Curating and digitizing media archives

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There is an oft-quoted adage,

“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” 

I have had the rare pleasure of living that life for the past 35 years in the field of film and video archives, yet my job is as fresh to me today as it was the first day I started in the field.

Corporate archive management

My current assignment is at a large media company with an active and ever-growing media archive composed of millions of news assets.  Working in a hectic news environment, each day I am faced with the intellectual challenge of keeping up with breaking news and constantly evolving, cutting-edge technology.

I have a deep respect for the mission of the client and the collection I manage. To me, it is not just a “corporate” archive but the work product of countless journalists and camera crews who worked long hours, in all sorts of conditions, locations and, at times, in dangerous situations, to bring these sights and sounds to the American viewing public.  This collection is not only a history of our nation but the world.

Video asset curation for digitization

My favorite part of my job is to lead the on-going curation effort to review and select original film and video assets to be digitized to high-definition media based on content, usage and overall collection and historic importance.  To be able to make these materials more easily accessible is to make the stories and people in them come alive again.

Increasing visibility through metadata

Many of these early records have very limited or cursory background information, or metadata.  Most of the time, they have whatever brief notes were handwritten on the outside of the film cans or tape jackets from the camera crews, with no standardization of language.

I dig into the stories and add context to these records, including:

  • Complete names and proper spellings of personalities
  • Correct dates
  • Locations
  • Search terms

This metadata not only makes the records easier to find, but helps future users understand what the story was about and why it mattered.

Discovering valuable content hidden in collections

Of course, often times I find hidden jewels of information. One White House record dated 4/17/1973 simply had the word “Entertainment” in the content field.  Since that was during the Nixon presidency, I checked the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum website for his Presidential Daily Diary—the official record of his meetings and telephone calls. I learned President Nixon had hosted a state dinner for the Italian Prime Minister that evening, and the entertainment was singer Frank Sinatra.  We transferred the film and found footage of Frank Sinatra, in his prime, singing in the East Room of the White House.

After I work on this type of content project, I love to see how many times these assets, which may have been sitting on shelves for 30-50 years, are ordered by new users.  As a steward of this collection I get great joy from these re-discoveries and being able to shine new light on otherwise dark, dormant, yet unique assets that add depth, richness and value to this extensive media collection.

It is so rewarding to see how I can add value to the client’s collection and help them find current and historic elements to enhance their telling of new stories.

Nancy Hiegel

Nancy Hiegel

Nancy Hiegel currently works for LAC Group on assignment at a national news organization located in Washington, D.C. She has nearly 35 years of experience in broadcast archives and has worked in a broad range of ever-expanding archive-related positions and capacities from Information Assistant to Researcher, then Department Manager and Director. Nancy and her team support an all-digital library workflow and she has been actively involved over the course of her professional career in the evolution of workflows, computing tools and systems to advance media archives from paper-based to digital environments and workflows.
Nancy Hiegel

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