Monthly Archives: April 2018

Shifting Collections to Maximize Space

We recently completed a two phase project that included a MASSIVE shifting of our collections on the fifth floor. This project was carried through in large part by our Public Services team, Rachel Lilley and Trevor Sandgathe. In this interview, they reflect on the project and what it means for the department and our researchers.

What is your role in SCARC and how long have you worked here?

TS: I am an archivist with SCARC. I help coordinate our public services, arrange and describe collection materials, and oversee our collections storage. I began working at the OSU Special Collections as a student employee in 2007 and have been a staff member since 2010.

RL: Like Trevor, I’m an archivist in SCARC. I’m the other half of the “front of house” Public Services team, so I do a lot of what Trevor already described. I started working at SCARC in April of 2017 (on the 17th), so I’ve been here just over one year.
What was the impetus for the shelf shift project?

So much space to move!

So much space to move!

TS: In the summer of 2017, we found that we were beginning to run out of usable storage space in our Valley Library facilities. As a result, we developed a multi-phase project to make facilities changes to allow for expanded storage and consolidate our existing materials.

RL: This meant that we presented a proposal to Faye Chadwell, University Librarian, for changes to our stacks core that would facilitate a more efficient storage design and allow for room to grow. We were given a fixed sum to implement Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the proposal we presented to Faye.

What were some of the lessons learned in the course of the project?

RL: As the newest employee in SCARC, I’m finding that one of the surprising outcomes of this project is how many more collections I recognize and know a little something about, which is obviously useful in my public services role.

TS: To modify a popular adage, “measure twice, move once” was an important guiding philosophy during this shift (and a lesson we learned the hard way…more than once).

How will it make working in SCARC easier for employees?

Pauling's library shifted and now located next to the other rare books collections

Pauling’s library shifted and now located next to the other rare books collections

RL: I think one of the reasons I was drawn to the archival profession is that I love making order out of chaos. I would never have described our stacks as chaotic prior to this work, but I think both phases of this projects have helped us to arrange materials in a more efficient way, and in a way that makes them easier, and safer, for staff to retrieve. The project also gave us “space” to tackle some general “house-keeping” projects as natural parallels of the physical moving of boxes (e.g. rehousing as necessary, dusting shelves, etc.).

TS: Materials in our 5th floor storage area are now better organized and consolidated, allowing for simpler placement and retrieval of our manuscript and rare book materials.

How will it be better for our researchers?

TS: We should see an overall improvement in our retrieval times which will translate to more efficient research visits for our users. As we continue the project, we should be able to transition materials from our auxiliary storage to our primary storage which will further simplify the retrieval process.

RL: The whole goal of this project was space…well, maybe space, and as a by-product, efficiency. We now have more space, and space that is used better, so we can continue to accept new collections and additions to collections. The more collections we have, the higher the likelihood that we have material that will fit any given patron’s research interest. I think retrieval will also be faster, which I think many of our patrons will appreciate.

Did you find anything fun/weird/random?

An aisle of Pauling, condensed and reorganized

An aisle of Pauling, condensed and reorganized

TS: This project was a trip through SCARC’s history and offered plenty of opportunities to reflect on the work of our predecessors. It was a nice chance to be reminded of some of our lesser-known holdings and to appreciate the volume and quality of work that has gone into making these materials available to the public since the University Archives inception in 1961.

RL: I learned that Tiah can dance. I also have a fuller appreciate for the full breadth and scope of the Linus and Ava Helen Pauling Papers.

Digital Preservation and Outreach

This is the second post in a two part series exploring the work of Brian Davis, the Digital Production Unit Supervisor, which emphasizes the importance of  digitization and digital preservation in Special Collections and the Valley Library, and the field more broadly.


How did you get involved in the alliance’s digital preservation working group?

I don’t remember if I volunteered or was asked to be part of the working group, but I’ve been a member since January of 2016.

I’ve been involved with digital preservation at the institutional level for while, which means that I’ve largely worked alone or with one other person. Working with a larger group sounded like something that I’d like to try. There are five of us in this group. The first thing we did was put together a digital preservation survey for alliance members to gauge where their institutions are in terms of digital preservation, and then build out training resources based on the responses.

