WGBH and the Library of Congress are five years into their stewardship of the American Archive Of Public Broadcasting, which was instituted in 2013 to coordinate a national effort to identify, preserve and make accessible the historical record of publicly funded radio and television broadcast in the U.S. We sat down with Ryn Marchese, Engagement and Use Manager for the AAPB here at WGBH, to learn more.

Why the sense of urgency to preserve public radio and television programs?
Ryn: Audiovisual archivists are in a race against time. Magnetic media is deteriorating at a rapid rate; the Library of Congress predicts that we have approximately 10-15 years to preserve analog content before much of it is lost. Magnetic media is beginning to mold, crumble, or sludge in its canister and most stations do not have climate-controlled vaults, archivists on-staff, or systems to manage their assets and metadata. So, it's AAPB's mission to coordinate a national effort to preserve and provide access to public media’s legacy, help provide stations with preservation standards, and collaborate on grants to fund digitization. In fact, WGBH and the LOC are committed to ingesting up to 25,000 hours of additional digitized or “born digital” content per year.

What equipment is helpful for stations to have on-site to preserve their content?
Ryn: Magnetic media deteriorates fast—often within 30 years of creation or less, depending on the format—but it lasts longer in climate-controlled environments. Cool and dry (though not frozen) is best, but the most important thing is stability; a fluctuating environment causes tape to deteriorate much faster.

It’s possible for stations to digitize their own materials with the right equipment. At minimum, this includes a player for the format, an analog-to-digital converter such as a BlackMagic or AJA device, and a computer with software that can capture the digitized files, as well as the proper cabling to connect the equipment together and cleaning supplies for the deck. Ideally, anyone performing professional-quality digitization would also have a sync generator, a waveform monitor and vectorscope to monitor the signal, a CRT television to view the material in its original format, a time-base corrector and processing amplifier to stabilize the signal and adjust video levels, and an audio mixer to adjust audio levels.

Even if you’re not planning to digitize your own content, it can be helpful to keep a deck and a CRT television to review materials and determine their value for digitization before sending off to a vendor—as long as the tapes are in good condition. Tapes at risk of deterioration shouldn’t be reviewed, since any playback could be their last!

How can the public do its part to help preserve public media content?
Ryn: The AAPB is hosting a Transcribe to Digitize Challenge! Using AAPB's online transcript editing platform FIX IT+, WGBH is asking the public to help correct 20-100 transcripts. Once that is complete, then George Blood, a digitization vendor, will digitize 20-100 tapes for FREE. Each completed transcript is then added to the AAPB website and becomes searchable by keyword or time stamp. An example of this can be seen on the record page of WGBH's A Conversation with James Baldwin, 1963. Digitization is expensive, and most stations do not have the resources to dedicate to preservation, so I strongly suggest helping #transcribetodigitize.