Five Things Chicago’s Media Archivists Want You To Know

A cadre of Chicagoans who are hard at work salvaging our recorded history — on film, video and audio tape — recently swapped stories. They told tales of diving into dumpsters to rescue footage, of preserving and cataloging their spoils, of tiptoeing around copyright laws, and of collaborating  — with filmmakers, podcasters, artists, students, teachers, and musicians interested in exploring or using their work to create something new.

They recently gathered at the Museum of Broadcast Communications for a discussion sponsored by the Chicago/Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Panelists included:

  • Tom Weinberg and Sara Chapman of Media Burn Archive, which collects, restores and distributes documentary video and television created by artists, activists and community groups in Chicago and beyond.
  • Michelle Puetz of the Chicago Film Archive, a regional film archive dedicated to identifying, collecting, preserving and providing access to a diverse array of public and private films that represent the Midwest.
  • And, Tony Macaluso and Allison Schein Holmes of Studs Terkel Radio Archive, a public archive of more than 5,000 conversations Studs conducted over the course of his career, launching in May.
  • John Owens of the Decades Network moderated the event.

Below are just five key takeaways from their two-hour long conversation, which kicked off with some of their favorite finds and is available in full here.

  1. We should all be taking extra special care of all of our personal and professional archives — and transfer those tapes (like, yesterday).

If you produced work on VHS or other types of tape or have home movies, Sara Chapman, executive director of Media Burn, suggests taking immediate steps to preserve them.

“Videotapes are at the end of [their] lifespan now,” she said. “There have been estimates as dire as starting around 2023 it will be pretty impossible to get your tapes transferred. The tapes themselves deteriorate very quickly and they’re unrecoverable once they deteriorate. You can’t really bring back with a photochemical process like film. There’s nothing you can do.”

So move that to the top of your to-do list.

In the meantime, be careful how you store that tape. Different types of media require different storage methods, but in general, the panelists recommend keeping personal archives in a cool, dark place with as stable a temperature and as low humidity as possible.

Meanwhile, if you are digitizing video files on your own for safe storage, Chapman recommends keeping video files uncompressed, with an avi or mov wrapper.

  1. The idea that everything that has ever been created is available in the cloud is “really very, very dangerous.”

It takes a lot of time, effort and money to get all of the footage and audio from old tapes into the collective interwebs, and there is much work left to be done. Continue reading →

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Robert Maynard Hutchins & the American University

“What is the trouble with the private institutions?  It is that they are after money.  If you are after money, you have to appeal to the people who have got it, and the way to appeal to the people who have got it to represent to them that you are going to do what they would like to have done.”
-Robert Maynard Hutchins

This blog post was written by Meghan, one of our summer interns from the MLIS program at Dominican University.

Robert Maynard Hutchins’ time at the University of Chicago coincided with Studs Terkel’s education there, providing a platform for the interview.  Hutchins shared his views on the American educational system, particularly the system of higher education in the U.S., which he believed had departed from its original intended purpose.  Universities should serve as, what he referred to as “centers of independent thought,” or “centers of intellectual illumination.”  However, they changed course, catering to the “LaSalle Street” inhabitants, in other words, bankers and financial institutions.

Hutchins’ thoughts and beliefs about the ways in which universities strayed from their goals were direct and truthful, but, he did not believe that universities should necessarily be condemned for their choices.  He himself began the process of developing “centers of independent thought” outside of the university setting so as to keep alive the need in this country for individuals to participate in a community that thinks critically in the interest of serving the country as a whole.

I say it may be necessary simply to reconcile ourselves to the fact that the American university is so far gone in this direction that nothing can be done about it, but if this is so, then what we have to do is to set about establishing new institutions that will perform this function.

Robert Maynard Hutchins founded the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions to help support his goal of providing scholars with a venue where their ideas could be freely examined and discussed.  This brief interview is densely packed with criticisms of the American higher educational system, while also attempting to provide a lifeboat for “eggheads” who are not destined for LaSalle Street.

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The Mayor, the City Council, schools… and poetry

Sometimes it feels like deja vu all over again here in Chicago.  We’re dealing with those issues today, (well, maybe not poetry), but this program was recorded on July 22, 1971.

