Getting the NAS

For years we (the archivists) had grappled with what to do with our electronic records. But in 2018 a couple of things happened that made us realize we really needed to make headway. Up until then, our digitized content was saved onto what we called “scribe drives” which were server drives mapped to our computers. In 2017, we digitized nearly 10 ¼-inch audio reels in the Genie Chance papers, which took up a lot of space, however we could still make do.

But in 2018 we received a request to digitize two 16mm film reels from the Dorothy and Grenold Collins papers. When we sent the film to our vendor, we had it digitized both in high (uncompressed 1080p AVI) and low resolution (h.264, mp4). This would allow us to have a master copy of the film, as well as an access copy. The films’ runtimes were 46 minutes and 34 minutes. The AVI files were both nearly 360 GB, which amounted to nearly one terabyte of data to add to our scribe drives, but we couldn’t. We had maxed them out.

CDs from the Anne Nevaldine papers

Around the same time, we also received the Anne Nevaldine papers. The collection had 4 boxes of 35mm slides, and two stacks and one container of CDs. I had a volunteer put the CDs through our segregation machine and scan them for viruses. (We actually had one CD that had a virus on it, which was, I believe, the first time that happened. We gave the disc to the Library’s IT Department, who were able to remove the virus and gives us our files). The student also saved all of the discs onto an external hard drive. In the end, the digital content of the Nevaldine papers was 315 GB.

A couple weeks after the finding aid for the Anne Nevaldine papers went live, a researcher came in to look at the photographs. She knew Anne, and wanted a reproduction of one of Anne’s photos to be used in a local garden club newsletter. This created an issue. All of the digital files were only on an external hard drive, which had not been backed up yet. And they were high resolution Canon Raw (CR2) files. The researcher computer in the Research Room would not open the CR2 files, and we had no way to ensure the integrity of the files and that the researcher would not accidentally delete them.

Around the same time, I (Veronica), knew I wanted to apply for a couple of grants to digitize some of the audio, video, and film in our collections that was currently inaccessible to researchers unless they paid out of their pockets for the digitization. (For more information regarding these grants, please read: Getting the Grants: Atwood Foundation and CLIR RAR) By this time, our vendor had the option of scanning the 16mm films in 2K, which is a better quality than the 1080p, but also would make the file sizes even larger.

Having the Collins films digitized, the Anne Nevaldine acquisition, and the possibility of receiving two grants, we knew we had to do something. We decided we wanted to have a system where we could save and access all of our digital content, as well as having it backed up, and a way to make read-only copies available to researchers in the Research Room. We initially approached the University’s IT Department to see what we could do. We knew we would probably end up having nearly 5 TB of data right off the bat if we factored in our current digital items and the possibility of future ones. Unfortunately, we were quoted a very high cost by the University’s IT Department. So, we approached the Library’s IT Department for suggestions. After some discussion about what would be appropriate for our needs, Brad, the Library’s PC and Network Administrator, presented us with some options.

We ultimately decided on a Synology DiskStation DS1817+, which cost $848, with WD Gold 10TB HDD drives. We settled on 8 drives (to provide growth space), which cost $375 each for a total of $3000. Then we need a system to hook it to. For that we just used a Windows 10 Desktop, which cost $1065. The total cost was $4913, however we also needed a cloud service provider to backup the files. We ultimately decided to go with Backblaze, which costs $5 a TB per month.

The NAS

This whole system is a network-attached storage system, which means it is a file-level computer data storage server connected to a computer network. We took to calling it “the NAS” for short. After pricing everything, we had to go to Dean Rollins and ask for funding, and he agreed.

After our new system was hooked up, we then had to transfer the files to it and develop a new system for arranging and saving the files. Ultimately, we decided on having three separate drives, two of which would be on the NAS (Master and Access), and one a separate network drive (Reference_Access). The Master drive is the only one that is backed-up to the cloud service provider, Backblaze. Once materials are saved onto the Master drive, they will not be accessed. The Master drive is to act as a dark archive. Therefore, we created the Access drive where archivists can retrieve the digital contents for reference and use purposes. Access is essentially a copy of the Master drive. There is also a Reference_Access drive, which is mapped separately to each computer within the Archives, and not on the NAS. Reference_Access is the drive our users will use to access digital content while they are in the Research Room and contains the access copies and low resolution jpgs of photographs that may be high resolution in the Master and Access drives. The Reference_Access drive on the researcher computer in the Research Room is a read-only drive, which means that users cannot make changes to any items within this drive.