We could tell from the survey responses that there is a lot of confusion about digital preservation among alliance members. We ended up putting together an extensive website based upon the NDSA’s Levels of Digital Preservation. Each member of the group took on one of the five sections, mine was Fixity & Data Integrity, and I helped with the File Formats section. We also planned for each member to lead a webinar on their respective sections. I led two webinars in June of 2017. The webinars were supposed to have been recorded for those who weren’t able to attend, but they had issues with the GoToWebinar software and couldn’t figure it out in time.

What is the importance of outreach for you in your position and for the larger library community?

There’s little time for outreach outside of the day-to-day workload for me. It’s just me and two part-time students in the DPU who do the digitization, and I do the digital preservation. If I do any sort of outreach, then I have to shift other parts of my job.

While more along the lines of service than outreach, my digital preservation work for the alliance comes directly from the daily work I do and hasn’t required that much extra time outside of work.

Brian’s GitHub site for digital preservation scripts

Brian’s GitHub site for digital preservation scripts

I have found ways to share much of the work I do externally. For instance, most of the audiovisual tools I use are command-line driven, so I’ve translated many of them into right-clickable shell scripts and share them via GitHub. I’m also pretty active on, as well as with the Twitter hashtags #digitalpreservation and   #avpreservation. I was maintaining work-related tumblr for a while, but putting together regular posts takes some time, so I’ve abandoned that. I’ve been using the Medium publishing platform to share DPU workflows and digitization specifications with others since access to wiki pages outside of the library is problematic.

What do you focus on in your training? What do you think are key takeaways for your training webinars?

I actually don’t do very much training any more. That’s not to say that there’s nothing for me to learn, I just don’t have that much time. The last instructor-led training thing I did was the Dive Into Hydra workshop at Code4Lib 2015. Now my training is more DIY, where I’ll find a resource online and go at my own pace. There has to be something practical that comes out of it, otherwise its pointless. In 2010, I took an Objective-C class that Stanford University offered through iTunes-U. When I finished the coursework I was able to build a few iOS apps, one was a companion app for Omeka image galleries I had setup previously and the other was an app for the library I was working for at the time.

tmux (terminal multiplexer) window

tmux (terminal multiplexer) window

A more recent example of my DIY approach is the local ZFS storage system that I use for my videotape digitization workflow. Oracle has a number of great guides on how to configure ZFS systems and I needed a good short-term storage appliance in my office. After a bit of reading and a couple of tutorials, I was able to configure a ZFS system on an old Mac Pro that I have in my office and I now have daily backups, replication, self-healing, snapshots, etc. These are all the things you want from your storage system. Another example is tmux, which is a terminal multiplexer that allows me to have multiple bash/ssh sessions open in a single window. There are a number of great tutorials out there, along with a lot of bad ones. It did take a bit of extra tweaking for me to get it customized due to the key bindings being different on a Mac, but it was definitely worthwhile.

You also have worked with young people as they are working on their degrees and entering the field. How do you encourage and support these new participants in the field?

Since we’re a small unit with a relatively large amount of work being sent our way every day, it’s a struggle to find a balance between making this job a learning opportunity for students and maintaining a reasonable level of productivity. For students, a lot of it is just picking up bits and pieces as the work proceeds. Of all the students that I’ve supervised, I think that only one has gone on to study library or archival science.

Presidents of Oregon State University Photographic Collection technical metadata work

Presidents of Oregon State University Photographic Collection technical metadata work

We have a current student in the DPU who is very interested in archives, digitization, and digital preservation — pretty much everything that we do. She also has a solid technology background, so she takes on a lot of the higher-level work. I would love to be able to spend time showing her a bit more about the digital preservation work that I do, as well as the videotape digitization processes. She’s only able to work 20hrs a week and that doesn’t leave time for additional training.

Where do you see the field going? How do you see your work being important for the future of libraries and scholarship?

As the question relates to digitization in general, I think that most institutions have already gotten into building digital collections. The next steps could include getting into preservation-level digitization for certain materials. While the fundemental equipment isn’t that expensive, getting someone with the appropriate skill level to do the work could make it prohibitive for many organizations. However, there are plenty of vendors out there offering this type of digitization.

Digital preservation is the one thing that I get asked about most often. I think that we’re going to start seeing an influx of organizations looking to fill digital preservation-focused positions. It’s not an issue that’s going away.


Videotape signal testing with a vectorscope

Hopefully everyone knows that magnetic videotape is an obsolete format that is actively degrading. It’s doing that even in ideal storage conditions. It’s estimated that the window of opportunity to preserve this content closes in fifteen to twenty years, less for certain formats. More institutions are going to try to follow what Indiana University is doing with their Media Digitization & Preservation Initiative. Audiovisual digitization is something that the Orbis Cascade Alliance has discussed as a potential area to offer some sort of service. I would love to be involved with something like that.

Why should we care about preserving obsolete formats (Beta, VHS, etc.) and continuing to preserve them as we get more and more digital?

I think that tape-based materials, such as Betacam and VHS, are deceptive when compared to other collection items. While the exterior of the tape itself may look clean and like new, the actual carrier of the content, the magnetic coated polyester, is unstable. Depending on the manufacturer and age of the tape, it could be suffering from loss of the lubricant that assists the tape as it winds through the tape deck, or the binder holding the magnetized signal could be absorbing moisture from the air, making the surface too sticky for playback.

Tension error on U-matic deck caused by sticky tape

Tension error on U-matic deck caused by sticky tape

Magnetic tape was never meant to have a very long shelf life. It was initially developed to save a recording for a very short period of time. Bing Crosby was doing a live radio show two times a day in the mid-1940’s, once for the east coast and another for the west coast. He only wanted to do one show so that he could get an earlier start on the his evening festivities. He invested pretty heavily in this new technology that would allow the radio station to play back a recording of the earlier show, which they were finally able to do in 1947.

There’s also the obsolescence issue, where the machines required to playback the various formats are no longer being made and replacement parts are becoming scarce. Even if you can locate machines and parts, finding someone who knows how to do the repair work is becoming difficult. All the old school broadcast engineers are retiring, so there’s a vacuum of knowledge and experience fast approaching. Considering all of this, I think it’s vitally important for SCARC to preserve these materials pretty quickly. This includes audiotape recordings since they are on the same carrier with the same issues as videotape.

Capturing VHS recording of No Big Whoop

Capturing VHS recording of No Big Whoop

I have been able to digitize 342 videotapes for SCARC over the course of the last four years. Much of what comes through DPU is sports-related, which is pretty popular. Outside of athletics, there’s amazing content ranging from flyover shots from an erupting Mount St. Helens and mechanized potato harvesting footage from the Oregon Tilth records to ridiculous (and awesome) KBVR productions like No Big Whoop and Limited Reality.

“The Archives/Digitization/Digital Preservation Thing”

This is the first post in a two part series exploring the work of Brian Davis, the Digital Production Unit Supervisor, which emphasizes the importance of  digitization and digital preservation in Special Collections and the Valley Library, and the field more broadly.


What has your career path been like? What got you interested in videotape digitization and digital preservation in the first place?

It’s been broad and a bit random. I say that because I didn’t take the traditional path and sort of backed into the archives/digitization/digital preservation thing that I do.

I’ve been at OSU Libraries & Press for almost six years years, and part of SCARC for two of those years. Just before coming to OSU, I worked as a Media and Digital services Librarian for a small liberal arts college. Although overseeing a number of things, my primary responsibility was managing a media production lab that was open to all faculty, staff, and students. Along with my student staff, it was my job to provide instruction and assistance with a variety of projects ranging from building posters and presentations to providing lecture capture services for professors and leading monthly technology workshops. Although there isn’t much crossover from this job to my current one, I did learn quite a bit about managing students and projects.

Prior to that I worked as a Digital Production Developer at Duke University Libraries. I was focused on three primary areas in that position; digitization, programming, and digital preservation. Of all the positions that I’ve held, this one is the most closely related to what I do here.

