Read our blog

Goalposts and Clarinets: Exploring Media Collections at Northwestern University


This interview is with Stefan Elnabli, Moving Image and Sound Preservation Specialist at Northwestern University. Stefan obtained a degree in audiovisual preservation from New York University's Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program at Tisch School of the Arts. His work with archival media includes stints in the WNET Channel 13 Digital Archive, Anthology Film Archives, and major university libraries such as New York University and Stanford University.


What video and audio collections are you considering putting into Avalon?

The first two major collections we put into Avalon are the Northwestern University Football Films collection and the Robert Marcellus Master Class Audio Archives.


Our football films collection comprises 16mm films shot between the years of 1929 and 1989. The last reel count I received from University Archives was 2,425, but new ones trickle in periodically. The initial selection of games from this collection to go into Avalon totals 50, and they are some of the most important games in Wildcats history. Some of the highlights include a 1949 Rose Bowl victory, a 1936 homecoming game against Minnesota that contains entertaining university-promotion footage, and the infamous “lake the posts” game where inspired fans celebrate a Wildcats victory by hoisting one of the goal posts and marching it into Lake Michigan!


Minnesota game, 1936. A Wildcats homecoming tradition, striking fear into the hearts of their opponents.

Northern Illinois game, 1982. Victory! Excited Wildcats fans rush the field pull out the goal post from the ground to march it into Lake Michigan.


Our Robert Marcellus Master Class Audio Archives consists of 131 ¼” open reel audiotapes that have been digitized for preservation and access. These tapes document a series of Northwestern University master classes held by the American classical clarinetist Robert Marcellus from 1977 through 1990. The highlight of this unique collection is hearing the live teachings of an American clarinet master.


Who will be able to access those collections in Avalon?

We are happy to say that these collections will be publicly available. Not only will users be able to watch and listen, they will be able to learn about the collections through descriptive metadata that we provide in the Avalon interface. We hope these collections will be a source of casual enjoyment as well as valuable information for research and learning.


What are some unique or interesting items in your media collections?

The Football Films Collection and Robert Marcellus Master Class Archives are certainly unique and interesting. We have many archival collections of film, video, and audio that also fit that description. Due to copyright concerns, not all of them will be publicly accessible without restriction. I would say that two recently preserved collections that are particularly interesting and unique are the Abe Peck and Joan Goodman audio interview collections comprising some 700 celebrity interviews conducted by prolific journalists Abe Peck and Joan Goodman throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I’m particularly fascinated by interview styles of journalists and radio hosts, so this collection is one of my recent favorites.


How will Avalon help you achieve your preservation and access goals?

We consider preservation to be a holistic process that includes conservation, digitization, restoration, and access. Avalon assists us in fulfilling our preservation mission because if we did not have Avalon, providing access to our growing digital collections in a well-managed and user-friendly way would be increasingly difficult. We feel that some of the most attractive aspects of Avalon are granular access control, schema-based metadata support, and adaptable user roles to accommodate any number of workflows. Northwestern has never had a system as rich and versatile as Avalon, so we are very excited to see it go into production in 2014!


Get to Know the Avalon Team: Michael B. Klein


In our series Get to Know the Avalon Team, we're providing a closer look at the individuals who are working each day to develop the Avalon Media System.

Michael B. Klein

Michael's previous experience in digital libraries includes positions at Stanford University, Oregon State University, and the Boston Public Library. Before venturing into the library world, he spent 15 years as a contract software developer for ExxonMobil and the U.S. Census Bureau. He holds a Bachelor of Music from the Catholic University of America, as well as a Master of Science in Library and Information Science from Simmons College.


Can you talk a bit about your role in the project?

I’m the lead developer on the Northwestern side of the project, which means I do all of the same things the other developers do:

  • write code, tests, and support scripts
  • solve thorny technical problems
  • manage source code
  • write technical documentation, including configuration, installation, and upgrade instructions
  • consult with sysadmins and other stakeholders to ensure smooth installations and upgrades
  • provide support for issues that come up during testing and rollout

What is a typical work week like for you?