Transferring the files to the new system took about three months of in-consecutive work (I had other projects pop-up during this time and saving 350 GB files takes a while), which could not have been completed without the help of Megan, our volunteer at the time. Our former method of saving digital content was not consistent and we would save items under the collection name, which occasionally created multiple folders for the same collection depending on how the person creating the folder named it. So, we decided that all digital materials would be saved within their collections using the collection call number as the main folder name (i.e. HMC-0001). Within each of these, we decided that there would be three main sub-folders reflecting the type of digital records: Born digital (items that were created electronically), digitized for preservation (items digitized for preservation purposes, such as nitrate photographs, A/V materials, or heavily damaged documents and photographs), and digitized for reference (photographs and documents digitized at high resolution for reference requests).

 

Our files are now organized

 

 

Two of the digitized files within the Johnny Ellis papers

The files within the Born_digital folder of the Johnny Ellis papers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next step was mapping the Reference_Access drive to the researcher computer in the Research Room, and to make it read-only, but only for that computer. After working with the University’s IT Department, Brad was able to make it work. Since it was mapped last spring, the Reference_Access drive has been used by multiple researchers and it works great! They are able to access digital content of collections as easily as looking through a box on a table. And we could not have done it without Brad and Megan’s help, or Dean Rollins for agreeing to give us the funding for the system. We are grateful for all they did and for having a great mechanism for saving our electronic records, at a relatively low cost.

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Getting the grants: Atwood Foundation and CLIR RAR

In 2017, I (Veronica) decided I wanted to digitize the audio, video, and film within our collections. The idea had been in my head for a while, mainly because we kept receiving requests to digitize the audio reels in the Genie Chance papers that contained radio broadcasts related to the 1964 Earthquake. Unfortunately, due to the cost of digitization, the Archives could not afford to digitize these for our users. If a user wanted the item, they would have to pay for the digitization out of their own pocket, which can be expensive. This is not something we like telling our users. Part of our mission is to make the materials in our collections accessible to our researchers, but obsolete formats can make this hard.

I decided I had enough. I began looking for grants to apply for in order help make our A/V materials more accessible. One possibility I saw was the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Recordings at Risk (RAR) Program. For RAR, we could ask for as little as $10,000 and as much as $50,000. I knew I could apply for this grant, but the collections really had to be targeted and pertain to a specific subject given the complexity and word limit for the grant application. I set that one in the back of my head.

I remembered that the Atwood Foundation also could potentially support something like this. However, they award grants that serve Anchorage residents and the vicinity. I decided to speak with them about digitizing the A/V materials in our collections relating to Anchorage. During this meeting, I was also told their other focuses are the arts, journalism, history, and the military community. An idea formed, and I decided I could also digitize our A/V materials that related to Anchorage, which would include those 1964 Earthquake audio reels that are of interest to our users.

But applying to the Atwood Foundation would only cover some of our A/V. In 2018, we received an addition to the Walter Johnson papers. Included in this addition were about 30 audio reels, 5 dictabelts, and one film. I began thinking of our users and new collections. In the previous years, we had received a couple collections relating to Alaska public health and have seen an uptick in reference requests relating to this subject. I also figured we had just the right amount of Alaska public health materials to qualify for the CLIR RAR grant.

Dictabelts

Deciding what I was going to apply for and what collections I wanted to include was the easy part. The hard part was figuring out the formats and number of A/V materials within our collections. When we describe collections, we were never very consistent about using the same terms for A/V materials. Film was typically described as film, rarely indicating if it was 8, 16, or 35mm. Video was typically described as video, and was rarely described as one of the many types of video such as U-matic, VHS, Betamax, Betacam, EIAJ, Hi-8, or 2-inch quad to name a few.

 

Video

More video

Video again

That sent me on a task. First, I had to note every collection in our holdings that had materials in an A/V format. And then note where they were within the collection. Luckily, I also had student workers to help in this, however they would occasionally have troubles telling the difference between film and ¼-inch audio reels. And, well, video can be difficult. It’s easy if it says on the case if it’s U-matic or Betamax, but we are not always fortunate. Luckily, the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association (AMIPA) shares our space and did not seem to mind my seemingly continuous confirmations on format type. (Did you know there are little U-matics and big U-matics? I didn’t.)

