By By HELEN DALRYMPLE and GAIL FINEBERG
This is the second in a series of articles about the new, state-of-the-art audio-visual conservation center in Culpeper, Va. (See Information Bulletin, July/August 2006 for the first installment.) Funded largely by the Packard Humanities Institute, the center is now being staffed by Library of Congress personnel who have transferred from Capitol Hill and Dayton, Ohio.
Most of the equipment has been moved (and new equipment installed), and the sophisticated computing platform that will tie together the center's digital-preservation systems and its business-management process systems (integrating them with existing Library systems) is up and running.
Virtually all of the recorded sound collections have been relocated to Culpeper, along with most of the film collections. Nitrate films are now being moved from Dayton with the expectation that they will all be onsite at the Packard Campus in the fall.
For more information, visit the Web site of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation at www.loc.gov/avconservation/packard/.
The Importance of Access
The Library of Congress received the largest private gift in its 207-year history on July 26, 2007, when the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI), headed by David Woodley Packard, officially transferred the new audio-visual conservation center in Culpeper, Va., to the American people.
PHI provided $155 million for the design and construction costs of the new Packard Campus, which is the cornerstone of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center (NAVCC) authorized by Congress in 1997. The other part of the NAVCC is the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound (MBRS) reading rooms on Capitol Hill, which remain the public face of the NAVCC for researchers and patrons.
Accepting on behalf of the American people at the ceremony in the Members Room of the Thomas Jefferson Building were Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the congressional Joint Committee on the Library. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and Stephen Ayers, acting Architect of the Capitol, who is responsible for Library buildings and grounds, accepted the gift on behalf of the Library.
"The Library of Congress Packard Campus is not only a remarkable gift to the American people, but also an enduring promise that our nation's creative patrimony will be preserved for today and tomorrow," said Billington. "Today's transfer is the culmination of years of vision and effort put forth by the Packard Humanities Institute and the Congress, in particular, who recognize the value of preserving the past in order to inform the future," he added. "Thanks to private and public generosity and this unique partnership, we will be able to sustain an audio-visual legacy that might otherwise be lost to the ravages of time or indifference."
In response, David W. Packard said: "We have been enormously impressed by the dedication of the Librarian of Congress, Dr. James Billington, to increasing public access to the Library's audio-visual collections, which will be stored at Culpeper. The great potential of digital technology (relevant both for conservation and public access) has made it urgent, however, for Congress to review the legal framework in which libraries conserve their collections and provide public access to copyrighted items.
"We [at PHI] strongly support continued efforts by the Library of Congress to develop practical mechanisms for providing broader access for researchers, students, and the public outside of Washington to audio-visual materials in the Library's extraordinary collections."
Congress authorized the purchase of the property by PHI and has provided $82.1 million in start-up funding for operations, staff, maintenance, equipment and related costs. Construction began in August 2003. The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is another member of this unique partnership with the Library and will continue to operate and maintain the Packard Campus facilities just as it does the Library's Capitol Hill complex.
Packard and members of his family, along with his architects, construction engineers and members of PHI's board of directors, toured the Packard Campus to view the facility and gain a hands-on understanding of its vast capabilities.
New Conservation Technologies Are 'Unmatched'
Digital technologies developed and in some cases invented specifically for the Library will acquire, preserve and provide access to the world's largest collection of recorded sounds and moving images housed at the Library's Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation.
"The technologies being implemented at the audio-visual conservation center are unprecedented in scale and unmatched in their capabilities anywhere else in the world," said Gregory Lukow, chief of MBRS and director of the new conservation center. "Creating the center has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to collaborate closely with our benefactor, the Packard Humanities Institute, to design individual buildings, floors and workspaces as closely as possible to the ideal," he said. "In addition, we have been able to develop new software that will integrate our systems and databases and automate all of our workflows.
"Not only will these technologies enable exponential increases in the production of high-quality preservation copies of materials that are deteriorating in their current formats, but they also will provide researchers with better, faster access to more of these materials in the future," he said.
For the first time, the Library will have the capability, capacity and automated systems to transfer hundreds of thousands of hours of recorded sounds and moving images from their deteriorating analog sources to digital files that can be refreshed perpetually, migrated to new media over time, and maintained in a large-scale digital storage archive. This expands the Library's efforts to digitize its vast special collections, which began more than 15 years ago with the manual scanning of print and photographic materials for the American Memory Web site (http://memory.loc.gov).