My typical work week consists of a combination of new feature development, fixing any issues that come up, and making sure new functionality doesn’t break older features. I also participate in daily 15-minute standup meetings and biweekly sprint planning meetings. In addition to my Avalon work, I consult with other NU Library Technology staff on issues ranging from data storage to security, preservation, and user identity/access management.


What apps/software/gadgets can't you live without?

My iPhone is pretty much always in my hand when I’m not at my desk. As far as software I use in my work, I couldn’t get by without Sublime Text, Google Chrome’s developer tools, git, Github, and jsFiddle.


When you’re not working, what can you be found doing?

When I’m not working, I’m generally with my family – either at home, unpacking our stuff into our new house, or out enjoying the Chicago Botanic Garden, museums, Navy Pier, etc. I’ve also been itching to find some open space on a clear night and get my 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope out of storage.

Sprint 40 - December 2, 2013


The sprint before Thanksgiving brought forth a cornucopia of new improvements to our MediaElement.js player and some new methods for tracking master and derivative files. The first part of the demo talked about migrating Northwestern's pilot system and fixing some minor bugs with our test system. From there, Michael demoed a number of bug fixes to our player – courtesy of Phuong.  The whole look and feel of the player is significantly improved. Chris and Leah talked about some of the findings of their investigation into LTIs.  We ended with a demo of how Avalon is tracking the location of master and derivative files so that the Avalon has enough information to "know" where to find a file, which opened up the discussion of how Avalon could use PREMIS to record event information for each file. 


Next sprint will focus on the dropbox: particularly, making sure users can add pre-transcoded files to the dropbox and making sure users can only see the files in the dropbox they are supposed to see. Beyond the dropbox, we are also going to begin our first story that deals with class-based authorizations – time to wireframe! 


Watch the full recording of this week's demo.


  • VoV-2076 – NU pilot system migrated to Avalon 2.0 - Michael
  • VoV-2227 – NU Test to work properly
    • VoV-2228 – Error message when editing existing file
    • VoV-2230 – Errors when uploading new files
    • VoV-2229 – Empty Dropbox
  • VoV-1623 – MediaElement.js works flawlessly – Michael channeling Phuong
    • VoV-1629 – Playback position is kept when stream quality is switched
    • VoV-2144 – Initial quality setting is now set to High
    • VoV-2188 /VoV-2187 – Duration is displayed on progress bar on iDevices
    • VoV-2195 – Quality selector options are reversed
    • VoV-1624 – Player flashing oversized poster in desktop browsers
    • VoV-1439 – Quality setting is kept when switching sections
    • VoV-2030 – Full screen button functional on iOS6
  • VoV-2157 – Timeboxed investigation of LTIs - Leah/Chris
  • VoV-1638 – Where are my derivatives stored? – Including discussion of PREMIS - Adam/Chris/Julie
  • VoV-1637 – Where did my mezzanine files go?
  • Review of stories – Team led by Andrea

You can also watch the demos for past Sprints or learn more about our development process.

Blog Categories:

Sprint 39 - November 15, 2013


Remember the 15th of November, when the Avalon team completed over 50 points in a single sprint? This sprint finally got us moving towards new features for Avalon 3.0. A big priority is master file management; we were able to make some big strides in making sure the system can move, leave in place, or delete master files. Our next sprint will focus on making Avalon aware of where files and derivatives are being stored.  


Another successfully completed story was the first pass at uploading previously transcoded files. Web uploads and batches now have an option to skip transcoding! We still need to go back to allow skip transcoding for items uploaded in the Avalon dropbox.  


Beyond those new features, we cleaned up the media player, especially on iPhones and iPads. It is looking pretty slick! We've added nice big buttons for touch screens.  


Watch the full recording of this week's demo.   

  • VoV-725 – Master file management – Chris/Phuong
  • VoV-2186 – Audio player issues – Phuong
  • VoV-2103 – Quality stream selector on iPhone - Phuong
  • VoV-2185 – Longer duration display cutoff - Phuong
  • VoV-2108 – Push button automated release process - Michael/Chris
  • VoV-2143 – Uploading previously transcoded derivatives - Adam
  • VoV-2159 – Learning about LTIs - Team
  • VoV-2102 – Benchmarking processing time for NU pilot - Stefan
  • VoV-2076 – NU pilot system migrated to Avalon 2.0 - Michael
  • Review of stories – Team led by Andrea

You can also watch the demos for past Sprints or learn more about our development process.

