Ashley Blewer

Ashley Blewer

Last updated on 20 November 2018

Ashley Blewer is AV Preservation Specialist for Artefactual Systems


Blewer 1

NTTW3 Group picture - Photo credit E. Verbruggen CC-BY

Late last month I attended No Time To Wait 3: Rough Consensus and Running Archives. This was the third installment of the No Time to Wait symposium series, taking place October 25-26 2018 at the British Film Institute in London. See the official website for more information and links to the schedule, recorded video, and collaborative notes document. This conference has always been a multidisciplinary event, bringing together practitioners of digital preservation, developers of open source audiovisual software, and file format specification authors all together to be able to learn from each other about new relevant topics in each field, or think of ways to better collaborate. This conference has been especially beneficial for archivists, time-based media conservators, systems managers within GLAM institutions, audiovisual preservation technicians, and other people working in and around digital preservation because they are able to articulate the field’s needs to people able and willing to implement them into software or specifications. This conference emerged from a group of people (myself included) working on a video file conformance checking tool called MediaConch, which is used to validate a specific type of video file (Matroska-wrapped FFV1 video and LPCM audio) as well as perform institutionally-based policy checks on any type of file. This software is also integrated into Archivematica (supported by Artefactual, where I also now work. OK, transparency statements over!)

The jam-packed conference schedule was loosely organized into seven categories: Standards, horizon scanning, emerging media, the world outside of archives, sustainable solutions, case studies, and "hustlin". I'll talk about some highlights from each of these categories as it related to our field of digital preservation, in celebration of World Digital Preservation Day.


Sophie Bunz (chair): How we FFV1 & How we Matroska; Panelists: Joanna White, Carl Eugen Hoyos, Dave Rice

This panel brought together a very diverse group of people to discuss their experience with the FFV1 and Matroska file formats, used as a common preservation-grade losslessly compressed media format with integrated fixity checks. Sophie Bunz is a conservator working in a museum context, Joanna White is an emerging archivist-developer with a video production background, Carl Eugen Hoyos is an FFmpeg developer, and Dave Rice is an archivist known for leading many major open source software projects in the a/v preservation field. This panel really represented the interdisciplinary nature of the digital preservation field, and the different levels of technical knowledge that exist when implementing preservation efforts at an organization. Despite different backgrounds, needs, and knowledge, we are all able to come together to communicate and collaborate across disciplines.

Horizon scanning

Evanthia Samaras: Archiving VFX: A research project to preserve evidence of film digital visual effects production

Evanthia Samaras joined us from the University of Technology, Sydney to talk about her advanced research in how to archive visual effects, which also gave insight into how to advocate for and care about preservation when working in a production setting, as her work is situated within Animal Logic, a VFX studio in Australia. This spoke to another common thread during the conference: digital preservation professionals need to be reaching out and advocating for digital preservation outside of our own field and at the places where this work needs to happen.

The world outside of archives

Derek Buitenhuis: Every Solution is Wrong: Normalizing Ambiguous, Broken, and Pants-on-Head Media

Going outside of preservation and into the media industry, Derek Buitenhuis kindly joined us to speak about his experience as a senior video engineer at Vimeo (and also contributor to VideoLAN, creators of VLC). He spoke about all of the weird video files that are received on upload and the ways he mitigates that weirdness by thinking of clever ways to correct it in order to give people what they want: normal-looking video on the web, just like (they think) they uploaded. He covered issues with indexing, chunk transcoding, subtitles (including getting examples of people uploading Word documents and thinking they'll become subtitles), downmixing audio streams, and many other topics. This was the most technical talk in the entire conference, and I think it represented the depth required to be experts in the field of digital preservation. Also, despite being highly technical, Derek was able to keep the talk entertaining and full of humor, so no one felt uncomfortable or bad for not knowing this stuff.

Sustainable solutions

Ben Turkus, Kelly Haydon: If we could turn back … timecode

Speaking of humor, Ben Turkus and Kelly Haydon gave the deepest dive I've ever seen into the audiovisual preservation issues of timecodes, and all to the visual tune of Cher (and other famous singers). They did all the work of scouring technical magazines from the 1980s to bring us the latest information on old analog video timecode formats. They recommended software like vrecord and QCTools for working with and analyzing this ancillary data, which is important for long-term preservation. They also highlighted the benefits of this data and how it can be used to give insight into production workflow logs or analog video editing.

Case studies

Callie Holmes: Case Study in Open Media Adoption at the University of Georgia

Callie Holmes provided us with a case study for getting onboard with audiovisual preservation at the University of Georgia (United States), where she serves as their digital archivist. She broke the history of the organization before she came into it by era according to the leading archivist at the time, allowing us to see the often-invisible mark of an archivist on an organization, even though we often feel it, and putting people at the center of technical problem-solving, an excellent reminder as we started to reach the finish line of an overall highly technical conference. She ended her presentation by emphasizing the need for leaning on other people outside of her organization to learn from and collaborate with, and open documents that have helped her do her job better, which is a lesson we are continually learning as digital preservationists.


Somaya Langley: What steps to take when AV is yet to become a priority for your organisation

Finally, Somaya Langley spoke about her experience with #dp0c at the Cambridge University Libraries, and how she's been working to build a case for digital audiovisual preservation when it has otherwise not been a priority for the initiative or institution. She highlights the vast domain knowledge and expertise utilized in this project, but that the audiovisual component is missing. She suggests not losing track of AV by embedding it into the digital preservation planning and policy guidelines, making it one of the many priorities within the organization. Then, it can be cited later as a necessary issue. Also even if you can't have expertise on staff, find ways of establishing an AV community of practice as a way to learn from the librarians, archivists, and technicians that deal with this material regularly. I think this is applicable to any field, and it was wonderful to have an expert on preservation policy join us to think about matching lower-level goals with higher-level needs.

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