Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP) Launches Video Cataloging Project
The IMAP Cataloging Project represents a concerted attempt to make the capacity to catalog videotapes available to individuals and small organizations with historically and culturally important video collections. The Project is especially directed towards those organizations with collections emphasizing video art, audio art, and technology-based installation art; independent documentary and narratives; community media; and documentation of arts and culture.
The first part of the project has been the creation of the "IMAP MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) for FileMaker Template." This template is being distributed to over 25 organizations and artists; and at least 8 organizations are currently using a form of the template. Under a matching grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, the staff members and interns working at The Kitchen, Paper Tiger Television and Visual Studies Workshop have been trained on the use of the template. Other New York State organizations will receive training in the next year. But because of the limited availability of funding and the time involved, this one-on-one training is necessarily inefficient.
In 2001, IMAP plans to create a web-based tutorial to train larger numbers of people on the use of the template. Once critical mass is achieved in the number of records created, IMAP will create a "union catalog," to be searchable through a web site. This online database will give researchers, students, scholars, archivists and potential viewers descriptions and information to identify the location of these important yet still obscure videotapes.
This database is urgently needed. The videotapes in these collections - from the beginnings of video art and cable access in the 70s through work from the 80s to the present - represent an important and vital part of our cultural history. Many of them, in obsolete formats, must be remastered soon if they are to survive.
In order to establish priorities for re-mastering, the holders must have some information about the tapes. To create a complete record, the cataloger would view the tape in order to determine the correct credits and to describe the intellectual content of the tape, and then glean information from the labels on the tapes, their containers, and from any paperwork associated with the tapes. Because so many of the tapes in IMAP's target collections are unique and quite old (and therefore fragile) they cannot be played. And most of these organizations no longer possess the machines to play the obsolete formats such as 1/2" open reel. Some groups must rely almost exclusively on data from labels and available paperwork to make crucial remastering decisions. This situation makes good cataloging even more essential, because important decisions must be made with often quite limited information.
Though these tapes are of great historical and cultural value, it is extremely difficult for researchers to obtain information about them. The most widely-used sources of information on moving images for researchers include RLIN (Research Libraries Information Network), OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), Archives USA, Film Index International and The American Film Institute (AFI) Catalog. Researchers also utilize the on-line catalogs of individual institutions such as the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, University of California at Los Angeles, and Electronic Arts Intermix.
To a great extent, researchers must already know of the existence of these collections beforehand in order to find either the catalogs or their moving image holdings. And very little or useful information is available on actual independently- made videotapes. For example, a search on "video art" in OCLC returned 1,932 entries. All but 1-2% of these were for books on video art. The only videotape holdings listed were for VHS viewing copies.
Archives USA contains "collection level records" (one written description for the entire collection); and the vast majority concern paper collections. There is, for example, a collection level record for Anthology Film Archives which lists some of the makers whose work is held there. To get to the material, an interested researcher would first have to call Anthology to determine whether they held a particular piece, and then negotiate a viewing on their premises. The same situation would occur for a researcher who found the web site of Electronic Arts Intermix, a major source of video art. The researcher would have to call or e-mail to find out if a copy was held in their locality, and if not, arrange a time for viewing at the EAI offices in New York. Film Index International and the AFI Catalog contain descriptive information exclusively for feature films, and virtually none for independent video.
The IMAP Cataloging Project grows out of the long-time efforts of both the National Moving Image Database (NAMID) and Media Alliance to save unique and important collections of electronic media that are at risk. Media Alliance was, for a long time, the leading advocate for the preservation of alternative video. NAMID was established by Congress to help organizations make informed decisions about the preservation of moving image materials; to facilitate shared cataloging; and to increase access to primary research materials on moving images. In New York State, this preservation work centered around Media Alliance s Regional Cataloging Project, which included nineteen of the state's most important collections of media art and performance documentation. The driving notion was, and continues to be, that the cataloging of these vital collections is the first significant step towards their preservation and wider use. These collections are located throughout the state in both rural areas and urban centers, in media arts centers, small to mid-size museums, archives, libraries, artists spaces, college media departments, video collectives and with nonprofit distributors.
The Cataloging Project To Date
The Filemaker Pro Template developed by IMAP offers artists and small organizations with limited financial resources and no trained staff the opportunity to catalog their collections in a standardized format. The template is MARC-compatible - that is, it follows as closely as possible the principles of USMARC (United States Machine Readable Cataloging), AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd Edition) and AMIM (Archival Moving Image Materials).
