Choosing RADD’s capabilities

How did SLIS choose which analog material RADD can digitize, and which digital media it can capture data from? The answer is part planning, part serendipity.

The group of Digital Curation students who first made concrete plans for RADD did not do so until they had conducted a sweep of the SLIS Library and SLIS faculty and staff to find out what at-risk analog and digital media needed attention. They discovered:

  • VHS, Betamax, Mini-DV, and U-Matic videocassettes
  • audio cassettes and microcassettes
  • 35mm filmstrips with accompanying audiocassettes
  • 3.5″ floppy diskettes with a sprinkling of Zip disks
  • microfilm and microfiche
  • some film (in various sizes)

They also dealt with additional formats that instructor Dorothea Salo told them would be important in future SLIS coursework: 5.25″ floppy disks and vinyl records, for example. They then priced out the necessary equipment, sometimes offering choices between ideal-but-pricey equipment and less-good-but-cheaper equipment.

Not all these media have yet joined RADD’s capabilities. Film, microfilm, and microfiche digitization equipment turned out to be vastly too expensive for RADD’s minimal startup funding. (Super-8 film digitization is still a possibility, but the need for it has not yet turned up.) We also made some purchasing missteps: consumer-grade video digitization equipment from Hauppauge, for example, proved inadequate to capture from our Betamax and U-Matic machines, though it did adequately with VHS. We wound up replacing it with the prosumer-level Aja Kona LSe video-capture card, which has performed much better. (Aja’s technical support is also excellent.)

Other RADD capabilities came about because of donations. We did not originally know that the IMation SuperDrive kindly donated to RADD by Catherine Pellegrino reads the highly rare 120MB “IMation SuperDisk” as well as ordinary 3.5″ floppy diskettes, but we were certainly pleased to discover the capability! As for the Iomega Jaz disk, RADD’s ability to read it is the result of two separate donations of a non-working external drive and a working internal drive. A few minutes’ work with a screwdriver pried open the drive case on the external drive, which then happily fit around and powered the working internal drive. The resulting “FrankenJaz” drive is unlovely but entirely functional.

Our advice to organizations considering building something like RADD:

  • Find out what you have first. Don’t buy equipment until you know you need it.
  • Solicit donations of older equipment.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. Exactly how to hook a given piece of analog playback equipment to a computer is not always obvious—but there is almost always a way to do it.
  • Be a little wary of consumer-grade equipment and software; it will not always perform to archival-quality expectations.
  • Be prepared to outsource digitization or capture for materials when the equipment to do it in-house is price-prohibitive.