Wednesday, May 5, 2010

April 18, Channel 13 (WNET) Library/ Tape Archive Tour

The group met at the headquarters of WNET (Channel 13) at 5:30 PM to tour the company and the Library/Tape Archive. Eighteen people participated in the tour. We were met by Winter Shanck, Channel 13’s Archivist and Gloria Deucher, Channel 13’s Director of Volunteer Services.

Gloria started the tour by showing us the network operations/data center for Channel 13 which also broadcasts and monitors WLIW’s Channel 21. We looked in on technicians monitoring the satellite signals in real time for different programs; they were checking the digital signals for problems. Each computer monitor displayed a different currently broadcast channel whether it is the PBS Kids, the How To channel, Channel 13, or Channel 21 channels. The data center was a showcase of how television had switched from analog to digital signals. You might call the digital signals "streaming media."

Then we visited the studios where Bill Moyers Journal (ending in April) and WorldFocus (currently off-air) were filmed. It was exceptionally interesting because the sets were still available for viewing even though Thirteen’s new studio will be located at Lincoln Center in the future and we learned that most of the cameras and lighting were robotically controlled in the studio. We were also informed that fiber optic cables were being run between Lincoln Center and the Channel 13 to continue in the tradition of all the filming being done remotely. The hope of the studio being located at Lincoln Center is that it would provide a stronger cultural identity for Channel 13. The last stop on this portion of the studio tours with sets was a visit to the studio for BBC news.

Gloria then showed us the digital sound studio where shows were edited for music, sound effects and narration. Adjacent to the studio was a soundproof narration room. The audio library included a very wide variety of nature sounds.

As the group toured the hallways, our attention was drawn to various mementos and effects from Channel 13. A few of the artifacts were posters of Miss Marple and Channel 13's Great Performances, a display case showing some of the awards WNET has won over the years, a memorial for one of the technician’s who was killed on September 11th, and displays of the architects rendering of the Lincoln Center Studio space.

During the second part of the tour, Winter Shanck, WNET’s Archivist talked about the archives. She explained the history of Channel 13’s Library and Tape Archive. She also explained that the Archive contain over fifty years of programming. The library was opened in 1971. The Archive did not come into being until 27 years later in 1998.

Although the Library at Channel 13 focuses its research on many topics, a lot of the holdings are geared towards the New York metropolitan area. For that reason it does subscribe to numerous magazines and local newspapers. She explained that most of her focus lately has been on cataloging and providing access to the audio visual materials owned by WNET.

Winter showed us the wide variety of videotape, film and digital file media formats housed in the Archive. There were ten inch floppy disks, huge 2” inch videotapes, betamax cartridges, 16mm Kinescope films, Digital betacam, and many formats in between. Since DVDs and CDs are not considered as a viable archival storage medium by audiovisual archivists, Winter informed us that the Archive discourages the archiving of this format. However, many exceptions are made for this suggestion. Recently, a majority of WNET’s programming is shot on digital cameras and stored as digital files. These currently “born-digital” (aka filed based) materials are stored on LTO (Linear Tape-Open) magnetic single reel tapes. The tapes she showed us were 800 gigabyte Fuji Film storage tapes.

Winter described her main duties to us, including researching programs and celebrities. She frequently tracks down people who have appeared in Channel 13 shows in order to provide the permissions and production departments with celebrity contact information. This often requires using databases for public record searches as well as databases like Nexis and Factiva. She also processes outside research requests as time permits.

After talking about her job, we got a chance to visit her work area. There was a small section of newspapers and magazines. For those interested, they could examine Channel 13's archival catalog on her personal computer. A question was asked about what resource is used to gather metadata about Thirteen’s assets. Winter explained that the Archive currently uses an open source system for cataloging that was specifically designed to conform to the PBCore metadata dictionary (a “standard” created based on DublinCore and expanded for use in the public broadcasting arena). Members were also allowed to enter the small onsite Archive to examine the layout of the Archive and to view the video and tape formats that are locally on the movable stacks.

This was a very informative tour which covered a lot of ground. Perhaps most impressive was the archivist's cheerful demeanor in spite of her demanding job and next to little support staff. Close behind was the knowledge gained concerning the history of the television channel and the evolving technology in which it supports. After such a lengthy tour it was relaxing to sit down and have tea and a bite to eat with colleagues at nearby Cafe Bistro. Many of the group plan to visit the new studio at Lincoln Center when we're in the neighborhood.

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