Indiana University Libraries Hosts First AV Archival Summer School

Establishing what archivists hope will become a recurring, comprehensive training program, the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive hosted the first Biennial Audio-Visual Archival Summer School, May 13–26, in collaboration with the International Federation of Film Archives and the Coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations.

Two women working with a film reel at BAVASS
BAVASS featured two weeks of hands-on workshops
Photo courtesy of Indiana University

Establishing what archivists hope will become a recurring, comprehensive training program, the Indiana University Libraries (IU) Moving Image Archive hosted the first Biennial Audio-Visual Archival Summer School (BAVASS), May 13–26, in collaboration with the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) and the Coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations.

The curriculum was based primarily on FAIF training and outreach programs, such as a film restoration course that the organization has hosted for years at institutions around the world. “What we were finding, a lot of the feedback [from those training programs] was that there was a need for something more comprehensive—every part of our field needed to be included,” explained Rachael Stoeltje, director of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive, and former FIAF executive committee member.

And they were: The two-week course included presentations and hands-on workshops on the history of film technology, conservation, restoration, digitization, cataloging, metadata creation, accessibility, disaster preparedness and response, outreach and pedagogy, copyright, open source tools and resources, television and video technology, sound technology and digitization, photograph preservation, advocacy and archive management, small scale digitization, transcoding, screenings of restored movies, and more.

“We built this as a model, in hopes that it will be held [at other institutions] every two years,” said Stoeltje.

The initial program was a success, with IU hosting an at-capacity crowd of 50 attendees from 12 countries including Australia, Brazil, Japan, Finland, Italy, and France.

“They were all professionals in the field, many of whom were either in a specialist area—either digital preservation or film archivists—but they were hoping to expand their knowledge in other areas,” as well as librarians aiming to create preservation efforts for important collections, Stoeltje said. “It was a huge, really wide-reaching range of professionals.”

Evaluations are still being assessed, but Stoeltje said that the hands-on workshops “where [attendees] were physically doing the activities” were particularly well received.

“The structure of the program was lectures in the morning—overviews of the issues, whether it was film preservation, digital preservation,” or other topics, she said. “For example we brought in Paul Messier [head of the Lens Media Lab at Yale University’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage], who concentrated on photo preservation. And then the afternoon workshops were where I think people gained the most knowledge—physically holding film, or digitizing videotapes, and even setting up [transfer and playback] decks.” Conveying practical, how-to knowledge was a key goal, Stoeltje emphasized.

Aiming to reinforce the skills that attendees gained during BAVASS, the program is hosting a series of Zoom meetings through the remainder of 2019, in which students and experts will brainstorm solutions to challenges that they have experienced with preservation projects since returning to their respective institutions. These ongoing collaborations will also help inform the design of any future BAVASS programs.

“When people get home to their home institutions, we’ve found that they can’t always figure out how to do something in practice that they’ve learned,” at an offsite workshop, Stoeltje said. “So we’re going to meet with them monthly—maybe more regularly at first—and we’ll also be able to continue to get feedback about where [BAVASS] succeeded and where we failed.”

One refinement is already under consideration, Stoeltje said. Future BAVASS programs may be split into tracks, allowing attendees to focus on a specific area of study. “Moving forward, I think allowing people to specialize more” could be appealing and beneficial, she said.

BAVASS group workshop in Indiana University's MDPI facility. Photo by Emily Sterneman, IU
Brett Scheuermann, Film Subject Matter Expert for Memnon Archiving Services, leads BAVASS students through IU's industrial-scale digitization facility
Photo by Emily Sterneman, Indiana University

IU was well suited to be the inaugural host of the event. The IU Libraries Moving Image Archive is home to one of the world’s largest academic film and video collections, with more than 86,000 items stored in its state-of-the-art Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility for preservation. And the library has done pioneering work in digital archiving during the past two decades. Notably, in 2013, IU announced the Media Digitization & Preservation Initiative (MDPI). Launched with $15 million in funding, MDPI has digitized almost 325,000 audio and video items (including a major collection of irreplaceable wax cylinders) and almost 12,000 film reels. In addition to a digitization facility dedicated to handling and processing fragile items, MDPI established a partnership with Brussels-based Memnon Archiving Services, which helps operate an industrial-scale digitization facility in IU’s on-campus Innovation Center, capable of digitizing nine terabytes of content per day.

“A big part of why we could hold this event here was the opportunity to offer hands-on [instruction],” Stoeltje said. “Having a digitization center like this here and allowing us to open that up to the students was spectacular.”

Tuition for the inaugural BAVASS was $1,500 per attendee, which included housing in IU’s dorms. “Making it super affordable was a key component for us,” Stoeltje said. In addition to Messier, visiting experts included silent film preservation expert Robert Byrne; Kara Van Malssen, partner and senior consultant at software development firm AVP; Johan Oomen, head of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision’s research and development department; Dave Rice, director of the Media Library and Archives at the City University of New York (CUNY) Television; David Walsh, film archive consultant and former head of digital collections at the UK's Imperial War Museums; and Ken Weissman, former head of the Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center. And almost 30 experts from IU were on hand offering assistance, making presentations, and hosting workshops.

A venue for a BAVASS program in 2021 has not yet been decided, although Stoeltje said that a couple of volunteers have expressed interest. Librarians interested in applying for the second program can watch for developments and announcements by following FIAF on social media or periodically checking fiafnet.org.

Author Image
Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com, @MatthewEnis on Twitter, matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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