Wednesday, March 16, 2005

West Virginia- Almost Heaven

I've spent Tuesday in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. It's spring break, but I'm not there for hiking or outdoorsy activities. I was there to look at their library and radio stations. Pocahontas is a big county with not a lot of people per capita. They are however big in spirit, to the point where the Pocahontas County Free Library system won the #1 Best Rural Library in 2003. The radio station, WVMR-FM (and its other affiliates, on the FM dial) have been broadcasting and serving the local community for over 20 years. And when I say serving, I mean SERVING. Doing farm reports, weather reports, local music and interview programs, broadcasting on-location--not simply running canned programs from a big distributor. During some of the floods of the last 20 years in the county, the radio station has actually saved lives through broadcasting of important information. Some of that material has been saved--thank goodness: talk about a great story to tell!

I was in the area talking to one of the directors about helping with a preservation project. Although they're active in the WV Public Library system, they're looking to do some new projects. Because of my recent interest in preservation and digitization, they thought I would be a natural to come and talk to them.

As a small county with scant resources, they like to collaborate among organizations. The radio station has boxes and drawers full of cassettes and old reel-to-reels. The library wants to talk about video digitization, and the historical society might want to preserve its large photograph collection. There
are several questions about these interests they've expressed that I hope I've been able to communicate:

1) The appropriateness of preservation, reformatting, and digitization for the project. Are they on decaying media? Is this for preservation of the artifacts or preservation of the intellectual content?

2) The level of sustainability of the outcome. If we get these items online, who is responsible for making sure filenames and paths are correct, and are correctly migrated when moving to new systems?

3) Training "mere mortals" to learn to digitize materials. Even if I come there for a year or two and help them get their materials salvaged, preserved, and into working order to be digitized, this knowledge and practice needs to be carried on. Part of what I'd be doing is doing workshops for interested parties in these areas.

4) Documenting the decisions that are made in the whole process. Part of the practices of preservation is making everything transparent for future generations. This will incldue decisions made in reformatting, including signal chain and equipment used.

I've been able to come away with more of a sense of the picture of what's going on here. I think they're talking about access to digital files: audio, video, etc; but preservation and interoperability of the intellectual content of these materials--so they can reformat, repackage them at will. Access will mean more than getting them up on-line; it will mean that both the radio stations and the library patrons can use and manipulate them. (We're working on copyright, I'm just not going to talk about it right here).

The area is so beautiful. The mountains are so high. I had great weather. I stayed at a very nice B&B while I was there. Also got to move a refrigerator. That night, I went to the PCFL Library Board meeting where I was introduced. If I decide to come there, I think I'll have everyone's support. That would be worthwhile. One thing I'll struggle with though, I'm sure, is support from the outside. Internet access is there--even satellite and T1--but access to materials I currently have at Indiana will be lacking. At least I might be able to ask questions of people in ARSC and get some feedback.

It's still Spring Break, but I'm already thinking of the coming ARSC conference at the end of the month. Wow, everyday I just seemed to be more and more convinced about my ignorance of some of these issues. I mean I know what I know (and I think that's a lot), but is it enough? Preservation, metadata, project management, digitization, and maybe even program production at some point. It's baffling to me that libraries aren't talking to radio stations and audio engineers more about these issues. There seems to be a collective ignorance and lack of communication--mostly probably because of the difference in vocabulary between the broadcasting and library/archive communities. But if we want interoperative systems, we're going to have to slug it out together.


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