Projects big and small at the Stanford Media Preservation Lab

A compact cassette from the Clayman Institute on Gender Studies

The recent digitization of cassettes from the Clayman Institute for Gender Research was a reminder of the wide range of collection sizes preserved by SMPL. This entry will give a brief description of why this collection is interesting and how it relates to the multiple workflows of the Stanford Media Preservation Lab. 

The Clayman Institute has gone through many changes over the years since it's founding in 1974. Originally called the Center for Research on Women (often referred to as the acronym CROW) there was a change in name to reflect the broadening research focus of the institute. Discussions around this topic are actually captured on the cassettes but beyond that the collection has many individual highlights such as interviews with Tillie Olsen and Anne Sexton. However, it also is interesting to look at the collection as a whole because of how the collection documents the development of contemporary gender studies (well, actually up to 2004 is when the cassettes end, but since then much work is on the Clayman Institute web portal). The cassette collection is currently available through streaming online to the public through the collection guide. This collection was quite large, consisting of over 800 individual compact cassettes and spanning the work of two preservation audio engineers and a relocation of the sound studios used by SMPL. While the time to complete work such as this is one component of the story there also is another one brought to mind: the different ways preservation work is undertaken at SMPL. 

There are large projects and then there are small projects and patron requests. Large projects take careful evaluation to create accurate and realistic projections of time and machine allocation. With SMPL’s move to Redwood City a cassette room was installed that features up to 8 machines running in parallel. But, as the day-to-day wear and tear takes a toll often machines will have to be removed for maintenance and repair reducing that number. Audiocassettes lend themselves to parallel transfer in ways many other audio formats do not and this allows large projects containing audiocassettes to be handled with more speed. Currently for other formats the process is performed with necessarily less parallel transfer and consequently projects involving other formats consume more time. Despite these characteristics work on the Clayman collection still spanned approximately 6 months. It was begun prior to the arrival of the author at the end of May of 2013 and the final transfers were completed in January 2014. This of course includes time taken out for patron requests, small projects, and the installation of new studios in Redwood City. This project addresses one of the fundamental characteristics of time-based media in that it takes time to digitally capture and evaluate the consequent files. The time can be reduced through parallel transfer, but only in degrees.

So varied formats and project types require different approaches and workflows for digitization and ultimately different amounts of time.