The new facility will allow the Library to ramp up its digital-preservation output, which in the first year of operation is expected to reach two petabytes (there are 1,024 terabytes in one petabyte) of archived digital content. Production levels will increase to an annual rate of three-to-five petabytes, or more, as additional scheduled preservation systems are brought online over the years.
In the Packard Campus' sound, video and film laboratories located on the third floor of the Conservation Building, robotic preservation production systems will operate around the clock, transferring content from endangered video tapes to digital files.
Other machines will rescue rare sounds and moving images from the world's earliest recording media, which have become largely inaccessible because playback devices are obsolete. This material will be digitized, preserved and made available to current and future generations.
Motion picture films—including the Library's "Paper Print" collection comprising the only record of thousands of silent films from the cinema's first two decades—will be scanned from deteriorating nitrate and safety film elements, restored using modern digital tools, and recorded back onto master film copies from which derivative copies can be served to researchers.
To preserve the nation's broadcast heritage, television and radio programming will be recorded from off-air, satellite and cable sources, and Web-based audiovisual content will be captured from the Internet and archived.
A Web-based computing platform will tie all these systems together and integrate them with existing Library systems, such as the Online Public Access Catalog and aspects of the financial system Momentum. This business-process-management system will focus, streamline and automate much of the work for the staff at Culpeper.
"We have two innovative kinds of software development at Culpeper—digitization and business-process," explained Ruth Scovill, who was head of the NAVCC Transition Office in MBRS.
"Digitization software will create a digital file, wrap it with the accompanying metadata and send it to temporary storage; a second interface will pull derivative files and send them to catalogers or to the archive at the Library or to anyone else who needs to use them," she said.
"Business-process software will integrate existing Library systems such as Momentum, the Integrated Library System, the Siebel copyright database, and MAVIS (a database of MBRS item-inventory records) and provide a scheduling program and a customer-management program so that it is possible to track any one item and determine where it is in the process," she said.
Such automation will make it possible to create a schedule of activities for any work room for any day, assign appropriate staff to the room, order and keep track of necessary supplies, move equipment in and out as needed, and keep track of work completed.
Staff in Culpeper and the associated reading rooms on Capitol Hill will connect with their work using the business-process-management system, which will streamline workflows. "One of our main goals," said Scovill, "is no paper and no rekeying."
Lukow said MBRS has collaborated closely with the Library's Information Technology Services (ITS) to develop the conservation center's unprecedented digital preservation systems. The MBRS division was responsible for designing and building the "front-end" audiovisual preservation production systems, and ITS was responsible for the "back end" digital storage archive.
"The quality of the internal Library personnel and the outside consultants we've brought in for the systems-integration work has been spectacular," said Stephen Nease, the new head of technology for NAVCC, who came to the Library a year ago after a career in broadcasting.
Conservation Building: The 'Heart and Soul' of the Campus
The Conservation Building is the "heart and soul" of the Packard Campus. In addition to the preservation laboratories on the third floor and a digital archive Data Center on the second floor, this building houses administrative and staff offices, the Moving Image Section, the Recorded Sound Section, and all of the center's public spaces, including the main theater and a listening auditorium.
Library staff started to occupy the building in early May, and some 50 employees are now onsite, with another nine soon to join them: five from Dayton and four from Capitol Hill. Plans are for new hires to double the staff over the coming year. Ten MBRS personnel remain in the Madison Building on Capitol Hill to staff the reading rooms and to provide administrative support.
"There is a whole new spirit in the division out here at Culpeper," said Gregory Lukow from his new office in the Conservation Building. "The staff who decided to transfer to Culpeper really want to be here and are enthusiastic about the new facility."
"On the one hand," he added, "staff here at the campus share the excitement and joy of being able to work with all these wonderful new technologies. At the same time, we also recognize our great responsibility to live up to the expectations that went into the creation of this facility and to fulfill its tremendous promise."
Two other buildings—the Central Plant, which manages all heating, cooling and electrical controls for the facility, and the Collections Building, into which the Library's recorded sound and moving image collections are being moved—have been occupied by the AOC and the Library for more than a year.