Brian at Arizona State University’s Hayden Library

Brian at Arizona State University’s Hayden Library

I do have a background in archives and special collections. I began working at Arizona State University Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections department in 2003, initially as a digitization technician, but I eventually became the visual materials archivist. My position, inconspicuously titled Academic Associate for Media Development, was that of film and video archivist at first. Then our acting photo archivist left a couple years into my position. At that point my responsibilities were expanded to include all of the photographic materials. To be honest, I was in way over my head, as I was still managing most of our digitization (including audiovisual digitization) and getting started with digital preservation. This is when I realized that I enjoyed the technology-focused responsibilities of my job more than the more traditional archivist’s parts (e.g. processing, collecting, reference, collections management). More than half my time each week was devoted to providing reference services, which didn’t leave much time for the rest of my responsibilities.

My time at Arizona State is when I became interested in audiovisual materials, but the initial spark started in the late 90’s. I worked installing exhibits at an art museum and worked as movie theater projectionist. At the museum, I got a crash course in materials handling and storage as I assisted curatorial staff with whatever they needed. The movie theater was focused on showing indie and foreign language films. Most of the prints we got weren’t produced in great quantities and many were already in poor condition, so I soon became aware of the general need for film preservation. My experiences from both of these jobs have had an impact on the work I do today.

When I arrived at Arizona State and saw the telecine machine in the audiovisual lab, I jumped right in and started inspecting, cleaning, and transferring 16mm film. In addition to motion picture film, we also had a number of large videotape collections. We were the repository for Arizona PBS and I was asked to do videotape transfers from that collection soon after I started. This was before I really knew what I was doing. It was a great learning experience for me, as I could run over to the Arizona PBS studios, which were on campus at the time, pick up some tapes to accession and get technical help from the broadcast technicians that worked there. They were especially helpful when we were getting our 1” open reel video player operational in our digitization lab.

Arizona State is also where I was first exposed to digital preservation. I had been involved with programming to some degree since the 90’s, but it was a visit from Bill Comstock to ASU in 2006 that put me on that path. Bill managed digitization at the Harvard Library and I owe a lot to him. I’ve been involved with digital preservation ever since that meeting. I learned from Bill that there’s a large amount of information embedded into files that could be utilized. I also learned how to insert additional information into files using terminal commands to write to TIFF tags.

Batch embedding Dublin Core XML records in directory of DPU’s TIFF files via Adobe Bridge

Batch embedding Dublin Core XML records in directory of DPU’s TIFF files via Adobe Bridge

At the time, standardizing technical metadata was a big project for the Library of Congress as they were developing the MIX standard. At Arizona State, we were following along behind them, making similar metadata decisions for the library. I was specifically tasked with deciding what NISO Z39.87 elements should be in our technical metadata standard. While this work might sound a bit dry, it was pretty exciting for me to be able to couple my interest in programming with audiovisual materials and photography, the other things that interested me most. Once I started putting together scripts and began automating workflows, things progressed pretty quickly for me.

How have you seen the field change and evolve in the past 15 years?

It terms of digitization, things have been on a pendulum of sorts, slowly swinging from one side to the other for the last decade. When I began working in digitization, everyone’s goal was to capture the best quality they could for virtually everything that they were digitizing. We were primarily focused on digitizing nitrate negatives, glass plate negatives, and audiovisual materials at Arizona State. Digitizing at a high level made sense for us because these are materials for which you really do need to do provide preservation-level digitization.


When the OCLC published Shifting Gears, it brought up a lot of good points about what we were doing and why we were doing it. When I got to Duke, we took a hard look at our workflows to see where we might be able to make some changes. It’s always been my opinion that you can work more efficiently, but if your goal is to just to work faster, then you’re going to make mistakes and potentially damage collection materials. We made a number of informed decisions to minimize certain parts of our workflows, like post processing of image files. That cut overall digitization times pretty substantially.

Post-scan editing is also something that I stopped students from doing in the DPU when I began in 2012. Students were scanning things poorly and then editing them in Photoshop to try to compensate for the bad initial scan. Below is screenshot comparing a glass plate negative that was scanned by a student to my rescan of the same negative.

Glass plate negative scan comparison

Glass plate negative scan comparison

The right-side image that I scanned has greatly expanded tonal range and substantially more detail compared to the one from the student. DPU had professional scanning equipment at the time, but they didn’t know how to use it properly. There shouldn’t be any sort of post-scan editing, aside from a bit of cropping and rotating.

