All hands on deck at Señal 3

Much of our fourth day at Señal 3 was spent preparing for tomorrow’s community archiving workshop.  As 20+ people will be joining us in inventorying videotapes tomorrow, we wanted to make sure the small and cozy space of Señal 3 was able to accommodate the participants, and that the APEX team was prepared to facilitate the event. To this end our first order of business was to rearrange the tables in the workspace. We set up three clusters of tables inside and a fourth outside that will be used as cataloging stations tomorrow. With our new cataloging stations arranged, we continued to work on our inventory of Señal 3’s collection of Hi-8 tapes. Almost all hands were on deck for this project, with myself, Manon Gray, Caroline Gil, Ayesha Kahn, Taylor Morales, and Michael Pazmino making significant progress on that inventory, and also beginning to label some of the U-Matic tapes that will be catalogued during the workshop tomorrow.

Progress also continued to be made on setting up a videotape digitizations station at Señal 3.  One of our goals was to have the station set up by tomorrow so that it could be demonstrated at the workshop, and then continue to be used to digitize tapes throughout next week.  Eddy Colloton and Jonathan Farbowitz continued testing the digitization equipment, and got the AJA capture card set up and working.

For me, one of the highlights of the day was learning how to clean a VHS player. Following a demonstration by Jonathan and Eddy, I, along with the rest of the APEX participants at Señal 3, were able to gain hands on experience cleaning tape decks.  We used PEC pads and q-tips with isopropyl alcohol to clean the various components of the deck, with special care being taken to gently clean the heads.  In total, we cleaned three of Señal 3’s VHS players. One of these decks will be used to digitize tapes, and another we plan on turning into a tape cleaning machine.

Finally, an important conversation was had between us and Polo about what kind of file formats we will be capturing during the digitizations process. For preservation masters, archives usually aim to digitize in uncompressed formats, but these are very large files and Señal 3 currently has much more limited storage capacity than a large archive. Though a compressed format is more economical in terms of file size, it is a drop in quality of the video file and some of the signal information will be lost in the process.  Thus, we aimed to strike a balance between compressing the file and maintaining an acceptable level of quality.  Additionally, Polo wanted to become more familiar with workflows for digitizing both uncompressed and compressed files so he could make decisions in the future when Señal 3 will hopefully have more digital storage capacity.  With all of these factors in mind, we reached the decision to digitize taped uncompressed and create QuickTime preservation masters, as well as transcode them to create compressed H.264 files. This will help Polo become more familiar with both workflows, as well as provide Señal 3 with both preservation and access quality files of the tapes we digitize tomorrow at the workshop and throughout the next week. This conversation really cemented the idea that it is our responsibility as archivists to collaborate with institutions and collectors to fit their needs, and that so-called best practices may not always be the answer.  Conversations like the one we had with Polo today represent an important step towards preserving tapes in a way that will be most useful and beneficial for specific and unique institutions like Señal 3 La Victoria.


––Savannah Campbell



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s