Altogether, the Culpeper complex will enable the Library to consolidate its enormous recorded-sound and moving-image collections consisting of more than 6 million items, which have been housed in seven locations in four states and the District of Columbia. Last year, following years of careful planning, the Library began moving collections to Culpeper from storage facilities on Capitol Hill, Landover and Jessup, Md., Boyers, Pa., and Elkwood, Va. More than 95 percent of the collections has been moved.
All of these diverse materials will live together in perpetuity in a safe, secure facility. Digital files will be migrated periodically and backed up remotely. Analog collections in scores of audiovisual formats will be stored in cool, dry vaults and rooms whose temperature, relative humidity and customized shelving and cabinetry are designed to protect and prolong the life of each medium.
If the new Conservation Building is the "heart and soul" of the Culpeper complex, the digital preservation laboratory systems on the third floor of that building must be called "the brains" of the whole operation. It is here that the most sophisticated machines available—some of them adapted or created for the Library of Congress—will generate the digital files to preserve the nation's sound and moving-image collections for generations to come.
The third-floor laboratory is in fact three laboratories—a sound laboratory and a video laboratory that share the same space in the front of the floor, and the film laboratory, which is separated from the other two by a three-hour firewall.
Let SAMMA Do It—Faster
In the laboratories dedicated to saving recorded sounds and video images, a robotic digital preservation production system called SAMMA (System for the Automated Migration of Media Archives) will be capable of working 24/7 to reformat the analog content of video cassettes.
SAMMA was invented by the firm Media-Matters to save the Library "decades of time in preservation reformatting," Lukow said.
SAMMA brings together a unique configuration of hardware, software and workflow processes needed to automatically migrate recorded content from video cassettes to one or more digital files, including preservation master files and access derivatives. The system culls media that need special handling, verifies the item inventory-control record, and provides media cleaning, inspection and automated quality control.
Over the next several years, the Library will use the SAMMA robotic cassette-reformatting system to migrate and digitize more than 500,000 television and video items. The final preservation output will be high-quality MJPEG2000 files and the technical metadata that describes the condition of the media item and documents the transfer process.
Every 18 months, data tapes containing all the sound and video preservation files produced at the NAVCC will be migrated to new generations of data tapes stored in the Data Center archive. This constant migration of data to the next generation of technology will guarantee access by future generations, no matter how much commercial playback technologies change over time.
Initially, the Library will use four SAMMA machines to automatically digitize the Library's collection of some 250,000 three-quarter-inch videotapes (U-matic, a broadcast standard from the 1970s to the 1990s), which are all subject to significant degradation in the short term.
"The SAMMAs are going to allow us to preserve these older deteriorating videotapes and do it much more quickly and efficiently than we have been able to in the past," said Allan McConnell, head of the Recording Laboratory.
IRENE Saves Sounds
Rare or fragile sound recordings will receive specialized expert attention in nine critical-listening rooms (one of which is (pictured at left) and audio-transfer rooms. There, expert transfer engineers will oversee the production of numerous streams of digitization from various sources while ensuring that none of the quality of the original audio signal is lost in the process.
In one of these rooms, engineers will use IRENE (Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.), a unique new system that Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists created to help Library of Congress preservationists restore at-risk disc recordings and improve audio quality.
IRENE uses two-dimensional digital-imaging technologies to generate high-resolution digital maps of the grooved surfaces of recorded discs. Using this technology, sound preservationists can reconstruct damaged or broken recordings and capture sounds while minimizing interference from scratches or debris on disc surfaces or extraneous sounds present on deteriorating recordings.
According to Carl Haber, a scientist at the Berkeley National Laboratory and one of the IRENE project leaders who spoke at the Library in June, the process of converting a standard, two-dimensional disc can currently be achieved in near "real-time." The image resolution produces individual pixels that are roughly one micron wide. An entire "raw" image file of a single disc can be four to eight gigabyes, although that size shrinks to about 300 megabytes after processing.
In two other sound-transfer rooms, machines that can produce four streams of digital data at a time will be used to transfer same-format materials that are in relatively good condition and do not need to be closely monitored.
