Fancy camera gymnastics

For the Arabic Collections Online project, we have been working on getting the American University of Beirut (AUB) on board. They will be digitizing a large number of Arabic-language texts and sending the digital files to us in New York. To make this process possible, we purchased a camera for them and trained them on its use. After the training, we had to coordinate the shipment of the camera to Beirut.

The process of setting up shipment, including the packing of the camera for safety and security, was a major undertaking. Big kudos to Claudia Suleiman, who pulled the many pieces together to make this happen. Melitte Buchman also provided research and input into reputable vendors who could perform these tasks.

Here are some photos of the packing process – the camera is on its way to Beirut now.

Digitization Efficiencies

Pre-Cropped ImageCropped ImageAt DLTS, we are always working on making our processes more efficient. On the digitization side, much of our work requires painstaking efforts that only skilled photographers can perform. Some of it, however, is tedious and repetitive, and a great candidate for automation.

At long last, one of these processes looks like it will be automated very soon: cropping. We are testing an auto-crop tool, which is comprised of a complex series of actions in Photoshop. This tool will work with both scanner and hi-res created materials. The images need to be photographed in an extremely specific way to be a candidate for auto-cropping, so it won’t work for every project, but it will still save us a lot of time.

A big thanks to Soumi Sarkar, one of our student photographers, who worked with a few pointers from the Web along with guidance from Chris Edwards at the Getty to create this tool.

Redesigned AWDL site launched

Ancient World Digital LibraryWe are pleased to announce the launch of the redesigned Ancient World Digital Library (AWDL). An initiative of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW), AWDL will identify, collect, curate, and provide access to a broad range of scholarly materials relevant to the study of the ancient world. This site redesign, featuring all new scholarly content, was over a year in the making, involving a deep dive into book metadata and book publishing as well as an overhaul in site functionality. A special thanks to Alberto, Carol, Joe, Kate, Laura, Melitte, and Rasan for their work on this project.

For more information, please see ISAW’s press release.

Camp Kinderland collection is live

tam439_ref235_n000001_sCamp Kinderland was founded on Sylvan Lake in Hopewell Junction, NY in 1923 by members of the Workmen’s Circle who worked in the organization’s New York City schools. The camp’s founders sought to create a summer youth camp that would not only provide a recreational escape for the children of working people from the tenements of New York City, but also one whose culture would encourage and foster a commitment to socially progressive activism and the embracing of a rich Jewish secular tradition. DLTS digitized the photographic materials for this collection, which were glass negatives. The digitization process was complex and interesting, and the results are beautiful.

Collecting Photography from the Arab World

A photo of four unknown women in Egypt, the year also unknown, from the Yasser Alwan Collection at NYUAD. Courtesy Akkasah, the Centre for Photography, NYUAD
A photo of four unknown women in Egypt, the year also unknown, from the Yasser Alwan Collection at NYUAD. Courtesy Akkasah, the Centre for Photography, NYUAD

Akkasah, the Center for Digital Photography at NYUAD, has been collecting photography from the Arab world. Under DLTS’s direction, they are digitizing these images, which DLTS will then preserve and publish through finding aids. To read about Akkasah, please see this recent article.

Born-Digital workflows and the Jeremy Blake Papers

(this post is a shortened version of the originally published NDSR blog post. This is the first in a series of updates by NYU Libraries Fellow Julia Kim)

While the Digital Library and Technical Services department has long worked to digitize invaluable materials, my post will introduce my National Digital Stewardship Residency‘s task to create access-driven workflows for the handling of complex, born-digital media. My work, then, does not stop at ingest but must account for researcher access. Collections can range in size from 30 MB on 2 floppy disks to multiple terabytes from an institution’s RAID.  Collection content may comprise simple .txt and ubiquitous .doc files or, as is the case of material collected from computer hard drives, may hold hundreds of unique and proprietary file types. Further complicating the task of workflow creation, collections of born-digital media often present thorny privacy and intellectual property issues, especially with regard to identity-specific (ex: social security) information which is generally considered off-limits in areas of public access.

At this point in the fellowship, I have conducted preliminary surveys of several small collections  with relatively simple image, text, moving image, and sound file formats. Through focusing on accessibility with these smaller collections first, I’ll develop a workflow that encompasses disparate collection characteristics. These initial efforts will help me to formulate a workflow as I approach two large, incredibly complex collections: the Jeremy Blake Papers and the Exit Art Collection.  I’ll spend the rest of this post discussing the Blake Papers.

Jeremy Blake (1971-2007) was an American digital artist best known for his “time-based paintings” and his innovations in new media. The Winchester trilogy exemplifies his methodology, which transversed myriad artistic practices: here, he combined 8mm film, vector graphics, and hand-painted imagery to create distinctive color-drenched, even hallucinatory, atmospheric works.  Blake cemented his reputation as a gifted artist with his early artistic and commercial successes, such as his consecutive Whitney Biennial entries (2000–2004, inclusive) and his animated sequences in P.T. Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love (2002).

