staff, staff, May 7, 2015

If you wanted to track down hard-to-find audio and film recordings, you might start your search at some venerable Hollywood studio, the Smithsonian or Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., or a storage room in the bowels of Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan.

Bloomington, Ind., would probably be pretty far down the list of places you?d look, but perhaps it should be up there with the locations in the preceding paragraph. That?s because Indiana University is home to a collection of more than half a million original audio/visual (A/V) recordings, many of which are very old and rare.

Indiana_MPI2This surprisingly large treasure trove of media is due in large part to the energetic efforts of inimitable IU President and Chancellor Herman B Wells, who put an emphasis on growing the university in virtually every respect during his incredible six-plus decades of service. (Appropriately, the flagship building of the IU library system is named for him.)

One example of how Wells contributed to this collection was his work in convincing the Metropolitan Opera Company of New York to perform annually at the grand Indiana University Auditorium from 1942-1961. Many of these productions were recorded and preserved by the university.

?There are [musical] performances at Indiana University that we have recorded ourselves from the 1900s on old records of media not produced today,? said Laurie Antolovic, associate vice president of university information technology services and director of IU?s Media Preservation Initiative. ?There are copies that cannot be found anywhere else that were donated for archives or collections of certain things.?

Among the holdings are wax-cylinder recordings that once were sold and marketed in the late 1800s. Antolovic estimated IU possesses about 7,000 such ?ethnographic? recordings of songs from ceremonies that were made by field researchers who were studying Native Americans and other indigenous tribes from around the world.

?The wax cylinders look like a tin can and were a low-tech format popular with researchers in remote areas,? she explained.

Indiana_MPIHowever, IU is in a race against time to preserve this treasure trove of media. According to a report published in August 2009, a large percentage of these recordings will be unplayable in a generation. The university reports that many of its A/V holdings need to be preserved within a two-decade timeframe, or they?ll be forever lost to future researchers.

?Our approach is through digitization because many (of the findings) are old and the playback equipment is no longer being manufactured,? Antolovic said.

Some of the hard-copy media being converted by the school include digital audio, cassette and reel-to-reel tapes; lacquer-coated aluminum discs; vinyl LPs; and Beta, VHS and U-matic video tapes. The school has highlighted sample clips of some of the rescued recordings online.

Obviously, digitizing so many different kinds of media presents a challenge. Another ongoing issue for the Media Preservation Initiative is making sure the university has obtained clearance for rights and restrictions that might be associated with certain materials.

[btn-post-package]For example, Antolovic said the controversial Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction - established at IU in 1947 - could have holdings under consideration that require extra due diligence around permissions.

?[Currently] we don?t know what the rights and restrictions are because those [studies] are matters of privacy,? Antolovic said. ?But we have a library with media reserves that students and faculty need to review as part of their studies. I?m making sure we are respectful of copyright issues. This is an initiative to preserve media holdings at Indiana University that have institutional or research value.?

And beyond that, it?s preserving Wells? legacy of bringing ?the world to Bloomington? and ?culture to the crossroads? in the 21st century.

By Tony Moton