I should mention that preservation-level scanning doesn’t mean just scanning at higher resolutions. There are other factors that are just as relevant as resolution. The quality of equipment, the scanning environment, color settings, and file formats are every bit as important. When someone gives us photographic materials, we do them all the same regardless of what digitization level has been requested. Most are going into Oregon Digital and need to have sufficient detail for the image viewer.

Scanner color calibration

Scanner color calibration

With that being said, there are materials for which quicker access might be more important than going down a slightly slower digitization path. For instance, we do access-level scanning for many of our periodicals and publications. Most of these are off-set printed with lots of text, so there’s little to be gained by scanning at the same resolutions that we use for photographs. We’ve settled on 400ppi as a good compromise between scan time and sufficient quality for OCR. However, we still use the same calibrated equipment, color profiles, and formats even if preservation isn’t the goal.

As the question relates to digital preservation, I think that it has unfortunately become as much of a buzzword as it has something that people and organizations are actively engaged in. I guess that I should be happy that at least people are talking about it. The time is now to start doing something. Having led our digital preservation efforts for a couple years, I found that it’s very hard to make headway if people aren’t sure what digital preservation is and don’t have a clear picture of the resources needed. Digital preservation is not a single application that you can download from the App Store and it’s not something that can be just handed off to a student.

There are only a few organizations who have good digital preservation systems in place, but most of them have lots of resources. It’s hard to find a comparable institution to look to as an example of how we might proceed. We made an attempt with this technical report last year but little has happened so far. That’s why I think that a consortial-level effort in the Pacific Northwest could be a way to bridge some of those resource gaps that a lot of us have.

What do you find most interesting about the work you do?

U-matic videotape capture with live levels monitoring

U-matic videotape capture with live levels monitoring

I think that almost all of it is interesting to be honest. If I have to pick one thing I would say it’s the relatively recent intersection of audiovisual digitization with digital preservation among colleagues. I’ve been working in both areas for a while, but now it seems that there’s suddenly an influx of people who do both. They’re coming out of programs like the National Digital Stewardship Residency program at the Library of Congress and the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program at NYU. It does make sense with most audiovisual preservation work leading directly to digitization, which then moves into digital preservation. With all magnetic media like videotape, there is a substantial level of degradation actively occurring with the physical object. This newly digitized file will act as the representation of this artifact as time goes on and the physical source further degrades. Knowing that, it’s imperative to do whatever it takes to ensure that the file survives.

For me, it’s encouraging to have lots of younger people participating in the profession. It’s certainly been making the yearly AMIA conference more technology-focused, which is great. It also makes for lively Twitter discussions.

What do you want people to know about your work? Why do you think this is such an important aspect of what the work of the Valley Library?

This might sound funny, but one thing I’d like people to know is that I am not a cataloger and I have never been responsible for mail deliveries anywhere I’ve worked.

DPU’s BagIt file verification

DPU’s BagIt file verification

In all seriousness, I hope that everyone realizes that the Digital Production Unit plays a vital role in making our unique collections accessible. This was a key objective in our most recent strategic plan, and without the work of the DPU, the library definitely would not have the number of items available online. We also would not have the quality of work that we now have.

As far as digital preservation goes, I don’t want people to think that we’re not doing anything. There’s a fair amount of digital preservation happening every day on library materials that move through the DPU. ETS has also made progress with daily backups for our preservation storage and with our distributed backups of ScholarsArchive@OSU materials to MetaArchive.

What are common misconceptions about your field/work that you do?

I think that there’s misconceptions surrounding a lot of digitization and digital preservation. The first thing that comes to mind is the confusion surrounding what digitization means and the implications of having an object digitized. Just because an object has been digitized that does not mean that it’s been preserved and there’s nothing else to do. I think that’s the point where a lot of the ongoing work begins.

New Guides to Our Collections for March

Here are the most recently added or updated collections from the past month:

Richard Y. Morita Papers, 1949-2005 (MSS Morita)
morita-600wThe Morita Papers document the academic and research career of Richard Yukio Morita, a marine microbiologist who conducted extensive research on the effects of pressure, low temperature, and available energy on the physiology of marine bacteria.  Richard Y. Morita was a faculty member in microbiology and oceanography at Oregon State from 1962 through 1988 and pursued an active research program as a Professor Emeritus of Microbiology and Oceanography from 1989 through the 2000s.  In 1942, Morita’s family was forced to enter a Japanese internment camp.  Morita earned his Ph.D. in Microbiology-Oceanography from the University of California Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1954 as the first Nisei (second generation Japanese-American) to graduate.


