I attempted to participate in the call today, but technical problems (cough operator error) precluded my doing so. However, I did want to introduce myself and give some background on why a military musical organization is interested in the stewardship of digital assets and how I hope we can contribute to the conversation.
A quick introduction:
I joined the United States Marine Band in 1995 after completing a degree in Sound Recording Technology at Depaul University. Since then I've been responsible for both the audio and video archives of the band and audio and video production and support.
What have we been working on?:
In 1995, the audio/video archives of the USMB consisted of several thousand items ranging from wax cylinders to DAT tapes and everything in between. At the time the only existing catalog was contained in a few drawers of index cards describing perhaps 3% of the collection. Since my initial task would involved cataloging, I put together a very primitive flat database and by 2001 I and a colleague I hired in 1998 had the majority of the collection cataloged. The USMB concurrently had a music library with its own well developed relational database for describing and finding sheet music. In 2000, the US Navy signed the NMCI contract which would over the course of the next few years render all of the database applications we were using obsolete and unusable. Out of that potential catastrophe came an opportunity to design a system that consolidated all of our disconnected data stores into a single database that would describe and link not only sheet music and recordings, but also the concert performance itself and all of the related locations, people, and circumstances. By 2006 we had designed and launched a database system with a schema that would wrap all of our data into a relational web that captured every aspect of a musical performance including that relevant to the sheet music, concert performance (asset), and recordings (instantiations).
In the meantime, we continued to catalog our media recordings and increasingly were turning our attention to digitization. in 1997 I had begun evaluating our collections and prioritizing reformatting tasks. Our first effort involved shipping a rather large batch of most critical analog master tapes to George Blood for digitization and storage. At the time our storage facility was all but open air so off site storage was important. While GB was transferring those, I began attacking our most at risk digital assets: DAT tapes, Betamax F-1 tapes, and CDs, work that would continue into the mid 2000s, after which I began working back through our analog tape collections by baking, transferring, and validating catalog records.
By 2006 we had a fairly well established digital collection consisting of well organized files with multiple dispersed copies that was fairly well described in our database. Our next task was to make the collection accessible to our primary community of interest: the musicians and Directors of the USMB and our audio and video production team (myself and my colleague). Since we lacked IT support, we designed and built a very simple searchable online repository, first using PHP and then moving to Python and flask. This work began in 2008 or so and continued until it reached maturity around 2012, after which we could confidently say that the majority of our important recordings were safeguarded, described, and accessible. At the current time we continue to work in retrograde through our analog tape archives, we catalog all new audio and video recordings upon creation, and we are evaluating ways to make our in house solution more standards compliant and sustainable. Since we designed our system prior to PBCore or other systems being well established we could gain much from integrating those newer systems into our work. So we're looking for the next generation solution.
We have faced many challenges over the years. The biggest challenge was building rather complicated information systems with no IT support in the context of restrictive DOD and Federal IT regulations. We have scraped together open source and off the shelf products and taught ourselves to code and design database and storage systems, but the organizational structure of the USMB doesn't support the type of work we're doing and no other governmental organization (NARA, DIMOC, LOC) has systems or workflows that accommodate our requirements as an archive, production facility, performing ensemble, and research facility. Needless to say, inadequate staffing is a huge sustainability risk that we worry about constantly.
So why am I interested in the Standards and Practices working group? First and foremost, because I hope that lessons learned from our work over the years will enable us to contribute something of value to the discussion. I'm also interested in insuring that the next generation of information system adopted by the Marine Band and organizations like it be strongly rooted in accepted standards and best practices.
I look forward to contributing!