The Jeremy Blake Papers include over 340 pieces of legacy media physical formats that span optical media, short-lived Zip and Jaz disks, digital linear tape cartridges, and multiple duplicative hard drives.  Much of what we recovered seemed to be a carefully kept personal working archive of drafts, digitized and digital source images, and various backups in multiple formats, both for himself and for exhibition. While the content was often bundled into stacks by artwork title (as exhibited), knowing that multiple individuals had already combed through the archive before and after acquisition of the material make any certainty as to provenance and dating impossible for now.

Through the work I’ll be doing over the course of this fellowship (stay tuned), researchers will be able to explore Blake’s work process, the software tools he used, and the different digital drafts of his moving images. Processing the Jeremy Blake Papers will necessitate exploration of the problems inherent in the treatment of digital materials.  Are emails, with their ease of transmission and seeming immateriality, actually analogous to the paper-based drafts and correspondences in the types of archives we have been processing for years? Or are we newly faced with the transition to a medium that requires seriously rethinking our understandings and retooling of our policy procedures to protect privacy and prevent future vulnerability?  While we haven’t explicitly addressed the issue yet, these are some of the bigger questions that our field will need to explore as we balance our obligations to donors as well as future researchers.

Examples of Jeremy Blake media.
Examples of media from the Jeremy Blake Papers (note the optical media that looks like vinyl).

At this point, Blake’s collections have been previewed, preliminarily processed, and arranged through Access Data’s FTK software. This is a powerful but expensive software program that can make an archivist’s task-—to dynamically sift through vast quantities of digital materials—even plausible as a 9-month project. While my mentor, Don Mennerich, and I manage the imaging and processing, we’ve also starting discussing what access types might look like. This necessitates discussions with representatives from all three of NYU’s archival bodies (Fales, University Archives, and Tamiment), as well as the head of its new (trans-archive) processing department, the Archival Collections Management Department. In our inaugural meeting last week, we discussed making a very small (30 MB) collection accessible to researchers in the very near future as a test case for providing access to some of our larger collections.

More specifically, we have also set up hardware and software formulations that may help us to understand Blake’s artistic output. In the past two weeks, for example, Don has identified the various Adobe Photoshop versions that Blake used through viewing the files through the hex (hexadecimal of the binary). We have sought out those obsolete versions of Adobe Photoshop, and my office area is now crowded with different computers configured to read materials from software versions common to Blake’s most active years of artistic production. Redundancy isn’t just conducive to preventing data loss, however. We still need multiple methods with which to view and assess Blake’s working files. In addition to using multiple operating systems, write-blockers, imaging techniques, and programs, I spent several days installing emulators on our contemporary computers. After imaging material, we’ll start systematically accessing outdated Photoshop files via these older environments, both emulated and actual.

Hex editor view used to help identify software versions used.
Hex editor view used to help identify software versions used (extra points if you recognize what Blake piece this file is from).

In the meantime, I still need to make a number of decisions and the workflow is still very much a work in progress! This underpins a larger point: This fellowship necessitates documentation to address gaps like these. That is, while there are concrete deliverables for each phase of the project, in order to deliver I’ll need to understand and investigate intricacies in the overall digital preservation strategy here at NYU. While working with very special collections like the Jeremy Blake Papers is a great opportunity, it’s also great that the questions we address will be useful at our host sites for many other projects down the line.

Indian Ocean site launched

Indian Ocean Digital CollectionWe are pleased to announce the launch of the Indian Ocean Digital Collection, a site that gathers together a diverse group of materials from the region. This site is a collaboration of several departments: site vision and content curation from Charlotte Priddle of Fales and Tim Johnson of Social Sciences and Humanities, funding for digitization from NYU Abu Dhabi, and digitization and publication from DLTS. This site represents the first substantial library collection that focuses on the Indian Ocean as a whole.

At launch, the site contains 30 books. We will soon add maps, and within a few months, we will also add postcards. We’re also working on some features to enhance discovery. We will roll out the new features and additional content as soon as it is ready.

Special thanks to:

  • Laura, who spun up this site with lightning speed. This was possible because
  • Alberto built a flexible Web site framework that we’ve been using starting with Arabic Collections Online, and
  • Kate published 30 books without breaking a sweat, and
  • Rasan helped us deal with some anomalies about those books, and
  • Joe staged those books for publication, and
  • Melitte’s team digitized those books in the first place, and last but not least,
  • Eric was there from the beginning to make sure everything went through the process from start to finish.

A shout-out to Flannon, who helped us deal with anomalies between development and production and managed the Apache restarts.

Videos from the Armenian struggle

Screen shot 2015-01-09 at 3.45.26 PM (1)NYU Abu Dhabi has acquired archival footage from Bars Media Documentary Film Studio, chronicling the struggles in the hotspots of the former Soviet Union. Bars Media (“Bars” means “simple” or “clear”), one of the first independent film companies in Armenia, specializes in making documentaries about human stories, culture, history and other social issues.

DLTS has just finished QC of this collection, which was digitized in Armenia according to our specifications but required a fair amount of remediation on our end to make sure it was ready for preservation. The material is intense and often difficult to watch, but watch it we did, to ensure the quality of the end product.