September 23, 2010 | By Angela Sams | 1 Comment »
Categories: Library and museum studies
Tags: film, footage, History, Humphrey Leynse, library, MASC, McCaw Collection, RKO films, Washington State University
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.
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.”
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.”
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.