Blog Categories:

Avalon 2.0 Webinar Recording


Our November 14 webinar was superb! With zero technical glitches and great questions and feedback, we felt it was a success. Jon Dunn (Project Director, IU), Mark Notess (Product Owner, IU), and Julie Rudder (Product Owner, NU) led the webinar.


If you were unable to attend, don't fret. The webinar recording and slides can be viewed at your leisure.


If you choose to view the webinar, please fill out our short survey about your experience with Avalon and share your ideas about future features/integrations. We would be grateful for the feedback! 


Blog Categories:

Sprint 38 - November 1, 2013


This week was all about refinement. We started work on refining a new skin for the MediaElement.js player so that the player has nice sizable buttons that are optimized for both desktop and touch browsers. We refined and finished testing our migration tools and documentation for the various installation methods, so if you installed Avalon 1.0 you should be only six steps away from using Avalon 2.0!  We also started on one of our big priority stories for Avalon 3.0, which is to skip the transcoding step for media that has already been processed.


Getting our installation and migration methods ready for Avalon 2.0 slowed down our release cycle - we spent too many sprints on getting a relatively painless installation method ready. While the experience was fresh in our minds, the team started the sometimes painful work of creating a push–button automated release process that will result in faster, more efficient releases. 


Northwestern has been working on getting their pilot system ready for the upgrade to Avalon 2.0 and while they are at it they are benchmarking some processing times of various video types.  Hopefully that information can be used to tweak our configuration and profile setting as we get closer to production systems after the release of Avalon 3.0. Overall, it was a busy, productive sprint.


Watch the full recording of this week's demo.


  • VoV-2105 – Plan for MediaElement.js collaboration

  • VoV-2100 – Improved skin for MediaElement.js player

  • VoV-1974 – Migration for portable ova install from 1.0 to 2.0

  • VoV-2107 – Migration for puppet install from 1.0 to 2.0

  • VoV-2078 – NU pilot system cloned

  • VoV-2102 – Benchmarking processing time for NU pilot

  • VoV-2108 – Push-button automated release process

  • VoV-2143 – Uploading previously transcoded derivatives

  • VoV-2141 – Derivatives not playing on pawpaw/pilot systems

  • VoV-2142 – Collection Guide "items/objects" clean up

  • Review of stories – Team led by Andrea


    You can also watch the demos for past Sprints or learn more about our development process.

    Blog Categories:

    Avalon 2.0 Webinar, November 14


    Please join us for an upcoming webinar for the Avalon Media System Project.


    Date: Thursday, November 14

    Time: 12:00-1:00 PM EST



    • overview of version 2.0 functionality and the download/tryout options

    • demo of version 2.0

    • summary of recent Avalon partner meeting

    • roadmap and schedule for planned future releases

    • questions and feedback from participants


    To register, please fill out the registration form:


    We're looking forward to talking with you about Avalon. We will record the webinar for later viewing by those unable to join us.



    Blog Categories:

    Sprint 37 - October 18, 2013


    With Avalon 2.0 ready for public consumption, the team spent this sprint working on documenting our migration paths for the different installation methods. Our last two sprints have been devoted to setting up the distribution of our releases so we talked quite a bit about how to streamline the process so we can hit our releases more efficiently.  The team looked into our new media player, MediaElement.js, some more to figure out how to contribute new features and bug fixes. We have a plan!  


    We are looking for someone to test out our manual installation documentation. If you are planning on doing the manual install of Avalon 2.0, we would love to get some feedback from you! Please contact us.  


    Watch the full recording of this week's demo.

