Signal Chain: an unconference for media preservation professionals

August 11, 2018
Hannah Frost

On July 17-18, the Stanford Media Preservation Lab team welcomed a small group of media preservation professionals from around the region and across the country to our home on the Stanford Redwood City campus for two days of “unconferencing". While Stanford has been a leader in media preservation among academic libraries for over a decade, this was our first time hosting a community-oriented event with the goal of advancing our collective work: to ensure ongoing, long-term access to audiovisual recordings of all kinds in the interest of scholarly research, artistic continuity, and the public good.

The invitees represent cultural heritage institutions with established programs focused on preserving media systematically. As such, our sessions covered a spectrum of advanced technical topics as well as higher-level issues of mutual interest. Creating the agenda together as a group, we talked about long-term program sustainability, reformatting workflows, automation of quality control, challenges of born-digital media, metadata of all kinds, working with vendors, conservation treatments, professional development and training, the FFV1 codec, and motion picture film digitization. 

Attendees to the 2018 unconference hosted by SMPL

First-time attendees to the Stanford Media Preservation Lab's unconference, or the "Signal Chain" gang

The institutions represented at the meeting were:

  • Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  • Bay Area Video Coalition
  • Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive
  • Computer History Museum
  • Getty Research Institute
  • Indiana University
  • New York Public Library
  • New York University Libraries
  • Oregon Historical Society
  • San Francisco Symphony
  • San Francisco Silent Film Festival
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History & Culture
  • Stanford University
  • Texas Archive of the Moving Image
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In addition to plenary sessions and smaller breakout discussions, we shared demos of project work, such as an open source database for managing digitized recordings developed by the University of North Carolina Southern Folklife Collection and a soon-to-be-released website featuring a slick interface and media player for accessing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ impressive collection of oral histories.

All the discussions resulted in a healthy list of action items and deliverables we can continue to work on for the benefit of the larger group over the course of the coming months.

Knowing we would want to meet again, the group brainstormed ideas for a name for the event. The winning idea is “Signal Chain”, adopting the term used in our field to describe a series of components in a system connected to receive, process, and output a signal. The name cleverly and succinctly reflects our sense of connection and a collective purpose to share information that advances our work. 

We hope to do it again next year!


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