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October 5, 2013

Push on to digitize almost 500,000 IU archives

University seeks to become a national leader in digital preservation

BLOOMINGTON — This year’s “State of the University” address by IU President Michael McRobbie touched on changes the institution has made in the last several years, but it did much more to set a finish line for many new initiatives before IU’s bicentennial in 2020.

The biggest push offered from a dais in Franklin Hall Tuesday: a five-year, $15-million effort to digitize almost a half-million “objects of value” at IU-Bloomington and other campuses and create a system for doing it that would make the university a national leader in digital preservation.

McRobbie’s announcement, as part of a strategic plan working toward 2020, called for the university to put together a plan for reviewing its time-based media collection, which includes films, video and sound recordings, and converting them to digital formats. A recent study estimated about 400,000 such objects are in Bloomington, with another 100,000 in Indianapolis and other regional campuses, McRobbie said.

IU has contracted with Memnon Archiving Services to set up a processing hub in Bloomington. The university’s ambition is — through its experience during the Media Preservation and Digitization Initiative (MPDI) — to be ahead of the curve in the digital preservation field.

“There is increasing interest in this area, not only in academia but commercially, as the gravity of the preservation situation with such material becomes more widely recognized,” McRobbie said. “Hence, we expect that MPDI will make IU a leader in this field and truly pre-eminent, and open up many new opportunities for partnership and collaboration.”

Brad Wheeler, IU’s vice president for information technology, looked to the University of Southern California and its effort to preserve Holocaust testimonials as one comparison, or the work done by the Smithsonian on various projects as another, but he really saw the move by IU to digitize hundreds of thousands of articles of media as “unprecedented.” These objects are all over campus, some in the film and music departments, others in the athletic department, for example.

When the project is completed, Wheeler is thinking students, with the power of super computers like IU’s “Big Red,” might have the ability to mine a digital archive for information spanning multiple disciplines.

McRobbie’s speech included many other goals.

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