Louisiana network launches online archive of historic video

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A new digital archive co-created by Louisiana Public Broadcasting contains more than 500 hours of streamable online video, including civil-rights era broadcasts, Louisiana-themed cooking shows and speeches by political leaders.

The Louisiana Digital Media Archive went live Jan. 20 after more than five years of development, featuring videos from both public and commercial broadcasters.

“One of our missions is to create TV worth watching,” said Beth Courtney, president of LPB and a 30-year veteran of the station. “If we’ve made 40 years of TV worth watching, it’s worth saving.”

The LDMA is a partnership between Louisiana Public Broadcasting and the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.  Pictured at Secretary of State Tom Scheduler and LPB President/CEO Beth Courtney.

LPB President Beth Courtney, right, worked with the office of Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Scheduler on the Louisiana Digital Media Archive.

LPB inventoried and digitized video artifacts from the civil-rights and World War II eras as part of an American Archives pilot project in 2009, a CPB-funded effort to create a national archive of public television content. That project stalled as the Archives looked for a permanent home, but Courtney was ready to move forward.

In 2010, the Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded LPB and the Louisiana State Archives a $96,600 grant to build a digital media archive. Courtney also sought commercial broadcasters to add material.

Courtney cited her relationship with WWL-TV as an example. During a hurricane evacuation, Courtney worked with the New Orleans CBS affiliate to keep the station on air. Their relationship is still strong, and WWL was one of the foremost commercial contributors to the archive.

Some commercial broadcasters hold copyrights that prevented LPB from making digitized records available online, but Courtney will seek other commercial partners to develop the archive.

Almost 40,000 teachers are registered to use LPB’s educational content. Now they can show students videos of the integration of Louisiana’s schools, interviews with the composer of the state’s most famous campaign song, and coverage of past hurricanes.

“Teachers [are] really in need of content related to Louisiana history,” said Leslie Bourgeois, LPB’s archivist. “Visual learners may have national content but need stuff related to the state.”

Looking toward sustainability

Deteriorating video records made launching the Louisiana Digital Media Archives an urgent issue for LPB. The state’s dampness puts old records at high risk for damage, and even undamaged tapes can become obsolete as technology changes. Some tapes are so old that LPB and the archives couldn’t find digitizing equipment at a reasonable price.

LPB built the website in-house and developed best practices for archiving, saving each record twice in a low- and high-quality file formats for use online and in broadcasts. The videos are hosted on a stand-alone site, ladigitalmedia.org. LPB also adopted PBCore, a set of standards widely used in public media to categorize audiovisual media. The American Archives will use the same standard.

Louisiana Public Broadcasting archivist Leslie Bourgeois shows Friends of LPB Chair Robyn Merrick how the Louisiana Digital Media Archive (LDMA) works.

LPB archivist Leslie Bourgeois shows the archive to Friends of LPB Chair Robyn Merrick.

LPB is now focusing on making the project sustainable. The Louisiana Digital Media Archives team will continue to seek grant funding and individual donations. Potential partners could preserve records specific to their interests, and Courtney hopes organizations like historical societies will sponsor specific collections.

The archives will continue to add new records as they become available.

“It [the archive] will always be growing,” said Courtney. “It shouldn’t be dusty, shouldn’t be a study put on the shelf and never used. If you have material that has been digitized and never accessed, that doesn’t help the public.”

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