UW Libraries Blog

May 29, 2020

UW Libraries Awarded Recordings at Risk Award from CLIR

Christina Ramler

CLIR logoThe Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) recently announced that UW Libraries, Special Collections has been awarded the CLIR ‘Recordings at Risk’ Award.* The award provides a grant of over $30,000 to help with the digitization of recordings – ‘at risk’ due to their fragility, lack of equipment to play them, as well as environmental factors.

Image: From Special Collections WTO Collection

The award recognizes projects involving underrepresented communities, and will fund the project: Digitizing the Independent Media Center World Trade Organization Videotape Collection to digitize, preserve, and make accessible for the first time videotape footage shot by filmmakers and activists during the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle, Washington.

The 338 videotapes in the collection come from the Independent Media Center (IMC), an international network of journalists publishing ‘indie’ news reports, founded in Seattle. The IMC documented rallies, marches and other events from the viewpoint of grassroots activists themselves – labor leaders, environmentalists, farmers, anarchists and artists whose voices are underrepresented, particularly in existing public footage of the WTO protests.

The project is headed by Hannah Palin, the Moving Image Curator for Special Collections.

“It’s opening up a huge cache of primary source information for researchers—the ability to compare different perspectives on the same event, and to see how it relates to present day—that is going to be really interesting for the academic community studying these events and their impact,” Palin says.

Jill Freidberg, co-founder of the IMC and a Lecturer in the UW Bothell School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, gifted over 300 hours of footage from the protests to UW Libraries, which she inherited, collected and previously stored in her home for the past 20 years.

The collection of Betacam SP, DV, Hi8 and VHS videotapes is inherently at risk of being lost for good without digitization due to what is known as the “magnetic media crisis.”

Palin explains, “Videotape in particular is extremely fragile as a medium, and deteriorating quickly, worse than film, actually.  The machines used for playback are breaking down. There are no parts to replace them. The people who actually understand how to repair and maintain the machines are retiring out of the business.”

Digitizing this collection of videotapes is a process that takes months of work with special equipment and properly designating historical metadata for each clip. The CLIR Award funds the utilization of outside vendors to help with preservation efforts, and in this case, the project is teaming up with locally based Moving Image Preservation of Puget Sound (MIPOPS).

In the UW community, this collection provides an exceptional resource for studies in History, Cinema and Media Studies, Communication, Social Movements, and more. Graduate students will have the ability to work on videotape preservation, accessing techniques that are crucial towards preserving other collections in the future.

Palin estimates that the collection will be available to the public in around a year and a half, and will be found on the UW Libraries Digital Collections site and the WTO Seattle Collection. Film screenings will also occur through the Northwest Film Forum and in UW’s Allen Auditorium.

* The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation