Lessons from the AMIA 2014 Conference Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Programming and Legacy Equipment

This is a guest post by Michelle Roell, graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin and Co-Founder/Secretary of the AMIA Student Chapter at the University of Texas at Austin.

I had a great #AMIA14 and hope you did too! This was my 2nd year at the AMIA Conference and it did not disappoint. I’m a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin focusing on audiovisual archives, museums and digital asset management. My program isn’t as moving image focused as the Moving Image Archiving degrees my friends at UCLA, NYU and UR are receiving, so I use the AMIA conference as a barometer to see what’s the latest in AV archives and what skills are most desirable for a new AV archivist. Here’s my big takeaway from this year’s sessions:

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Skip Elsheimer’s “$40 Film Scanner” (aka iPhone)

  • Do not be afraid of command line!

Or Terminal. Or Github. Or open source software. Or any “technology” that you don’t know right now. Because it could be the answer you’re looking for in that giant digitization project or a way to collaborate with your peers to provide better access or service to your users. I didn’t expect to be a programmer when I chose the AV archives field, but you better believe I’m adding those classes to my schedule and am embracing my friend the computer, because I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay.

  • But you know how to run a machine room too, right?

At the same time, I’m open and excited about working with legacy (heritage?) formats too! I loved learning about the process of UCLA digitizing their 2” video reels over time at CBS and also the guys at Post Haste rebuilding a Dictaphone to digitize Bing Crosby’s dictated letters for the Bing Crosby Archive. I think it’s crucial for AV archivists to get their hands dirty (sometimes literally) with this equipment because it’s good to see how the tape and machine work together to deliver the content we all crave. I have a lot of experience working in a machine room from my previous work at Viacom/MTV Networks and I’m so grateful that the hours spent in front of that Digibeta deck may come in handy at an AV archive!

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A Rainbow of Dictabelts (not actually Bing’s!)

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2″ Video Reel from the Walter J. Brown Media Archives at the University of Georgia Libraries

  • And finally…

Because all good blog post points come in threes, I just wanted to add a few quotes that I noted from different sessions, which have been floating through my head ever since I left Savannah. There’s so much to see and hear at an AMIA conference (not to mention so many people to talk to and historic Southern Home tours to go on!) and these are just a few of my favorites:

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The amazing Owens-Thomas House, part of Savannah’s Telfair Museums

“This is how you make something ‘not trash’. You share.”
– Ian MacKaye, Best  Morning Plenary Speaker Ever

“You don’t need to be a web developer to use open source.”
– Trevor Thornton, NCSU

“We all agree that film is great, but video can be great too!”
– Mark Quigley, UCLA Film & TV Archives   

Keep in touch with the UT-Austin AMIA Student Chapter at https://www.facebook.com/AMIAatUTAustin

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