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21st Century – Toward “A Digital Public Broadcasting Archive”

In the first decade of the 21st century, the digital revolution provided the public broadcasting community with the opportunity to better fulfill the archival imperatives of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 and the preservation recommendations of the 1997 Library of Congress Television and Video Preservation study.

In 2004, WNET, WGBH, PBS, and New York University collaborated to introduce digital preservation issues and practices to the public television system through the Preserving Digital Public Television (PDPTV) project, funded by the National Digital Information and Infrastructure Program of the Library of Congress (NDIIPP). The project focused on preserving born-digital program files and was not engaged in analog-related preservation issues. By promoting the importance of digital preservation to public broadcasting, however, PDPTV was instrumental in helping to create the American Archive, an initiative begun in 2007 at the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.20

That year, the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS), after collaborating with CPB, PBS, and local stations, “generated a document for Congressional staff that proposed the development of a digital repository to preserve and distribute both public television and radio content after it had been broadcast.”21 Since 2001, Congress had allocated funds for the physical infrastructure necessary for PBS stations to convert to digital by 2009.22 APTS now lobbied Congress to allow some of the digital conversion funds to be used by CPB to develop the American Archive.

Congress was receptive to the idea. A Senate Appropriations Committee report stated:

The Committee has strongly supported the conversion of public broadcasting stations to digital formats and continues to do so in this act. However, the Committee recognizes that this conversion to digital transmission leaves a great number of stations with limited programming and makes a substantial proportion of the public broadcasting library unusable. The Committee believes that this archive of material is a valuable asset to the public and to historians. Therefore, the Committee intends that CPB may spend a portion of the digital conversion funds to develop a digital public broadcasting archive pursuant to 47 U.S.C. 396(g)(2)(D).23

The House Appropriations Committee agreed, emphasizing that “a great majority of public broadcasting audio, film and video history sits in collections that are deteriorating.”24 With the go-ahead from Congress, CPB commissioned a report in 2008 “to investigate the strategic and tactical aspects” involved in developing the American Archive. After surveying production costs at approximately 560 stations, the study concluded “that the American people had invested over $10 billion in content that was no longer available to them.” The report urged CPB to create a working prototype “in order to show the usefulness of the Archive to key stakeholders and the American public.”25

American Archive Pilot Project

In February 2009, CPB contracted with Oregon Public Broadcasting to develop and manage a pilot project. Twenty-four public radio and television stations identified, restored, digitized, and made accessible nearly 2,500 hours of archival content related to two topics: civil rights activities and World War II veterans’ stories. According to CPB, “stations reported that important archival material had been lost or was in the process of decay, which reinforced the urgency of the American Archive’s mission.” The pilot project provided CPB with information to help plan future core American Archive activities, including inventorying, metadata gathering, restoration, analog-to-digital workflow, rights and permissions, and online access.26

In August 2009, CPB authorized the establishment of an American Archive office. The office extended the American Archive’s reach to public media entities outside the definitions of the pilot project and had authority to establish new metadata standards, conduct an inventory of public media assets, commission a strategic technology plan for the American Archive’s operations, hire an executive director, and manage project components.27

American Archive Content Inventory Project

In 2010, CPB contracted with WGBH to manage the American Archive Content Inventory Project. Between 2010 and 2012, public media stakeholders and staff invested more than 107,000 person hours in a nationwide inventory of public broadcasting archival holdings. To accomplish the project, CPB provided $2,882,820 in 120 grants to public radio and television stations in every state, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico to inventory film reels and tapes that the stations had amassed throughout their years of production. In total, more than 2.5 million asset-level inventory records compliant with the PBCore metadata schema were created by these stations.28

PBCore 2.0 Metadata Project

The PBCore metadata schema (Public Broadcasting Metadata Dictionary) was created by the public broadcasting community in the United States for use by public broadcasters and related communities that manage audiovisual assets, including libraries and archives. PBCore is organized as a set of specified fields that can be used in database applications, and it can be used as a data model for media cataloging and asset management systems. As an XML schema, PBCore enables data exchange between media collections, systems, and organizations. Between its initial development in 2001 and 2009, the PBCore schema underwent four revisions. In 2011, CPB funded another revision, “developed in alignment with the American Archive ... to 1) establish PBCore as the metadata standard for public media and 2) design the updated schema to facilitate interoperability with existing consumer and educational platforms.”29

Transition to a Permanent Home

Congress cut CPB’s digital supplemental appropriation for fiscal year 2011 from $36 million to $6 million. For FY 2012, Congress failed to allocate any digital funds to CPB. Current subsequently reported, “Having lost its digital projects fund last year, CPB lacks the money to develop the American Archive much further, according to Mark Erstling, senior v.p. The next step is to find an outside institution to adopt and support creation of the proposed archive of public stations' historic audio, video and films.”30 In February 2012, CPB announced that it “is poised to conclude its incubation of the Archive and to secure an appropriate, long-term home for this important work.” CPB subsequently solicited proposals from institutions “accustomed to preserving cultural archives, capable of digitizing and sharing media assets, dedicated to supporting the mission and organizations of public media, and able to raise substantial funds to sustain these efforts over many decades.”31 As an integral part of the selection process, CPB convened a national advisory panel, charged with assisting CPB in identifying a future and permanent home for the American Archive.

American Archive Digitization Project

As the selection process for a new home proceeded, CPB contracted with Crawford Media Services to digitize 35,000 hours of analog content selected by 100 stations from material each had included in the Content Inventory Project. Each station was allotted a number of hours to digitize based on the number of records they had created. In addition, approximately 5,000 hours of file-based public broadcasting content was selected by stations and other institutions for transfer by Crawford to the American Archive. In total, approximately 40,000 hours of public television and radio content was selected. In a complementary project, CPB contracted with AudioVisual Preservation Solutions to create an Archival Management System “to serve as the backbone of the American Archive by facilitating the search and retrieval of metadata collected during the inventory, digitization and preservation phases.”32

The American Archive of Public Broadcasting

In April 2013, CPB selected WGBH and the Library of Congress as the permanent stewards of the American Archive project and provided funding for an initial two-year period to complete the digitization project, ingest digital files, create a website for stations and the public, and develop plans for access, growth, and sustainability. Agreements between the parties involved were signed in August and September of 2013. WGBH and the Library chose “The American Archive of Public Broadcasting,” abbreviated as “AAPB,” for the program’s official name.

WGBH and the Library share governance responsibilities. WGBH is responsible for overseeing the completion of the digitization project; the development of the AAPB website to provide the public with access to the more than 2.5 million inventory records and as many of the digital files as possible, rights permitting; and station relations. The Library will ingest files into its Packard Campus Digital Archive and maintain the integrity of the AAPB digitized content in perpetuity. All 40,000 hours of digitized material will be available for on-site viewing and listening at WGBH and the Library of Congress.

Together, WGBH and the Library of Congress have developed plans to grow the collection by enhancing existing metadata records, targeting and adding new records from stations and other institutions with at risk public broadcasting materials, and targeting and adding new digital files. By October 2015, WGBH and the Library plan to open an online reading room on the AAPB website, restricted to research, educational and informational uses, with content made available for streaming for which permissions has been obtained or which may prudently be presented for research, educational and informational purposes under fair use and other legal doctrines. The two organizations plan to create curated presentations, develop educational outreach programs, and pursue grants to sustain AAPB for the long term.

WGBH and the Library believe that the legacy of American public broadcasting must be preserved for future generations. We will continue to be helped in this effort by lessons learned from those involved in earlier initiatives to preserve public broadcasting materials. We look forward to collaborating with others in this effort to keep, organize, and provide access to the cultural treasures created by the public media system.

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