The Olive Tree
Processing Progress: Multi-media materials in William S. Cohen Papers
By Page Lilly, Archivist, William S. Cohen papers.
The Cohen "papers" include documentation of the donor's life and public service in all modern formats. The newest materials from the Office of Secretary of Defense are compact disks containing letters, reports, press releases, scheduling forms, and photographs in digital format; the oldest are black and white photographs, snapshots made during his childhood. Filling the chronological gap between these two technologies, the collection encompasses two film gauges, a half dozen videotape formats, open reel audiotapes, color photographic prints, 35 mm. photo negatives, computer data tape, and 3 1/4 in. floppy disks of computer files including the Senator's web page as it looked in 1996. With the bulk of the paper materials arranged in preservation storage conditions and described at the folder level, attention turned during the past year to processing the audiovisual and digital series in the collection.
Film reels, both 16 mm. silent and optical sound, as well as 16 mm. magnetic film components for television campaign ads have been individually cataloged in the archives. All 230 reels (approx. 60,000 ft. of film) will be cleaned, verified for content, reassembled on acid free cores, and stored in inert plastic cans at Northeast Historic Film in Bucksport, Maine, before returning to the Library Annex for storage. After this process is complete, we will be more able to determine if the vast collection of professional format videotapes in the collection include transfers of these films; if not, the films must be transferred to current technology for access.
The earliest obsolete formats of videotape in the collection, 2 inch wide magnetic tape on open reels for which only a handful of operable machines still exist in the country, require cleaning and transfer to current technology as soon as possible. The Cohen collection includes 19 of these reels, and Vidipax corporation in New York will process them. Another group of 35 reels of 1 inch wide tape is similarly at risk. While the information on these tapes may also be on more accessible formats in the video portion of the collection, we cannot tell without viewing the originals, and available machinery and expertise for safely viewing these formats is fast disappearing.
After preserving the physical media and transferring the information to current technology for access, we describe multimedia materials at the item level as an added preservation measure and to provide improved access. The more detailed information we can record for researchers, the less often the fragile formats will need to be handled. For example, each element used to create the campaign adds, including outtakes that did not make the final edit, is entered into a database. Information on the photographs and digital objects is handled in similar detail, unlike the paper materials which are described in the aggregate at the folder level.
Organizing and properly housing the series of over 700 VHS tapes is also moving forward. Watch for updates on the moving images, as well as the preservation and description of the audio and digital collections, on the William S. Cohen Papers website at http://www.library.umaine.edu/cohen.
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