I think one of the things right off is to share the participants, so that if any of you want to follow up individually with some of the people here, you will have the means to do that. Who here does not have EMail, access to EMail? Are there a sizable number of people who do not have access to EMail? That's not too bad. Walter Henry is offering the resources of Stanford University to host the server.

Regarding the working groups, we had, for instance, up for discussion further investigation into technical questions, and I do hope that group presses forward and continues, maybe works with the AMIA preservation group, but looks at something quite specific on saying, what are the recommended practices, say, in cleaning and remastering? I know Peter Brothers gave me some interesting information I didn't know, just about trying to substantiate the practice in cleaning, and the using of various blades, and wives' tales associated with this. Anyway, I think there are a number of topics that should be addressed by a group, and then as we all want to share in and get the latest information back from that, it will be done. Again, I don't know if we want to try to constitute our own discussion group and consider this the universe, or if it isn't better to build into something like AMIA, which has a longer life.

[Endof audio tapes]

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