The third-floor sound and video laboratories also include separate "media-prep" rooms in which to wash discs, repair or splice audio and video tapes, and bake tapes suffering from "sticky shed syndrome." In three expert-video rooms, specialists will recover images and sounds from the more severely damaged videotape materials, including obsolete open-reel formats such as 2-inch and 1-inch reels. In an edit room, specialists will correct stops and starts or other malfunctions inherent in the tape-transferring process so that the final product is a seamless, high-quality digital version of the original. Specialists working in a quality-assurance room will monitor and verify all digital files produced from both audio and video materials.
The third floor also will include a room for the TiVo-style capture of television and radio programs and newscasts, which will allow the Library simultaneously to record broadcast programs off the air, as well as from satellite, cable and the Web—a new capability that will greatly enhance the holdings of the Library's American Television and Radio Archive.
Sharing the robotics room with SAMMA will be a network center that will serve as a switching and routing hub for the entire preservation facility.
Film Preservation Laboratory
Activities of the Library's Motion Picture Conservation Center in Dayton will be transferred to the third-floor film-preservation laboratory, which has a recessed "processing pit" area for developing new film.
Ken Weissman, head of the Dayton center, said: "With the new Packard Campus film-preservation laboratory, we will be able to more efficiently preserve black-and-white films (both nitrate and safety), because we will have more film-developing machines dedicated to the task. This will enable us to preserve both 16 mm and 35 mm films concurrently, with machines eventually dedicated to each gauge."
Weissman said the facility has a number of machines found in traditional film labs, including a variety of printers that have been modified for use with archival films. Other new equipment will be installed at Culpeper as well.
Some of the new machines will process color film (no color work has been done at Dayton). Color work at the Packard Campus will include film developing, film sound re-recording, and the digital preservation and restoration of motion pictures. "Although we will concentrate on traditional photochemical restoration for the first few years, we hope to eventually preserve much of the collection using the digital preservation/restoration path," Weissman said.
The film lab also has a Kinetta digital scanner, restoration suite, and film recorder developed by Jeff Kreines of Kinetta Inc. in cooperation with Weissman and staff of the Dayton center during the last three years. This machine is being used to restore the paper-print collection of the nation's earliest silent films at the rate of eight frames per second—far faster than previous manual processes. With sophisticated software, these digital images of the original paper prints can be made to look like new before they are printed onto 35 mm film for projection onto a screen.
Weissman said the film lab at Culpeper will have another Kinetta in the future for scanning films of various gauges and a Spirit 2k DataCine (moved from the Recording Lab at the Madison Building), which will be used primarily to scan 16 mm films to digital files and to make videotape copies for outside clients.
"The lab will be set up so that we can do whatever is necessary," said Mike Mashon, head of the Library's Moving Image Section. "If it's the last film on the planet, we'll be able to deal with it at Culpeper."
Processing Recorded Sounds
On the second floor of the Conservation Building, the Library's huge collection (nearly 3 million items) of commercial sound recordings, radio broadcasts and early voice recordings of historic figures will be processed, rehoused, and routed to permanent storage or to the third-floor laboratories for special treatments.
The biggest change for the Recorded Sound Section, headed by Eugene DeAnna, is that all recorded-sound materials will be served to patrons in digital formats. For a recording that has not yet been digitized for preservation in an archival file, "a reference request will be treated as an order to digitize the item," DeAnna said.
"I think a researcher request is as important an indicator for preservation as a curator request," DeAnna said. "My goal is to make our workflow so efficient that we will be able to digitize on demand in response to requests from the reading room."
Ample workspace at Culpeper is expected to improve staff efficiency in processing materials and treating damaged or deteriorating items. "The physical layout, with ergonomic setups specifically designed for our purposes, will improve productivity tremendously," DeAnna said. "We will have six to seven rooms at Culpeper to accomplish the work we do now in one or two rooms here."
Processing new recorded-sound acquisitions involves selecting items for permanent archives, setting aside items for special preservation treatments and preparing item-inventory records for MAVIS, (Merged Audio-Visual Information System), which is a database of inventory records for all items held by MBRS. These records include detailed descriptions of each item, together with information about its physical format and condition, playback requirements and the number of existing copies.