Alice L. Edwards Papers, 1895-1962 (MSS EdwardsAlice)

mss-edwards-alice-600wThese materials were generated and/or assembled by Alice L. Edwards, a 1906 graduate of Oregon Agricultural College.  They document her career as a home economist and include materials related to her personal life.  The Papers include correspondence, clippings and publications, photographs and artwork, certificates and awards, ephemera, coursework and teaching materials, and two diaries kept by Edwards on a trip to Europe in 1925.  Of special note are the results of a survey conducted by Edwards in 1924-1925 of alumni of the Oregon Agricultural College home economics program regarding the effectiveness of the program and its effect on their lives.


Leonard M. Maki Nuclear Power Collection, 1958 – circa 1990s (MSS Maki)

maki2.3-concept-600wThis collection consists of materials documenting the development of nuclear power in the 20th century.  Maki taught nuclear engineering courses at Oregon State University after his retirement from Rockwell International in 1987.  Of particular note are records detailing ideas and prototypes for nuclear power systems designed to operate in outer space.


Reuniting Finley and Bohlman: Focus on the Metadata

This is the fourth, and last post, in our series covering the reunion of the William Lovell Finley and Herman T. Bohlman photograph and manuscript collections held by OSU and OHS.  This interview was conducted with Erin Clark, who has been a Library Technician at the Valley Library since February 2014.  Before OSU, she worked as a Project Archivist arranging and describing collections for the Siletz Tribal Cultural Collections.

Dallas Lore Sharp holding poles and three unidentified men constructing a nature blind out of tules. The boat and a camera tripod are visible in the background.  Constructing a nature blind, William L. Finley Photographs Collection, circa 1900-1940 (Org. Lot 369, OHS)

Dallas Lore Sharp holding poles and three unidentified men constructing a nature blind out of tules. The boat and a camera tripod are visible in the background.
Constructing a nature blind, William L. Finley Photographs Collection, circa 1900-1940 (Org. Lot 369, OHS)

Have you ever worked on a project of this type/scale before?  How did the Finley Bohlman project from others you have worked on in the past?

I worked on the Century Farm and Ranch Program project, which was another large scale project in collaboration with OHS. The Finley Bohlman project contained a greater variety of materials than previous collections I have worked on.

What was it like to collaborate with the Oregon Historical Society on this project?

It was enjoyable to work on another project with OHS and learn about additional aspects of the project, including planning for the OHS exhibit and outreach efforts.

You specifically focused on the metadata of the project.  Can you explain what metadata means for those who do not know?  What did processing the metadata for this project entail?  Was it different from other projects you have worked on in the past?

Effective metadatamakes items easier to be discovered and more accessible for a variety of users, including researchers and the general public. The process included creating a data dictionary for our metadata intern at OSU, reviewing and creating spreadsheets for materials that would be bulk ingested into Oregon Digital, and researching scientific names for images of animals. The project’s focus on nature was different than most of the projects I currently work on.

What do you see as the largest the success of the project?  The largest challenge?  Why?

The main success of the project is the amount of materials now available to the public describing Finley and Bohlman’s careers and observations. The largest challenge was describing and uploading all of the materials before the project deadline.

What was your favorite aspect of the project?  Did you have a favorite item?

My favorite part of the project was researching and learning more about specific bird species in the Pacific Northwest. The set of barn owl images are my favorite items in the collection.

Barn Owls, William L. Finley Photographs Collection, circa 1900-1940 (Org. Lot 369, OHS)

Barn Owls, William L. Finley Photographs Collection, circa 1900-1940 (Org. Lot 369, OHS)

What is the LSTA and what did it mean to you for the project to win this award?

The grant from LSTA funded the work on the Finley Bohlman project. It was exciting to hear the Finley Bohlman collection won the award, recognizing the work everyone contributed to the project.

 osu-affc8cb5897e9f4cb7b29c76023a4763 ohs-666ac113287d835373d89728e9099757 imls-54d1ce245272241a5b116f14d7354555