Analog to Digital: Trials and Tribulations

So I’ve been working on my internship for a month now, and I’m feeling like I’m pretty well oriented to the project and the internship site. Nevertheless, as warned in reading after reading, for digitization projects you must always allow for extra time. You never know what will go wrong, much less when it will go wrong.

Graduate Theological Union

GTU's Flora Lamson Hewlett Library

First, a little about the internship: I am the digitization intern at the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library, which is part of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. My site supervisor is the head of cataloging (she is currently away at ALA 2010, lucky), and I pretty much work with her exclusively. All told, there are three of us involved in the project: my site supervisor, a volunteer, and myself. Two other interns have worked on the project in prior semesters. Together, we are managing the analog to digital transfer of nearly 1000 reel-to-reel audio tapes created in the 1950s and 1960s.

It is a bit sad that many of the tapes are in bad condition. It is possible that some content may be lost, when any given tape(s) have deteriorated past the point of salvation. Of course, outsourcing for professional treatment is possible in some cases. Nonetheless, as the much of the material is unique and of high research value, with information and discussion by priests about Vatican II, and other topics surrounding this historical period in the Jesuit community, it is hoped that as digitization progresses, sticky shed syndrome and the like will be minimal enough to ensure the success of the project.

To date, my involvement with the actual digitization process has been minimal, and the three times I have been trained, there has always been a problem that has interrupted the process. Lucky for me, I will be able to get some one on one training early next month. So far though, my digitization experience is somewhat laughable.

Sony reel-to-reel player

Sony RTR Player

On attempt one, the selected reel had tape that was so badly warped, that it was set aside for possible outsourcing. On attempt two, the selected reel was brittle, and a piece of tape was broken away, leaving no leader at the beginning of the reel. By the time I was shown how to splice it and repair the break, we had another false start, as the old Sony RTR machine is finicky, and the play button would not stay depressed long enough to even begin a transfer. After troubleshooting, and solving this problem, the day had ended without a single digital file to show for it.

Finally, the next day, after a couple of meetings, there was just enough time to digitize one file, and of all things, my trainer and I didn’t hit record. So I listened to an hour of playback, with no results. It just goes to show, that there are so many places where errors and lapses of judgment can occur. In other words, mistakes can and do happen, and digitization always needs extra time for this included in the planning.


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