Since no national standard exists in the United States for the cataloging of videotapes, these three systems together offer nationally recognized principles for cataloging. Following these rules represents the best opportunity for small institutions to demonstrate to funders and arts agencies that they are seriously pursuing cataloging, and with this data as a guide, that they intend to care for and preserve their materials in a precise and organized manner.
The FileMaker Pro database was chosen primarily for its ease of use and for its portability between the IBM/Windows and Mac platforms. Because recent versions of FileMaker (4.0 and up) include a very useful web-publishing component, IMAP will be able to use FileMaker to make the data available on the web. The template now consists of 42 fields that are given descriptive names and also designated by their MARC tags (3-digit codes).
Each arts organization or artist requesting the template is sent a copy with a System Control Number. This number is set to distinguish their records from all others and facilitates the future combining of records. Other customized features include pop-up lists designed for particular sites, and "auto-enter" for fields that will always contain the same data (such as location). Sites can also receive a full set of instructions for use of the template. These instructions explain what kind of data goes in which field, how the data should be structured, and proper ways to enter data.
The IMAP Web-Based Tutorial
Because of limitations on funding and available instructors to train new users, there are severe restrictions to the number of people who can be taught to use the IMAP MARC for FileMaker Template on an individual or small group basis. The minimum direct cost to train an organization s staff runs around $2,000 plus travel. On the other hand, the cost of learning the template through the web-based tutorial would be almost nothing beyond staff time.
When it goes on line in 2001, the tutorial will consist of 30 to 40 "pages." The Full Course will teach the proper use of all fields in the template. The Express Course will provide information on the "inventory level record" - that is, the 8-10 fields most likely to be used by an institution just beginning the process of cataloging its collection. Both the Full Course and the Express Course will be divided into sections focussing on related fields. There will be an explanation of the basic concepts covered at the beginning of each section and a review of those concepts at the end. Each section will contain a quiz on the material.
The tutorial will also include a quick reference guide, a PDF downloadable version of the Full Course, a FAQ area and a full glossary of terms used in the system. Users will also be able to contact IMAP with questions through a Help Desk in order to ensure that records are being properly created.
In the Future: The IMAP Union Catalog
The ultimate component of the IMAP Cataloging Project will be the "Virtual Union Catalog." This catalog will consist of all the records created through the use of the IMAP Template system. Giving participating institutions a far higher profile than they enjoy now, the web-based catalog will be searchable by name, title, or subject. IMAP is planning to make the web site familiar and accessible to students, researchers, scholars and others interested in alternative media. The union catalog will also encourage "shared cataloging" - a system that is absolutely critical to good media preservation. For example, before remastering, institutions must be certain that they are utilizing the best surviving materials. Shared cataloging facilitates that process immensely.
Who Can Use the IMAP Template
The potential user base includes media arts organizations with media holdings, performance art centers and dance companies that document their work, small libraries and archives with unique video collections, and individual producer/artists. There is, unfortunately, no way to quantify precisely how large the potential user base really is. However, we ve found that the number of arts institutions with unique video collections runs in the hundreds, and individuals with unique collections of their own or inherited work are in the thousands.
Despite the efforts of such organizations as NAMID and AMIA, and the often-heroic struggles of the custodians of individual collections, a large, clear and unfulfilled need exists for this specific media preservation effort. There are more than 100,000 videotapes - representing the work of thousands of makers outside dominant commercial media over the past three decades - hat form an essential part of our complex, diverse cultural heritage, and which deserve wider attention. For this to happen, the tapes must be remastered to a current, higher quality format. And that remastering must be preceded by a conscientious attempt to catalog these tapes according to the generally accepted principles of data collection.
For more than 30 years, media arts centers across the United States have provided makers with the means to create exciting experimental work, alternative documentaries and cultural documentation. Because of this support, many of these centers and other groups have amassed significant collections, often containing unique copies of important and vital work. Now these organizations have the responsibility to care for these collections. In order to extend its usable lifetime, the work must be placed in climate-controlled storage facilities. Fragile work must be transferred to newer, more stable formats. Before that can happen, the work must be properly cataloged. Using the most widely-accepted cataloging principles will not only prove to funding agencies that these institutions are serious about caring for their collections and but also provide sufficient information to determine preservation priorities.
JIM HUBBARD is Project Director for the IMAP Template Cataloging Project.
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