I not only had to make a list of the format types, I also had to determine the run time of the items which would help me receive a better estimate from our vendor, Scene Savers. Some were easy. With film, you can base it on the footage, which is sometimes indicated on the reel. If not, you can always use a ruler and a chart. Audio reels are a different story. The run time of an audio reel is dependent on the tape length, the speed at which it was recorded, if it’s monophonic or stereophonic, and if it was recorded in one direction on a single track, or both directions on a double track. Sound confusing? It was. If the creator of the reel did not mark any of this on the back of the box or the actual runtime (which is often), it was almost impossible to estimate. A 600-foot audio reel could run between 1 hour to 15 minutes, depending on all of the variables described above.

I also had to include the descriptions of the items, which would help me to determine what I wanted to have digitized. Although, I had to keep in mind that there is the potential the descriptions written on the items would not always be accurate. And in fact, this was the case for two of the films in the UAA. Athletics moving images collection. They were labeled as being basketball but ended up being footage of volleyball games and practices.

Once a list was made, I then chose the items I wanted to have digitized for the grant and received an estimate from our vendor. The first grant I applied for was the CLIR RAR grant. Writing this grant probably took me nearly four days. For many of the parts in the application, there were word maximums I had to abide by, which was difficult at times given that I was using items from multiple collections with different facets relating to Alaska public health. In a webinar I watched for the CLIR RAR grant, they do recommend choosing items from one collection. For our archives, this would be difficult, since we do not typically have whole collections of A/V materials.

The Atwood Foundation grant, which was a slightly easier application process, probably took me a day to write. Due to funding, however, the grant would have to be spread over three years. Although writing the grant didn’t take too long, determining which collections I would have digitized first took longer. I had to stay under $10,000 a year for digitization, so there ended up being a lot of math involved. I ultimately decided on what our most requested items were, what needed to be digitized due to preservation, and also what I thought would be of interest to our users even though they hadn’t been requested. In the 1990s, the former head of the Archives had several films transferred to VHS and mini-DVs. These films were scanned high resolution for their day; however, they are still on magnetic tape. Since people can view them in the Archives if requested, I decided that these ones would be digitized in the third year of the grant.

I was originally turned down for my first CLIR RAR grant, but I made the necessary changes and resubmitted the grant. It was accepted and was 1 of 20 applications awarded out of 77. My grant to the Atwood Foundation was also successful.

Items to be digitized under CLIR RAR grant.

I sent the materials to our vendor and started with the items under the Atwood Foundation. I was really excited when we received the digitized files of the materials. I plugged in the external hard drive immediately. It was amazing to be able to watch and listen to materials that have been inaccessible for years, and I am happy these are available to our users now as well.

The Atwood Foundation grant has been completed. There are about 70 audio, video, and film available on our YouTube channel, UAA/APU Archives and Special Collections. The rest of the items are available in our Research Room. We also recently received the digitized video that was completed under the CLIR RAR grant and the first materials are online.  Below is a list of the collections in which materials were digitized.

Collections with materials digitized with funding provided by the Atwood Foundation:

Collections with materials digitized with funding provided by the Council on Library and Information Resources Recordings at Risk Program:

 

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New in the Archives, August 2019

Notable news:

Veronica has moved on to a great new job in the Lower 48: Farewell, Veronica, safe travels, and we wish you all the best!

Change of hours: Due to several years of budget cuts at the Consortium Library and the probability of more, the library has a hiring freeze. With Veronica’s departure, this takes us from three archivists to two. Starting in September, our open hours will be reduced to Wednesday-Friday, 10 am – 4 pm or by appointment. Please note: any changes to our schedule will be displayed on our main website.

 

Collections newly available:

HMC-1180: Walter Parker papers; circa 1940-2014. 20 GB addition to the collection. Due to a house fire, some of Mr. Parker’s papers had condition issues (smoke smell, charred elements, water damage) when they came to us. It’s very rare that we digitize for preservation, but in this case the damage to the materials was so severe that the cost of preserving the hard copy was out of our scope. Many Consortium Library student workers as well as the archivists here spent time in digitizing the damaged materials and then evaluating the scans for quality control in order to ensure we were preserving the best copy possible.

