Association of Moving Image Archivists 2012 Conference


The following post was written by Stefan Elnabli, Audiovisual Media Specialist for the Avalon Media System, on his experience at the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference from December 4-7, 2012.


There are many types of chicken that I like. In fact, at the top of my list has to be the fried hard variety of Harold's Chicken Shack, BOTH sauces please (my guilty Midwestern pleasure). But there is one chicken that I do not abide: the Chicken Little. As you may have heard, Earth was supposed to be at the brink of a major cataclysmic event on December 21, 2012, to have taken place in conjunction with a galactic alignment of apocalyptic proportions. This apocalypse, the Chicken Little said, would have ended human civilization as we know it. As a skeptic, with reasonable mitigations, the cries of the Chicken Little could not have been more clucking laughable. But around this time, as I prepared to represent Northwestern University Library and Avalon Media System at the 22nd Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference in Seattle, I began contemplating a different type of end-of-life scenario that seemed more realistic given the practical limitations of the audiovisual preservation field: the loss of our moving image heritage in the face of growing collections and limited resources. But rest assured, gentle reader, the reality is not that bleak. If it wasn't for the community of archivists and librarians to remind me of this at AMIA 2012, I might have found myself half-heartedly playing the part of a self-loathing Chicken Little on his way to being devoured by the fox!


My AMIA conference experience in The Emerald City began with a fast paced workshop on FFmpeg, an open software solution for analyzing, transcoding, processing, and filtering audiovisual data. As an aside to all of you who are not familiar with Avalon Media System, Avalon is built upon three major open source technologies: Fedora, Opencast Matterhorn, and Hydra. In adopting this modular approach, the Avalon team leverages existing open-source technologies to support open connectivity and make it easier for future contributors and users to add or remove parts based on their needs. Avalon utilizes Opencast Matterhorn's processing workflow, of which FFmpeg is a central component. Through the practice of scripting FFmpeg commands, learning the power of its multitudinous options set, and hacking through syntax to alter mandelbrot test patterns, workshop attendees got an in depth crash course into this rich program for creating and manipulating digital audio and video.


Assuaging the Chicken Little's audiovisual doomsday fear, this year's conference was stacked with inspiring sessions reminding us that good work is being done throughout the field to improve audiovisual preservation and access. After kicking off the opening plenary with an uplifting presentation on audiovisual disaster recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, there were some notable highlights over the course of the conference. Co-presented by AMIA's Diversity Committee and the Independent Media Committee, a "community archiving workshop" was led wherein attendees paired with Seattle's Three Dollar Bill Cinema to process, inspect, and catalog its audiovisual collections. Later, a session entitled "Archiving and Preserving Digital Cinema Packages" sparked a lively discussion of the increasing presence of DCPs with encrypted content in archives, a digital packaging standard that will inevitably find its way into many archives' collections. In a session entitled "Getting Your Footage Online Now," three smaller archives in the Chicago area presented their strategies to navigating the complex world of online digital access to archival video collections.


The topic of digital access to archival video collections is important to the Avalon Media System team. Partnering with Jon Dunn, our Project Director, and Julie Hardesty, one of our Metadata Specialists, I set up shop in a corner of the vendor cafe to present an Avalon poster, distribute handouts, and give attendees an opportunity to test-run the system at a designated laptop. The response from AMIA attendees was overwhelmingly positive and we had the pleasure of interacting with representatives from such diverse institutions as Hampshire College, The New Zealand Film Archive, and the United Nations Audiovisual Archive. This was the first time that we were able to connect with librarians and archivists as they were demoing the system live, and we found a consistent thread in their lines of inquiry. In general, the majority of questions had to do with digital repository integration and the system’s flexibility in customizing encoding profiles for audio and video assets. We’re happy to say that Avalon Media System supports both of these things.


Leaving the conference, I did not have the wild-eyed energy of the Chicken Little, but that of an invigorated audiovisual archivist inspired by the work of his colleagues and their willingness to share their work with the community at large, even if it revealed limitations our profession sometimes faces. Moreover, the opportunity to engage directly with the AMIA community about Avalon Media System was a pleasure in and of itself. Now that we know the end of the world was false hysteria and that the fox's appetite is satisfied, the Avalon team will see you at many conferences to come!

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