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Archive for the ‘Library and museum studies’ Category

A History of Washington State University through Film

Many students use Holland Terrell Library as a resource for papers, research or projects.  Many simply use it as a quiet location to study.  But beneath all of the library’s floors of never-ending bookshelves lies the MASC (Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections), brimming with both university and regional history.

While the old papers and documents of the MASC are undoubtedly fascinating, I descended the steps of the library atrium focused on only one format—video.  In search of this form of media, I took a stroll with Mark O’English to the elevator and down to the basement below, where films and audio cassettes are stored at cool temperatures. To save space, each neatly stacked row of archives rolls on a small track in the floor and rows must be cranked open in order to walk down an aisle.

Footage of a WSU football game vs. Utah, October 15th, 1966

Footage of a WSU football game vs. Utah, October 15th, 1966

Most of the footage stored in the basement of the MASC is VHS videotape, 16mm film, and ¾-inch tapes, though there are from 25 to 30 different formats.  Subjects range from old football games (the oldest football footage known to Mark is from the 1916 Rose Bowl), to WSU promotional videos, KWSU films, and video of campus life.  Basketball and football games were primarily filmed with 16mm film.

With current technology, many of these formats can now be digitized, whether to upload old videos to a website, give out copies of particular footage that individuals have requested, or preserve rare video that might otherwise deteriorate.  Mark adds, “Some of it we do just to get that public interest.”

One collection to be digitized is the J. Elroy McCaw Film Collection, which received money from a grant.  Mark informs me that the digitization of this collection was done by an outside source hired for the job.   According to the library’s website, the collection, obtained by the Media Materials and Reserves in 1982, consists of RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Radio Picture films.

Alex Merrill, Digital Initiatives Librarian & Systems/Operations Manager for WSU Libraries, elaborates on the collection in an email.  The collection includes titles such as “King Kong” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” but these have not been chosen for digitization due to copyrights. He adds that “The McCaw collection contains many movies that you may have seen on [a] Saturday afternoon matinee in the 60’s through the 80’s.”  The collection also includes films from the 1930’s to the 1950’s–less popular westerns (“Pirates of the Prairies,” “Riders from Tucson,” and “Six-gun Gold”) and film noir movies (including “The Saint” and “The Falcon” films).  “Primrose Path,” with Ginger Rogers is also a part of the collection.

Alex says that there are 436 films and 18 military documentaries within the collection, and the majority of these are being digitized (375 RKO feature films and every military documentary).  Some of the documentary titles are “Freedom Comes High,”  “D-Day Minus One,” and “Diary of a Sergeant.”

Elmo TRV-16G, which transfers old film from a projector directly onto a computer

Elmo TRV-16G, which transfers old film from a projector directly onto a computer

Space is always an issue, and saving footage electronically is much more convenient than having boxes and boxes of old tapes and reels.  Digitization is not the quickest of tasks, however, and each hour of footage requires three hours of work.  According to Mark, the MASC also has “an old and fairly rare film-to-video projector (an Elmo TRV-16G), which lets us record 16mm films directly from the projector.  In most cases, if you want to transfer film to video you project it onto a screen and use a video camera to record it from the screen.  If you think about it, the technologies simply don’t overlap – by the time you want to write into a computer or into tapes, 16mm films were no longer being commonly used.”

Old reels of video footage

Old reels of video footage

For example, MASC staff reproduced some film taken by former WSU professor Humphrey Leynse, for a Korean university.  According to MASC, Leynse was a Motion Picture Officer for the United States Information Service in both Indonesia and Korea and created over fifty documentaries.  Mark also informs me that the staff of the MASC has digitized the audio of Gary Larson’s commencement speech from 1990 which he would love to share with the public after he receives Larson’s permission.

Interested in seeing historic WSU footage? Check out the website at go to MASC’s YouTube site to watch selected videos.

Archiving, on their own terms

Back in 2002, Kimberly Christen took a dissertation research trip to the newly opened Darwin branch of the National Archives of Australia.

She saw troves of cultural artifacts — baskets, photos, music recordings and more, including many from the Warumungu Aboriginal community she had been working with since 1995.

The indigenous tribe had little to no access to the materials housed in the faraway archives, open to the public, seen by whomever.

Moreover, if they viewed the archives, there were items they just didn’t want to see.

A slide made by Kimberly Christen shows ways that indigenous artifacts and stories have been handled.

In their culture, as in many indigenous communities, the public exhibits violated their cultural protocols. For example, the Warumungu people do not want to see images of dead relatives. Some items are appropriate only for male or female viewers, while others might be limited by viewers’ age or sacred status within the community.

The Warumungu wanted to view their materials on their own terms.

