Friday, June 6, 2008

The Next Big Project

So last post I mentioned wanting to get back into working on some of my own pet projects, and I figure I might as well mention the big one at the top of the list.

A professor at my university has a collection of interviews with famous scientists (he's a science journalist, so he taped his interviews for reference when writing them later.) These are mostly on cassette, and in decent condition (although sometimes the sound quality is not great due to background/ambient noise.) This professor now wants to showcase these interviews on his website, so, seeing that he works at an engineering school, he Googled "audio engineer" and "stevens institute", figuring he could find an actual sound or audio engineer right here on campus.

Well, instead he found little ol' me :) I am by no means an audio engineer of any sort, but I do have a masters in audio production (a field that moves so quickly that anything I learned way back in 2001 when I was in school is now sadly out of date...) Also, I have worked on a few audio archiving projects before, namely at Rutgers' Institute of Jazz Studies, and at a poetry library in Manhattan called Poet's House (for which I created a website of audio archiving resources now located at But these were projects that I was involved in only briefly, as a student in library school, so the idea of working on a project like this from start to finish scares the crap out of me.

In preparation for the project, I have been brushing up on my reading (most notably: Sound Directions: Best Practices for Audio Preservation, the CDP Digital Audio Working Group Best Practices, and Matrix @ MSU’s Historical Voices.) I have also been taking some CONTENTdm workshops (that's the digital repository software we use.)

I advised the professor in charge to send the cassettes out to a company that specializes in audio reformatting and transcription to convert the files to digital, but I think he is trying to get students to do it instead (NOT the best idea for conistent, superior quality in my opinion, but certainly the most cost-effective.)

So mostly my role will be to import the compressed (probably mp3) versions of the files into CONTENTdm, and to catalogue them. This is pretty intimidating to me, seeing as I somehow managed to skip taking any cataloguing classes in school (there were just so many interesting tech ones to take.... Oops!)

Oddly enough, I think my toughest challenge has been convincing the professor to use the library's software to catalogue and make these recordings available. He seems to think it would be easier and better to just have a student build a website around them from scratch, or just post them on their website (which I guess results in something like this, with no good search interface or descriptive records/pages.)

Ok, I've gone on way longer than I intended. I just wanted to put this out there, in case anyone else is working on anything similar and wants to trade advice, experiences or just complaints!

(Oh, and the CONTENTdm rep recommended that we set up a 'streaming server' for the files. Does anybody have any knowledge/experience with doing that?)