This last Friday (the 13th!), at U.C. Berkeley, the Digital Library Federation was honored to host a landmark meeting of a group that we have labeled “Lot 49” on the topic of moving image digitization. Our group’s aim is to facilitate broader access to the incredible trove of film and video held in our archives, libraries, museums, broadcast stations, and other sources. Organized by myself and Rick Prelinger of the Prelinger Archives, the meeting pulled together an amazing cast of moving image experts (plus myself: a mere lurker, and amateur aficionado). In round-the-conference table (not picture) order:
- Rick Prelinger (Prelinger Archives / Founder)
- Peter Brantley (DLF / Executive Director)
- Tim Olsen (KQED, Director, Interactive)
- Mike Mashon (Library of Congress / Head, Moving Image Section, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division)
- Jonathan Band (Independent Counsel)
- Jeff Ubois (Archival.TV / President)
- Les Waffen (National Archives and Records Administration / Chief, Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch)
- Eddie Richmond (University of California Los Angeles / Curator, Film & TV Archive)
- Howard Besser (New York University / Director, Moving Image Archiving & Preservation)
- Ricky Erway (OCLC / Program Officer, RLG Programs)
- Peter Kaufman (Intelligent Television / President & CEO)
- Barrie Howard (DLF / Senior Program Manager)
- Carl Fleischhauer (Library of Congress / Project Coordinator, Office of Strategic Intiatives)
- Marshal Breeding (Vanderbilt University Library / Director, Innovative Technologies and Research)
- Karan Sheldon (Northeast Historic Film / Co-Founder)
- Nan Rubin (WNET-Channel Thirteen / Project Director, Preserving Digital Public Television)
- Don Waters (Mellon Foundation / Program Director, Scholarly Communication)
We highlight this as an initial, early conversation; our discussions will be carried out to the entirety of our field for the fuller and wiser articulation that we must obtain.
The motivation for our gathering was the belief that our institutions have a narrow but critical opportunity to draw ourselves together to draft a set of shared understandings that inform our dealings with future partners as a community, rather than a collection of individual actors. We seek to maximize the public good – not vaguely-perceived near-term institutional goals, but rather the larger goals of our organizations: to educate, to teach, to inspire, to inform, and to delight.
Together, we accept as a key principle that access is key to the survival of archives, and digitization the best enabler of access. We therefore pressed together to discuss the best expectations and terms we should hold upon ourselves and others, with pre-eminence placed on policy, rights and universality of access, guardianship of digitized files, and the utilization of the accumulated use information by the public. Technical issues are important, but they are secondary in their import to the more fundamental issues that bind us together, more tightly than those of encodings, compression, and formats.
Although there is a limited amount one might seek to accomplish in a single day’s meeting, we managed to establish a small number of important goals. The following is my interpretation – and extrapolation – of the day and our aims.
1). Principles. In order to make collections accessible to our present and emerging users, we must motivate digitization efforts that primarily serve access. Beyond the mere expansion of access, digitization confers benefits on collections, notably visibility, that has the salutary effect of driving preservation. Nonetheless, digitization for access is a major cultural and mission shift for many archives, and access to archival moving images has traditionally been subsidiary to preservation. We regard access as a spectrum; it is our hope that we can find ways to maximize access to moving image collections to the greatest extent that the law and our means permit.
Lot 49 has named a small task force, chaired by Rick Prelinger, that will elucidate the moving image community’s motivating aims and principles that drive digitization for access. It may be that some of these will reprise the larger goals of our organizations; however there are critical issues that center on making available our content for online discovery and re-use, whilst preserving our heritage collections. These “principles for service,” as we have informally labeled them, will serve to assist us in the derivation of a set of best practices statements. With the foresight that best practices inevitably evolve more rapidly than principles, we will determine an advisory that recognizes the plasticity of technical standards and options, available for redress at more frequent intervals.
Of particular relevance is the solicitation of principles guiding the inevitable and necessary partnerships that aid digitization. To enumerate an early, draft core:
- Public access online to publicly owned resources will remain free.
- Partnerships shall support the joint goals of increased access and enhanced preservation of archival materials.
- Our partnerships will be non-exclusive.
- Our partners will provide our organizations — without charge — a complete set of the digital copies produced by the partnership, and the metadata required to make use of them.
- Ultimately, our organizations will hold unrestricted ownership of these digital copies and metadata.
- Our partnerships will balance the interests of the public with the financial investment of our partners.
- We seek to protect and enhance our organizations’ interests, while respecting the interests of our users, our community, and our partners.
2). Landscape. We perceive that we hold an inadequate understanding of the extent of collections amongst us available for digitization. Public TV stations, small and large libraries, art studios, old and new archives: we all have boxes of reels and tapes remaining still in dark basements or resting on forgotten shelves which are worthy of digitization, and yet rest unseen and unimagined. Our deficit is not the performance of an exhaustive cataloguing, but rather the elicitation of a broader palette of our possibilities. Vital opportunity may drive more detailed describing, but this is not our primary aim. Rather, we seek a determination of basic condition to provide us with an appreciation of need. We will record rights data when available but we shall not perform a precipitate triage on the basis of an IP culture that must inevitably mold into more conducive forms; some things, we know, can wait. Recognizing the tremendous number of surveys and inventories that have been previously undertaken by those similarly concerned, an early meta-analysis of these labors will inform our own endeavors.
We believe that we have identified support for this survey, and Lot 49 will be pursuing it as a priority.
3). Partnerships. As we expand educational and scholarly access to archival moving images, we are conscious that our film and video holdings are of great interest both to the public and to the media community. Many of us have unexpectedly become small, niche players in the larger entertainment industry. We seek to advantage our bargaining position, and better understand our roles and place. We must derive the business and financial models that make sense now and in the near future. We must raise the cultural profile of moving image archives and motivate people to invest time, interest, and funds in our activities, rather than take them, or us, for granted. We must turn a classically passive, service-oriented access model into a proactive model in which archives take initiative to enrich our culture. Foremost, we must market moving image archives to the public as active and available sources for their use.
As we approach partnerships to aid and assist our digitization efforts, we are alert to the preciousness of our collections, and the worth of our gathering and safeguarding them over decades, rather than the value premised on others’ perception of their current market worth. We therefore signal ownership of our business affairs, and will petition the best possible terms for ourselves. We will proactively solicit requests for proposals (RFPs) from a fair field of potential commercial partners, rather than pretty ourselves while we wait for courtship. We shall root RFP terms in our principles, and derive specifications from our best practices, not immediate aims, whimsical desires, or through the provision of lobbyists and interested parties, whose interests may well not be our own.
We seek in our actions the recognition of our community and the mutual respect of our endeavors. For each partnership of consequence we must undertake the solicitation of a digitization impact statement. Among certainly others, these are questions for which an impact statement must elicit answers: What are the ramifications of this digitization for the public? Will it benefit our opportunity to preserve and steward this material? What is the the impact on the institution, and its continuing pursuit of its core mission and values? And what is the impact on the organizations that are our brethren, and their ability to achieve their own aims? Public institutions must make public these impact statements, and when the stakes are believed by reasoned calculation to be exceptionally high, they should involve external consultation.
We may condense the touchstones of our partnerships: a worthy valuation of our collections motivating the command of our own business concerns; the right pursuit of respect amongst our community and our audience, suggesting the preparation of public impact statements for significant undertakings; and the constant reflection on our principles of service, and the derivation of best practices that further the aims of our organizations and society, and the enjoyment and intellectual enrichment of the greatest number.
It was enough for a day. Lot 49 will meet again.