Recorded Sound Section staff will have a reference library with reading tables and three listening rooms equipped to play typical disc and tape formats. Specialized playback equipment, such as cylinder machines, will be available, as will machines to clean and rewind tape.
Workflow Begins on First Floor
When the Conservation Building is in full operation, new acquisitions will come into the first floor through a loading dock. Film and other moving-image materials will first move quickly to the back of the building for physical treatment, boxing or rewinding. Recorded-sound collections will be sent to the second floor for processing and other treatment.
Visual materials will move to the Moving Image Section on the first floor for processing by staff, or, if they are nitrate-based, into a processing area of the Nitrate Vaults Building. Once processed, items will move to one of the vaults in the Collections Building or the Nitrate Vaults for permanent storage.
"Workflows will be refined as we get into the building," said Mashon. "Catalogers and processing technicians will have more tools at their disposal at Culpeper, but their basic work doesn't change. They will have more space, more equipment, more resources.
"We're not revolutionizing cataloging; we're revolutionizing the way we've handled the collections and the way we make them accessible to the public," Mashon continued. "Now that we're out here, I'm sure we will find different ways of working together. We'll be flexible; we can't have hard and fast rules or rigid protocols going in. We have to experience it first to see how it works."
Mashon emphasized that the move to Culpeper will enable staff to generate "an unheard of number of digital files," and that increased digitization will enable catalogers to add more detailed cataloging information to minimal descriptions. Processing technicians will then be able to focus on new materials coming in, he said.
Researchers and the Audio-Visual Conservation Center
The digital technology used to preserve these recorded-sound and moving-image collections in high-resolution archival files will make it easy to serve quality digital derivatives to researchers working in recorded-sound and moving-image reading rooms in the Madison Building on Capitol Hill. Although study facilities for specialized research will be available at the Packard Campus in Culpeper, most researchers will access the collections from the Capitol Hill reading rooms.
By the end of the summer, researchers will begin receiving sound and video recordings in digital files derived from archival copies. Film viewing prints will be driven from Culpeper to Capitol Hill every day for patron access on viewing machines in the reading rooms.
As items are digitized as part of the preservation process or in response to patrons' requests, they will be conveyed to Capitol Hill from a derivative server connected to Culpeper computers by a fiber optic cable. Digital files stored on this "derivative server" can be accessed on demand by researchers, catalogers or anyone else needing them.
For sound and video materials that have not yet been digitized, researchers should not have to wait more than one or two days for access. Delivery of film materials may take longer, but researchers should be able to get a film in less than the current week's waiting time because collections will be consolidated at Culpeper and not have to be pulled from various storage facilities in different states.
The Packard Campus' Web-based business-process system that links multiple databases and activates various software will come into play the instant that a Capitol Hill researcher begins a search at a reading room computer. Using a powerful Google-like Lucene search engine to browse the MAVIS inventory database or other databases for recordings, films and videos, a researcher can "shop online." Items of interest can be cached in "My Cabinet," and the researcher can fill as many cabinets as he wishes and save the items for future retrieval.
Once the researcher decides what to request from a cabinet, the system generates a work order for Culpeper staff to fill. Unless a derivative copy of a record or film or video already exists, staff will make one for delivery to the researcher—by truck if the item is a film or as a digital file if the item is a sound recording or videotape.
A researcher needing permission to reproduce a sound or image can submit online verification that he has obtained authority to use an item from a rights- holder or donor.
Sharing the Wealth
"The NAVCC would not have been possible without our extraordinary partnership with the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI) and the commitment of the U.S. Congress," said Lukow. He emphasized that the center, with its culturally significant collections and the latest technologies to preserve and serve them, belongs to the nation, not just the Library.
"The Packard Campus will share its innovations, standards and tools with the broader archival community, provide a test bed for the development of large-scale mass digital archiving systems for sound and video materials and provide other preservation services to the nation's libraries, archives and industry constituents in the public and private sectors.
"In creating a facility to safeguard our audio-visual heritage for decades to come, the Packard Humanities Institute has provided a monumental gift not only to the Library of Congress but also to the future of the nation."
Helen Dalrymple is the former editor of the Library of Congress Information Bulletin. Gail Fineberg is the editor of the Library's staff newspaper, The Gazette. Matt Raymond, the Library's director of communications, contributed to this article.