HMC-1302: William B. Workman papers; 1963-2005. 2.5 cubic foot addition. Research and writing files from a retired UAA archeology professor.

HMC-1331: Thelma P. Langdon papers; circa 1983-2012. 0.2 cubic feet and 1.53 MB. Personal papers of a nurse.

HMC-1332: J. Ray Langdon papers; circa 1944-2015. 1.0 cubic feet and 2.3 GB. Professional papers of an Alaskan psychiatrist.

HMC-1338: James L. Simpson diary; 1917-1928, bulk 1917-1921. Diary of a man who homesteaded at Chickaloon.

HMC-1339: Alaska Light Opera Theatre records; 1986-1989. 0.46 cubic feet. Programs and set designs of a theater company in Anchorage.

HMC-1340: Epsilon Sigma Alpha. Alpha Iota Chapter records; 1960-2019. 5.0 cubic feet. Records of an Anchorage philanthropic sorority.

Does the above processing list look a little light for our productivity compared to other months? Especially compared to July’s enormous list? There’s a reason for that! On top of all the other things we do, like providing assistance to researchers, working with donors, meetings, and the occasional vacation, we received a large digitization order from researchers needing materials from one of our collections. Our page/time count for that order (so far) is 15,394 pages and over 55 hours of scanning time. Most days we’re really grateful for our overhead scanner, but right now we’re especially thankful for it! (We also used it to digitize most of the damaged documents from the Walt Parker papers mentioned above).

Alaska’s Digital Archives:

44 photographs from Juneau resident slides; undated, 1942-1986. HMC-0740

5 photographs, an identification card, and a document from the Bill Lathan papers; 1973-1977. HMC-1055. Also metadata added to 20 images from the Lathan papers that had been uploaded previously.

17 images from McGlashan and Monsen.

22 videos and 1 film from Atwood family papers, also available on the Archives YouTube channel (Atwood Foundation grant).

Outreach and other:

“Learning is Permanent!” An exhibit on curriculum materials developed for elementary and high school students in the early 1990s is now available for viewing in the Consortium Library Great Room. The documents and memorabilia in the exhibit came from the Dave Rose papers. Mr. Rose was the first executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.

Gwen recorded a podcast with Dr. Emily Moore, an Art History professor at Colorado State University. Dr. Moore did research in the Archives for her recent book, Proud Raven, Panting Wolf: Carving Alaska’s New Deal Totem Parks.

Proud Raven, Panting Wolf

Arlene and Veronica both attended the Society of American Archivists annual meeting. Arlene attended the preconference workshop and meeting days, Veronica attended the conference education sessions.

And last (but perhaps most fun), with Veronica leaving we decided that instead of waiting to do our annual staff portrait for Halloween, we’d do it a little early this year. We took inspiration from the photo in our holdings that gets–by far–the most duplication requests for any single item we hold. We just updated it a little and made it more reflective of our own Alaskan interests.

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Archiving AK episode 18: Emily Moore

In this episode, Gwen interviews Emily Moore, an Art History professor at Colorado State University. Emily did research in the Archives for her recent book, Proud Raven, Panting Wolf: Carving Alaska’s New Deal Totem Parks.

Proud Raven, Panting Wolf

After this episode, Archiving AK will transition to releasing episodes more sporadically, rather than monthly, due to the ongoing budget cuts and being down a person. Thank you all for listening for the past year and a half. Keep following us on our blog and social media for future episodes and updates about what is happening in the Archives.

Check out Emily’s book, Proud Raven, Panting Wolf: Carving Alaska’s New Deal Totem Parks from the Consortium Library, or purchase it from University of Washington Press.

Find the Mildred and Robert Mowrer photograph album and other collections related to tourism in Alaska in our Tourism in Alaska topic guide.

 

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Upcoming changes

Veronica Denison, who has been one of our professional archivists here for six years, will be leaving us at the end of August and moving on to another professional opportunity. Congratulations to Veronica on the great new job but we will miss you very much.

Due to budget cuts, we will not be able to fill her position and will need to reduce our open research hours. Starting in September, we’ll be open from Wednesday to Friday, 10-4 and other times by appointment.

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