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Grant Will Lead to Preservation of Rare Audiovisual Collections at UNC Library

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John Loy works in the studio of the Southern Folklife Collection at Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Historic audio and moving image collections at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library will be a step closer to long-term preservation, thanks to a grant of $187,082 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The one-year grant  is called “Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources.” It will help the Library’s Southern Folklife Collection (SFC) develop techniques to preserve these materials on a large scale and make them available online for public use.

“Libraries have great expertise in large-scale digitization of books and paper documents, but audio recordings and moving images present unique challenges that remain to be addressed,” said Steve Weiss, curator of the SFC and leader of the grant project.

The SFC will celebrate its 25th anniversary in August. Since its opening in 1989, it has gained recognition as a cornerstone for research into Southern vernacular music, art, and culture.  Researchers can tap into more than 250,000 sound recordings, 3,000 video recordings, and 8 million feet of motion picture film.

Collection treasures include the first recording by a young Dolly Parton; the archives of Durham-based Merge Records; and Folkstreams.net, an archive of documentary films on American roots cultures.

Weiss said that the SFC is uniquely qualified to provide national leadership through the grant. Not only are its collections among the nation’s best, according to Weiss, but it is one of the few repositories with a state-of-the-art audio preservation facility and an audio preservation engineer on staff.

“In the past, we have restored and preserved items one-by-one through grants or as researchers request them. Now we want to understand what would be required to address the bulk of our collection, and plan for the work,” said Weiss.

The grant will have several parts:

  • The SFC, with the help of a consultant, will completely review and re-engineer workflows in order to be able to digitize audiovisual materials on a large scale;
  • An advisory group of scholars will meet to guide the Collection’s preservation priorities;
  • The SFC will audit the condition and preservation needs of all of its collections; and
  • Grant personnel will determine how digitized content can be streamed for public access.

The grant follows a model that the University Library and the Mellon Foundation successfully established in 2007.

In that year, a grant called “Extending the Reach of Southern Sources” allowed the Southern Historical Collection to assess digitization needs, priorities, and techniques for millions of manuscript items on paper. Findings from that study continue to guide development of the Digital Southern Historical Collection.

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