Gettin’ Rowdy with Howard Besser

Yesterday, the NDSR cohort and mentors met for their first enrichment session with guest facilitator Howard Besser, Professor of Cinema Studies and Associate Director of New York University’s Moving Image Archiving & Preservation Program (MIAP) and all around archivist badass.


Photo from The Signal blog post on 10-10-2014

During the Occupy Movement, Howard worked with Activist Archivists to get Occupy members in NYC to archive their photographs and footage of the event. The lessons he shared with us from that experience are applicable to anyone who’s doing a community archiving project or wants to archive a contemporary event effectively.


Howard took this pic at Occupy Wall Street, Liberty Square, Oct 11, 2012

Howard’s Badass Lessons about Effective Community Archiving:

    1. Speak their language. For the umpteenth time, no one cares about metadata, and no one really thinks their things are worth archiving. The way to convince people is to understand what matters to them and how archiving can address their needs. See this Activist Archivist’s flyer as an example.
    2. Build in redundancies. Archivists know that recording an accurate time, date and location on a piece of footage is incredibly important, so they gave Occupy members instructions to set their cameras accordingly before filming. Not everyone did, so they built in a redundancy- read a script on camera before filming. Not everyone did, so they built in a third redundancy- name the file using this same information! When it comes to following directions, three time’s a charm.
    3. Weed intelligently. They wound up with a staggering 169,000 videos, so they had to figure out how they were going to reduce them to a manageable size. They grouped videos into categories, and then asked members of Occupy Wall Street Working Groups to vote on their top 5 videos in each category. They also included a random sampling of video in the final collection to avoid contemporary bias.
    4. YouTube blows. Even though the videos they eventually uploaded had Creative Commons licensing, YouTube would not allow the videos to be downloaded. Besser even showed us an example of a public domain film from 1918 that you can’t download. So- make sure you do some test ingests first – watch your back – and watch your metadata. Better options are Internet Archive or Vimeo.
    5. Find the right tool. The app ObscuraCam, developed by and the Guardian Project, uses facial recognition to hide people’s faces in video and photos, and can also remove identifying information like GPS and phone model information.

For more information on this project, read Howard’s paper.

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