Gilman Archivist Steve Ammidown shares one of the School’s latest projects: digitizing hundreds of football and lacrosse film reels dating back to the 1930s.
By Steve Ammidown
As popular as it is these days to store our things “in the cloud”, we still mostly rely on old paper, film, hard drives and discs to preserve our cherished memories. Like it or not, all of those things decay eventually. As an archivist, part of my job is to preserve memories by every once in a while moving them onto something new and hopefully longer lasting.
Our current project involves digitizing a treasure trove of football and lacrosse films that range in date from the 1930s through the 1980s. Given the age of the oldest film, time is of the essence in converting it into newer formats. While properly stored 16mm film is stable and long-lasting, it still has its limits. Most of these 16mm movies have not been seen since they were made, making this project doubly exciting.
The process of digitizing open reels of film is time consuming and expensive. Lacking the equipment ourselves, we have partnered with a company that examines, cleans and scans the film into multiple digital formats. The process began last fall when the company arrived to pick up more than a hundred film canisters piled into mail crates. A few months later we received the film canisters back, along with the final product- a single 2 terabyte hard drive containing MOV, MPEG2 and MPEG4 versions of each film.
Obtaining multiple copies in different file formats serves a few different purposes. For starters, each file format offers differing levels of compression. Highly compressed files are smaller and more suitable for uploading to services such as YouTube, but may have slightly worse picture quality. Lower compression is truer to the original and therefore more suitable for long-term preservation, but also requires more storage resources. Using multiple formats also improves the chances that some version of the file can be played (or converted into a different format) long into the future. Most importantly, having multiple copies of these files contributes to a principle known as LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe). The more copies of a file you have, the more protection you have against unexpected physical and digital losses.
The newly digitized films are fantastic. As you can see here, the 1933 Varsity Football team is galloping across the internet for the very first time on the new Gilman Archives YouTube channel.
We’ll also be sharing football and lacrosse films at Alumni Weekend, April 24-26. When the project is finished later this year, we’ll have digitized and provided access to more than 200 films spanning 50+ years of Gilman’s history.
And then it’s on to the next challenge- our collection of VHS tapes!