The Bay Area TV Archive (BATA; batv.quartexcollections.com), a unit of the Special Collections and Archives at the J. Paul Leonard Library at San Francisco State University (SFSU), makes history truly come alive through community partnerships and platform development. To make this happen, Quartex (quartexcollections.com) has helped realize the ability to edit transcription output from television archival footage.
The Bay Area TV Archive was established in 1981 when broadcasters at local TV affiliates noticed, to their horror, that custodians had been instructed by senior management to dispose of film assets. Important news and documentary programming from the 1960s and 1970s— their legacy—was being thrown away like trash.
This audiovisual (AV) material—in some cases literally rescued from dumpsters—eventually found its way to the department of special collections at SFSU. Broadcasters like Belva Davis, Rollin Post, and Bill Hillman saved this important history. BATA currently streams more than 300 hours of the footage online for free. This is a testament to their foresight and to the perseverance of BATA’s founding archivist, Helene Whitson.
More than 95% of the material is preserved on 16mm news and documentary film, which is footage that was typically shot out in the field. It doesn’t have much studio footage showing news anchors rustling papers because film was shot by camera crews on location around the Bay Area and across Northern California.
This is often material which didn’t make it to air. Often, TV audiences back in the day only saw brief snippets of what camera crews originally captured. So, when users watch these clips streaming from the website, it can be a first-time viewing experience. It’s the very definition of primary source material, making history come alive.
The material is still owned by the local TV affiliates. The Archive works with four main TV stations: KPIX, KQED, KTVU, and KRON. However, SFSU is particularly invested in the Archive to the point that decision making regarding working in exhibitions or putting material online involves liaising with senior management to ensure alignment with the institution’s overarching mission.
Typical user groups of the Archive include filmmakers, students, researchers, and museums, and much of the focus of what Alex, as the BATA archivist, works on relates to issues surrounding social justice, with stakeholders typically only too happy to shine a light on footage of this nature being preserved and showcased.
From the 1950s onward, the Bay Area became a focal point for many social movements and revolutionary organizations on the West Coast, such as the Daughters of Bilitis and the Oakland Chapter of the Black Panther Party.
This legacy is reflected in the Bay Area’s diverse user community, which includes anyone with a vested interest in rediscovering their history and culture, and ranges from organizations that continue to advocate for equality to people who want to see their parents and grandparents fighting for the rights they enjoy today.
Quartex A/V Pilot Project
To explore how critical resources can be made available in a way that is functional, intuitive, and unlocks their full research potential, Katie Gambone from Quartex and Alex Cherian, TV archivist at the Bay Area TV Archive, discussed the Quartex A/V Pilot Project at Internet Librarian Connect, which took place Oct. 26–28, 2021.
The AV functionality in Quartex was initially developed and implemented to support unique and carefully curated video collections—including oral histories, primary source film footage, audio recordings, and video essays—in Adam Matthew Digital primary source databases. However, with more clients exploring Quartex to support a significant amount of their own AV assets, the A/V Pilot Project was launched to further enhance Quartex platform capabilities for the needs of clients with large and diverse AV collections.
Three dedicated partners currently participate in the program: the Bay Area TV Archive, the University of Florida, and Towson University. To date, A/V Pilot Project partners have provided critical feedback on the conceptualization and wireframes for enhancements, which include the ability to edit transcription output, embedding AV assets, access control, and citations.
For Further Information
Visit the Bay Area TV Archive digital collection in Quartex to explore hours of rare film footage: batv.quartexcollections.com.
To find out more about the AV capabilities in Quartex, visit quartex collections.com/features/audio-visual-hosting-and-transcription.
A stake in AV platform development
In 2009, SFSU’s department of academic technology developed an in-house platform through which to showcase archival footage.
However, more recently, one of the external vendors that the Archive worked with to provide access to transcripts and closed captions became unaffordable and also proved problematic in other ways. This included the difficulty involved in making even small changes that were relatively simple.
That’s when BATA reached out to Quartex. Unlike other alternative vendors, Quartex wasn’t just selling an off-the-shelf package: It was offering a collaborative partnership and giving the Archive a stake in developing new platform functions that were crucial to its mission, such as the capability to edit AV transcripts.
The prospect of being involved in the process and providing input (and feedback) on what was needed as an archive was a big incentive, because the Archive had a voice in how things could potentially work.
BLACKS, BLUES, BLACK!
One example of how editing AV transcripts for enhanced access, discovery, and understanding that illustrates the ease of use and research impact of the latest Quartex platform enhancement comes from the 1968 TV series Blacks, Blues, Black! (batv.quartexcollections.com/ collections/list/collections/38) featuring Maya Angelou.
When BATV rereleased this series in 2015, archivists found that each episode opened and closed with the same song, sung by Angelou. They decided to produce a translation for this song but, with zero paperwork, didn’t even know which language was being used. After consulting with the University of Ghana, the University of Cape Town, and UC Berkeley Center for African Studies, archivists established that Angelou was singing in the Yoruba language of West Africa.
The initial automated transcript generated by Amazon Transcribe made no sense of the Yoruba lyrics. Tomedes Global Services provided a transcription and translation of this song, which was a lament about slavery. The next step was to look at different ways to share this information online using Quartex.
In the back end of Quartex, it’s relatively simple to update the text and timecodes. For onscreen captioning, we used an English translation from Yoruba. Then, we just edited and checked the changes in the front end.
We also set up a free text metadata field in the relevant record for the English translation. Another option was to create a related asset in the form of a translation document, accessible as a PDF file. This provides users with access to both a Yoruba transcription and an English translation. Finally, we also created a compound asset by placing the video file into a folder with a .jpeg image file of the translation.
Collaborating on this project showed how Quartex offers multiple approaches to the curation of video assets on its platform. It was this flexibility that helped to showcase Angelou’s work in Blacks, Blues, Black!
Realizing the benefits of community partnership
For the Quartex team, the A/V Pilot Project represents an exciting opportunity to work with repositories that are living and breathing AV collections every day.
Project partners such as BATA have the best sense of how their community needs to use these collections, as well as the work flows that are important, fit-for-purpose, and user-friendly for their administrative team.
Quartex wants to make sure that its platform is developed in a way that really does make sense for repositories and for the people who use the collections. Therefore, the help from all of its A/V Pilot Project partners has been invaluable.
This article is based on a session at Internet Librarian Connect on the growing importance of audio-visual collections for to day’s researchers that was sponsored by Adam Matthew Digital (amdigital.co.uk), the team behind the Quartex archival discovery solution.