Blizzard, Fire Alarm Can't Stop Preservation Effort

     When a person travels to Boston during the dead of winter, they usually expect a bit of snow, but not a historic blizzard…and a hotel fire alarm is an entirely different thing.

     The University of Oklahoma’s Lisa Henry got both on a recent journey to one of America’s most famous public broadcasting television stations, WGBH in Boston.

      Henry, archivist for the University of Oklahoma’s renowned Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive, travelled to the iconic PBS station recently to participate in weeklong immersion training program as part of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting Preservation Fellowship Program. WGBH, home to such famous public television shows as “This Old House,” “Downton Abbey” and “The French Chef,” received a grant from the Institute of Library Sciences to host the program for the national history organization. The fellowship was designed to teach new techniques to inventory, digitize and catalog small collections of audiovisual material; generate technical and preservation metadata; and process the material for inclusion in an archive.

     The focus of the OU and Oklahoma archiving efforts are years of nightly news broadcasts from the Oklahoma Education Television Authority, better known to all Oklahomans as OETA.

     Henry’s training provided a solid understanding of her role as a mentor for the project. She will serve as mentor and resource for OU graduate student Evelyn Cox, who is doing the actual archiving. Both are working on the project with Dr. Susan Burke, OU interim director and assistant professor at the School of Library and Information Studies, and OETA Vice President of Operations Janette Thornbrue.

     “It was hectic, but we learned from some of the best in the world. They brought in some real heavy hitters for our training” Henry said of the program organizers.

     Those “heavy hitters,” she said, included George Blood from Philadelphia “who wrote the book and built a world-renowned business transferring legacy material for customers around the world.”

     Henry said “we had the brightest of WGBH and the American Archive leading our workshops, and the Bay Area Video Coalition in San Francisco sent experts Jackie Jay to instruct us on video equipment. Ashley Blewer, a New York City freelance expert in archival file management, also “had us digging into software that will make this project run smoothly,” Henry noted.

     “It seemed like we started at dawn and didn’t finish until the evening. They brought in lunch every day…and then there was the “hurricane-blizzard,” as the local news was calling it…and, finally, the fire alarm. “It certainly was a busy, interesting week,” Henry said.

     During the trip, Boston faced a massive wind and snow blizzard dubbed by the news media as  “bomb-cyclone” Arctic Storm Grayson. Grayson brought whiteout conditions, massive flooding and strong winds across the Massachusetts city. Hotel guests on the last day of the training also had to scurry out of the hotel late one afternoon when the fire alarms went off. Guests were forced to mill around in the freezing weather or huddle in the shops around the hotel for more than an hour while firefighters made sure there was no fire.

     “Thank goodness there wasn’t,” Henry said. “It felt odd, though, standing around in a blizzard, waiting to see if your hotel was burning down.”

     The Kanter archive is the largest collection of political campaign commercials in the world, home to more than 170,000 radio and television ads dating back to the late 1920s.