Sittler Archives website videos

by Matt Frost

Well, for a while (unnoticed by me, but brought to my attention by patrons), the video section of hadn’t been working.  It’s back up and running with what videos we had available still in digital format (or could find), now hosted through YouTube and embedded on our page.  The story, if you’re interested, is below the break.

For users of our “Theological Reflections” series, with the study guide prepared by Robert Saler, those videos are now working directly from the site again. Robert Rothgery had also made his video, “The Debonair Giant,” available on YouTube, and we have embedded that video link as well, so that it can be viewed from our site again.

There are some videos we didn’t have DVD backup of, and those have now been removed from the page until we can digitize the tapes. Friend of the Archives Bill Maloney, who has equipment we don’t and the experience and time to use it well, has helped us with our reel-to-reel tapes and odd-format video media before. Bill has agreed to help us get the VHS materials into DVD format so that we can begin making those available digitally. It’s very good to have friends, and we’re grateful to Bill for his help!

The Story

So, apparently you want to hear more. Alright, here we go:

Once upon a time, when we were hosted over at ELCA HQ (AKA “Higgins Road”) and the site was new, our video and audio files were in RealMedia formats.  Remember them?  Yeah, that was a long time ago.  RealMedia streaming servers, back in the day when MP3 conversion was questionably legal, Fraunhofer IIS was litigating, and nobody had bandwidth anyways.

Anyways, when we updated to MP3 files for our audio (downmixed from 24-bit FLAC, if anyone is interested), we just sort of bypassed that system—but we left the videos on it, because we hadn’t gotten around to doing anything digital with video here at the Archives.  Later, we made an attempt at moving them to Google Videos, and I’m not sure what happened there, but long story short, after the death of the RealMedia server and our transfer to new hosting, we were left with a video archive page with no working videos.

We’re sorry about that, and that it’s taken so long to get it back up and running again.

Archival Details

If you’re interested to know how we handle analog and digital versions of things, here’s a quick explanation. In a broad sense, there are two categories we deal with: preservation, and use.

As far as preservation is concerned, the better we can identify an original as master, and never ever use it, and keep it stored in the friendliest possible conditions, the better we can preserve it. That works great with paper. Nobody cares what format a paper document is in, because it’s readable, basically until the ink fades or the paper disintegrates.  And sometimes even after that, with the right lighting!

AV materials are different. The earliest analog tape copy of something, least-used and gently treated, is generally our best preservation copy. But when that’s a U-matic tape, for example, and the hardware to play it isn’t readily available, we can preserve that information as long as we want—it just becomes useless after a while. What good is an original that nobody can read?

And that’s a use question, but it shows how interconnected these categories are.  We preserve items, ultimately, so they can be useful for a long time.  And it’s important to understand that digitizing isn’t properly a preservation technique.  It just gives us a different copy to try to preserve.

Digitizing, really, is just format-shifting to keep the best copy we can preserve in a format that is still readable.  The DVD will eventually be as obsolete as the VHS tape—and both will eventually be completely obsolete, by which I mean, nobody will be able to read information stored on them.

This is one of the reasons that AV archives frequently keep and maintain the best hardware they can for the formats they have.  That piece of equipment in our vault may someday be the last one—but well before that happens, it will be the last convenient one.  (We’re a bit behind the ball on that score, for several formats, as we’ve collected materials for which we have neither the hardware nor the maintenance expertise for said hardware … but we’d rather preserve the materials, first.)

This is where digitizing, which certainly serves to make our materials more useful, also becomes a preservation technique.  The best digital copy we can get of the best analog tape we have available to us may eventually become the only usable master of that material.

In the meantime, we preserve the tapes, and do what we can in digitization to make it so that we can store the best digital copy possible, and use digital copies to save wear on the tapes—which are still the best versions we have, even though they will someday break or wear out or otherwise fail.  Because everything does.  Nobody knew that better than Dr. Sittler!  And at an archive, we do our best to fight that, but we also do our best to preserve the information.  To remember it for you.

In the words of Walter de la Mare:

Here lies a most beautiful lady,
Light of step and heart was she;
I think she was the most beautiful lady
That ever was in the West Country.
But beauty vanishes; beauty passes;
However rare—rare it be;
And when I crumble, who will remember
This lady of the West Country?


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