    • VoV-1874 – Installation using Vagrant VM is available and documented – Chris

    • VoV-1974 – Migration from ova VM Avalon 1.0 to Avalon 2.0 is documented and tested

    • VoV-2075 – IU's Pilot system is updated with Avalon 2.0

    • VoV-2094 – Administrator couldn't create collections

    • VoV-1631 – Quality Selector on iPhones – Phuong

    • VoV-1873 – Plans for working with MediaElement.js – Phuong

    • Review of stories – Team led by Andrea (0:31:06)

    You can also watch the demos for past Sprints or learn more about our development process.

    Blog Categories:

    Release 2.0 Now Available


    Release 2.0 of the Avalon Media System is now available. One goal of this release is to enable successful pilot implementations at partner institutions.


    The release includes the following features:

    • New hierarchical permissions model supports a flexible approach to collections-based content management. Collections can have default access controls.

    • Collections can more easily be shared with defined groups.

    • New media player is more usable and supports more platforms.

    • An about page shows the system health and supports automated system monitoring.

    • Staff can create custom thumbnails for video content by taking a "snapshot" during playback or by specifying a timepoint.

    • Tools are provided for migration of content and user groups from Avalon 1.0 to 2.0.

    There are several options for exploring release 2.0. You can try it out on our public test server. You can also download and install a preconfigured Avalon virtual machine image, perform a step-by-step installation, or find out how to download our source code from Github.


    If you plan to try out or download the newest version of Avalon and haven't already done so, please sign up for our email list, avalon-discuss-l, to get technical support or provide feedback. If you are not yet signed up for our main announcement email list, please sign up for avalon-l.


    Blog Categories:

    Partners Meeting Recap


    On October 2 and 3, the Avalon Media System team invited our partner institutions to come to lovely Bloomington, Indiana, for a meeting to discuss development priorities and future directions. Many of our partners were able to make it, but we also wanted to share what was discussed with the wider community and partners who were unable to attend.


    If you prefer not to go through the following photos to access the notes from the meeting, we've created a short and sweet version on our wiki.

    Wednesday, October 2


    Wednesday agenda:


    9:00 - Introductions, mention of interests/questions, desired outcomes of meeting (Jon) [NOTES]




    9:45  - Project update [Slides] (Jon) & demo (Mark) [NOTES] [AdobeConnect Recording]



    10:45 - Roadmap review (Mark) & priorities discussion (Claire)  [NOTES] [AdobeConnect Recording]


    12:00 - Lunch - Continue priorities discussion


    1:00 - Avalon and WGBH's HydraDAM, demo and discussion (Karen)  [NOTES]



    2:00 - Breakout session decisions



    2:30-4 - Breakout session 1


    Specific integrations / technical architecture [NOTES]


    Metadata: Technical & descriptive / Collections, units [NOTES]


    Variations and Avalon [NOTES]


    4:00 - Breakout groups report back


    6:30pm - Working dinner at Finch's


    Group 1 - Hydra DAM / Avalon collaboration



    Group 2 - Avalon product positioning  - where it fits in the landscape of media solutions



    Group 3 - Engaging the developer community and getting institutional commitment to continued development



    Thursday, October 3


    Thursday agenda:


    9:00 - Reports from last night's dinner discussions (30 min) (Stu)  [NOTES]



    9:30 - Review/modify today's agenda (15 min) (Jon)



    9:45 - Breakout session 2


    Pilot plans and implementations - support needs [NOTES]


    Structural metadata [NOTES]


    Product positioning, extension [NOTES]


    11:00 - Breakout session 3


    Authentication/authorization integrations  [NOTES]


    Technical deep dive/code hacking [NOTES]



    HydaDAM/Avalon feature/roadmap comparison [NOTES]


    12:00 - Lunch - Breakout groups report back


    1:00 - Post-grant sustainability and governance (Jon) [NOTES]


    2:00 - Wrap-up & next steps [NOTES]





    (mustache montage compliments of Avalon team member Julie Hardesty!)


    Friday, October 4


    Sprint planning/Evaluation of partner meeting  (IU/NU Avalon team only)



    Overall, we think the meeting was a great success.


    We got to meet the partners:



    And reunite the Indiana University and Northwestern University development teams:


    If you have any questions or comments about the Partners Meeting, feel free to contact us!

    Blog Categories: