Media Lab prepares for relocation to Redwood City

July 14, 2013
Hannah Frost
Stanford Media Preservation Lab floorplan

The Stanford Media Preservation Lab (SMPL) – the unit responsible for digitization and preservation of Stanford University Libraries' (SUL) extensive holdings of sound recordings and moving images -- is busy this summer preparing for our new home at 425 Broadway in Redwood City. SMPL is one of several SUL divisions relocating from our current occupancies at 1450-1454 Page Mill Road at the behest of the University.

Over 50 pieces of film, audio, video playback and treatment equipment -- nearly 1 ton of gear -- plus the desks of SMPL's four staff will be moved over Labor Day weekend (August 31 – September 2, 2013). In preparation for the move, normal lab operations will begin to wind down in early August. The work to reconfigure, cable and re-install the equipment will take 2-4 weeks. We expect to resume regular levels of services and productivity by October 1.

While planning began over a year ago, things have been steadily and rapidly ramping up during the past six months. We have been working directly with SUL Facilities staff, and indirectly with the Stanford LBRE project manager, on a number of key areas in planning and construction of the lab, including: space layout, furniture selection, security protocols, and specifications for electrical, telecom, lighting, HVAC, acoustic treatments, sound proofing, and wall and floor coverings. Meeting these specifications is fundamentally critical to creating a production environment suitable for playback and high-quality digital capture of audio and video signals for purposes of preservation.

Other key planning activities include establishing new protocols for the transport of materials from campus and SUL collection storage facilities to the Redwood City site. This work is presently underway by a group of representatives from Technical Services, Collections & Services, Facilities (especially the Mail Room), and SMPL. Materials transport deserves particular care and attention because of the implications for both the safety and security of the items themselves as well as the impact on workflows within and between SUL departments.

The relocation offers SMPL several new opportunities and advantages. We are looking forward to being collocated with the Special Collections Manuscripts Processing unit with whom we collaborate regularly on digital collection projects and on-demand digitization requests for patrons, exhibits, and the like. With the physical distance between the Manuscripts staff and the SMPL team eliminated, cross-department communications and workflows will inevitably be more efficient and productive. And the heightened proximity to Conservation (at Redwood City we will be located adjacent to one another on the same level and will share some common spaces) will encourage new possibilities for coordinated activities and expanded preservation program development.

In terms of the SMPL facility itself, some exciting changes are afoot. The new video lab space is different in size and shape, catalyzing a significant redesign of our video capture workstation. The set-up will make it easier to maintain and manage video playback equipment and will offer ergonomic benefits for routine digitization operations.

On the audio side, we will have two distinct spaces for audio work, ultimately resulting in increased capacity for simultaneous digitization of multiple analog recordings (up to 12 items digitized at once!). And while the lab spaces will be laid out and apportioned differently, the total overall area of SMPL’s space (1,000 sq. ft.) remains more or less unchanged from our current footprint.

AudioVisual Preservation Solutions, the consulting firm involved in the original lab build-out, re-engaged for this present effort in order to review, refresh, and validate the construction specifications. The firm is also advising on the modifications and enhancements to the video and audio workstation designs.

SUL's Redwood City facility is located 6 miles from Stanford's main campus, and fittingly for SMPL, on the original site of the Ampex Corporation headquarters. Ampex was a major US developer of early audio and video technology. In addition to innovations in recording and playback equipment (like the two antique machines on display in the Green Library Information Center), Ampex was a leading manufacturer of magnetic tape in the mid-to-late 20th century. Ampex tape stock was used widely by professional broadcasters and consumers alike, and consequently tens of thousands of hours of recordings on Ampex stock are found in the holdings of the Archive of Recorded Sound, University Archives, and the Department of Manuscripts and Archives. Few magnetic tape brands age gracefully but Ampex tape is especially notorious for its poor aging qualities. We often have to go to great lengths to clean and treat these analog recordings in order to successfully play back and digitize the content for preservation.

When the move and reinstallation are complete, tours of SMPL's new facilities will be offered for SUL staff. Keep an eye out for future blog posts announcing the tour schedule.