Over time, Christen, a cultural anthropologist and assistant professor in the Washington State University Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies, began researching ways to create a separate digital archive for the community. The archive would include all of the materials from the museum, but within the software, viewing is restricted along culturally appropriate lines. The two archives are kept separate, so Warumungu people can have their own version aside from the public version.

This is all part of the greater trend of repatriation and bringing back in indigenous voices to tell their own stories, she says. It began in the early ‘90s, when museums were ordered to start giving human remains back to their original tribes. Christen has taken that idea and applied it to a new corner of archival work.

“Digital repatriation has taken off,” she says.

The project launched in 2007, and shortly thereafter, indigenous communities from all over the globe began requesting their own version.

In March, Christen received a $49,606 Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create a free, open-source software that would work for everyone.

For Christen, such archives aren’t about “correcting” or rewriting the record. It’s expanding the record to include the native experience. It’s history with a conscious, she says.

“These materials are theirs … we took this stuff,” she says. (more…)

The (art) work ahead

This week Chris Bruce, the director for Washington State University’s museum of art, travels to Seattle to help sort out the disposition of the one of the most significant art donations in Washington State history – that of Safeco Insurance’s gift of more than 800 artworks. The donation of work by Northwest artists to the Washington Art Consortium, a non-profit museum cooperative, is valued at about $3.5 million.

Fay Jones' "Lotus- Eaters," a lithograph

Fay Jones' "Lotus- Eaters," a lithograph

While the donation is a done deal, Bruce, as WSU’s representative, has some work ahead in helping to decide where each work of art will go.

WSU became one of the four founding members of the Washington Art Consortium in 1975.  Because of logistics of maintenance and storage, the WAC has always been a shared collection of works on paper including pieces from the New York School from the 1950s and 60s, says Bruce, dropping names like de Kooning, Motherwell, and Pollock. The WAC brought the masterworks to this region and then expanded the collection to include photography and works from the Pacific Northwest.

So this week, Bruce and six other members of the WAC board – also museum directors – are meeting in Seattle to carefully review the Safeco donation piece by piece with a Northwest art expert. They will choose about 150 key works on paper for the WACs permanent collection. Then later this spring the remainder of the donation, along with money from Safeco for its care and transportation, will be divided among the WAC member museums, including WSU.

Roger Shimomura's "Diary," an acrylic on canvas

Roger Shimomura's "Diary," an acrylic on canvas

“By the end of March each one of us should have a wish list of pieces we would like to have,” says Bruce. He expects there will be some overlap. “Three museums might like the same Chihuly, for example.” Then it will come down to whether the specific piece fits in with the existing work at the museum, or if it fits a regional subject matter. There’s a beautiful painting by Gaylen Hansen (an Eastern Washington-based artist and former WSU Art Department faculty) that could fit well into WSU’s collection.  As well, says Bruce, some of the glass pieces from Safeco might fit well with the art on permanent display in the atrium of the Smith Center for Undergraduate Education.

Other pieces, like serigraphs by Jacob Lawrence, would be wonderful additions to WSU’s museum, but since Lawrence was a professor at the University of Washington, they’re more likely to go to the Henry Art Gallery there, says Bruce. He doesn’t anticipate tension over dividing up the remaining pieces. “We’re a very collegial group,” says Bruce.

By April, the WAC board should have done its job and the disposition of most of the works will be clear. At that time, the public will be able to see the “best of Safeco” at an exhibition scheduled to open April 21st at the Wright Exhibition Space in Seattle. And later this year the pieces coming to WSU will be shown on campus in Pullman.


Safeco donating $3.5 million art collection to consortium of museums (Seattle Times, Feb. 11, 2010)

Washington Art Consortium

Safeco Insurance Art Collection

Should a library be a place?

I’ve just started working on an article for Washington State Magazine about the changing role of the library. Without even interviewing a librarian yet, I’ve found the questions quickly accumulating.

Sculpture by Dudley Pratt - The Reader- aka Nature Boy at sunset. By Robert Hubner.

Sculpture by Dudley Pratt - The Reader- aka Nature Boy at sunset. By Robert Hubner.

Among the really fundamental library sources I used to use for background when delving into a subject or article were the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, Essay and General Literature Index, and Encyclopedia Britannica.  It’s been years now since I’ve visited a physical library to open a paper version of either.

Britannica, of course, has been online for some time now. I’ve gravitated to other online indexes—as well, I admit, as general Google searches. As most of the more specialized information for whatever I’m working on tends to come from actual interviews with experts and other primary sources, that’s about the extent of my library use any more. In fact, these days, about the only reason I go to the actual library, which is a three-minute walk up the hill from my office, is to check out books.

Books? you say. How quaint. Not yet quaint, I reply. In spite of Kindle and Google digitalization and Bartleby, I plan to buy and read paper books for a long time to come. And I suspect they will be available. Much as I like online reference, other than for reference purposes, I’ve never read a book online or on a machine. (more…)