Designing and Implementing a Center for Digital Curation Research
Nov 17th, 2009 by Isaiah Beard

The facility I work in at Rutgers, known as the Scholarly Communication Center (SCC), has a fairly short history in the grand scheme of academia, and yet a fairly long one when it comes to the rapid changes in technology it has seen in its lifetime.  It was originally started in the 1996, and meant to be a location for university students and faculty to access a growing body of the then-nascent collection of digital content.

Back then, the internet still wasn’t very fast and wasn’t nearly as media-rich as it it seems today.  And so, most of the data-heavy reference materials arriving in digital form came to the SCC as CD-ROMs (and later, DVD format).  To accommodate this, the SCC had a lab of ten desktop computers (known as the Datacenter), dedicated solely to accessing this type of material.

But the times changed, and so did the way people accessed digital material.  As the ‘net grew in size and capacity, it no longer made sense to ship reference material on disc, and so the access moved online.  Students migrated from visiting computer labs to bringing their own laptops (and later, netbooks and handheld mobile devices).  Traffic at the datacenter dropped to virtually nothing.  The space had to be re-tooled to continue to be relevant and useful.

And so, with my taking on the newly-minted role of Digital Data Curator, and in collaboration with my colleagues, a new plan for the former datacenter was developed.  Instead of being a place to merely access content, we would be a place to create it.  Analog items that needed to be digitized would be assessed and handled here.  New born-digital content would be edited, packaged, and prepared for permanent digital archiving in our repository.  We would be a laboratory where students getting into the field – and even faculty and staff who have been here a good while – would learn, hands-on, how to triage and care for items of historical significance, both digital and analog, and prepare them for online access.

The concept for a new facility was born.  And we call it the Digital Curation Research Center.

The center is still in “beta,” as we plug along with some internal projects for testing purposes along with a couple of willing test subjects within the university and surrounding community.  This is so we can test out the workflow of the space and make tweaks and optimizations as needed.  Our plan is to officially launch the space in the Spring of 2010, with a series of workshops and how-to sessions for the various things that make digital curation vital (e.g. digital photography, video editing, audio and podcasting, and scanning).

The plan is that this will be a continual, evolving learning experience for all involved.  People who have never really used cameras and recording equipment in a historical context will learn just how increasingly valuable the content they create, and the stories it will tell, can become over time.  And those of us in the DCRC day in and day out will encounter things that we’ve never run into before, and will have to wrap our heads around the issue of preserving it effectively.

Below are related documents that provide additional information about the DCRC.  More information will be coming up as we get closer to the official launch:

Evolved mobile video devices: More cameras, better quality, way more content
Jul 7th, 2009 by Isaiah Beard

For two years, owners of Apple’s iPhone have complained bitterly about the lack of video recording capability, something that has become more and more common on mobile devices, if not yet matured.  Three weeks ago, they finally got their wish, and the results have been quite dramatic.

The weekend after Apple’s latest reveal – the iPhone 3GS – was released to the public, YouTube reported a massive 400% surge in the number of mobile video uploads, attesting to the mass appeal of Apple’s product and opening the floodgates for new video content.

Admittedly, seeing the sudden unleashing of newly-minted cellphone videographers made me cringe a bit, at first.  For a while now, I’ve been kind of annoyed with the popularity of cell phone video.  Let’s face it, although lots of people want something small and compact to make quick videos with, the image and sound quality coming from these devices has been utterly deplorable.  Blocky video, muddy sound… in general, not something you really want to store cherished memories with.  But what really stuck in my craw was when news sources started relying on cellphone videography as poor substitutes for actual newsgathering.  I began to ask myself: When did yanking video off a YouTube account start to pass as acceptable broadcast-quality content?

Within the past couple of months, however, things have changed quite a bit.  It actually started when camera makers like Canon began including video capabilities into their Digital SLR cameras, such as the Canon T1i.  Although it looks nothing like a camcorder, this model actually records some incredibly good HD-quality video, and can store it on a postage-stamp sized SD card.  It’s still rather bulky and expensive though; not the kind of thing an average person on the street would carry with them at all times.

Apple, however, changed that.  They finally decided to include video capabilities on their latest device.  And, they did the job so well that some aspiring independent film makers are now shooting films solely with the iPhone.  While the critical acclaim of the subject matter is best left open to judgement, one can’t deny the video quality is astoundingly good, compared to what everyone is used to from a cellphone.

Additionally, a professionally produced music video has been recorded and edited using the same gadget. But you wouldn’t know this came from an iPhone unless someone told you in advance:

Of course, the raw video underwent a lot of post-processing before yielding the finished product we see above.  But the unprocessed, full-color raw footage direct from the iPhone camera shows that it’s certainly no slouch on its own:

The ramifications are clearly huge.  There’s been lots of talk about how accessible good video recording technology has become, but now the technology to have a high quality video recorder literally in your pocket is available to the masses.

The technical specs of the videos created aren’t lightweight by any means, either.  Some users have reported that an hour of video from an iPhone 3GS can take up as much as 8GB of storage.  Still not on par with the roughly 20GB per hour that broadcast-level DV video consumes, but not anything to sneeze at, either.  The wide availability of this level of video production is going to require lots of supporting memory and storage to back it up.  And the metadata and details surrounding each and every video produced could be enough to turn the average cell phone user into amateur video catalogers, as well.

For professional curators, this could be both good and bad news.  From my perspective, it’s good that there’s a better chance history-making content will actually be recorded on a camera worthy of capturing it, as opposed to poor specimens of history like this. On the other hand, this means that good quality video will be coming from multitudes of sources, more than we’ve ever been accustomed to, as more and more individuals have the technology within their grasp.


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