On July 21, 1971, Alderman Dick Simpson made the suggestion in a City Council meeting that the councilman the mayor had chosen for the Zoning Board of Appeals had a conflict of interest, and was too closely connected to other influential boards and to the mayor himself.

Mayor Daley responded.  Passionately.  And an unnamed journalist recorded it.

During the first half of this program, Dick Simpson is in the studio recounting the event to Studs.  He remarks, “Somehow, on all of these boards that are appointed, it’s the important firms of the city that get represented; it’s not all of the other elements of the public interest, it’s not the small firms, it’s not the little real estate man.”  After he leaves to teach a class, journalist Mike Royko sits in and dissects the event with Studs.  They read part of Daley’s response aloud and then listen to the recording.

You can read the Chicago Tribune coverage of the event here (it begins on the bottom right of page one), and listen to the program below.

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One Book, One Chicago Partnership!!

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We are happy to announce our new partnership with Chicago Public Library’s One Book, One Chicago campaign.  We can’t wait to share Studs Terkel’s programs in conjunction with this years pick, The Third Coast by Thomas Dyja.

Read all about it here. Happy reading/listening!

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New Voices on Studs Terkel Radio Archive Exhibit Special Preview on 8/23!

It’s been a busy summer for the students at ChiArts, Convergent Academies at Tilden and YouMedia as they’ve prepared their projects for the New Voices on Studs Terkel Radio Archive exhibit  which begins with a sneak peak on August 23rd at The Chicago History Museum  in their first floor Guild Room from 12:30 – 4:30pm.  In addition to seeing one piece from each locale you’ll be able to experience interactive exhibits, a listening station and a photo series on pictures of two people, in hoping of telling a narrative between them..

Then on September 11th, we pull out all the stops for the gala opening as we celebrate at the Chicago Art Department on 1932 South Halsted in Chicago. Starting at 6:00pm you’ll be able to see and interact with all of the pieces, meet the artists and leave your thoughts or feedback on the exhibit. Until then check out the blog and student bios at New Voices on Studs Terkel Radio Archive exhibit and learn more about what it takes to live the creative life.

The teens have been working hard this summer to create the best interactive pieces possible using audio from The Studs Terkel Radio Archive, their Ninja-like skills and unlimited imaginations, so don’t miss your chance to see and experience their incredible work. Can’t join us for any of these special dates? Don’t worry, the exhibit runs from September 11 through September 25 when we’ll have a closing ceremony at 6:30pm to honor these awesome talents.

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New Voices on Studs Terkel Teen Program

We are excited to announce the beginning of our new summer program in partnership with YOUmedia Chicago, Convergence Academies at Tilden and ChiArts.

This program gives teen the opportunity to create new works based on Terkel’s 45 years at WFMT.  All teen content will then be ingested into the Studs Terkel Radio Archive.

 

To learn more click here.

 

Theater and Thanksgiving

Congratulations to the cast, musicians, crew, and faculty team behind ChiArts’ production of “Working”!  What a show!  We truly heard America singing – a creative, youthful, diverse, and dedicated America – and it was an honor and a pleasure.  After visiting your school earlier this month we all expected a stellar show, but you still managed to blow us away!  The music, singing, and dancing was excellent, of course, but we were most touched by the poise and maturity the cast showed in portraying individuals whose stories were often quite different from their own.  It demonstrated a great respect for the original interviewees’ words and experiences.

Finally, your production was a timely reminder that although we are all unique individuals with stories to tell, we all are a part of a community that is greater than ourselves.  You showed us the very best of what America can be, thank you.  Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

And remember, tune in to WFMT 98.7 this Friday at 10:00 pm (or stream live) to hear a rebroadcast of Studs’s 1973 tribute to Thanksgiving.

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photo credits: Allison Schein

 

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To the ChiArts cast of “Working”

Dear Students,

Steve, Tony, Allison, Rowan, and I had a great time meeting with you last week.  Your enthusiasm about Studs’s words and your own interpretations of them was truly inspiring!  I also want to thank you for being so open and honest with us about your experience.  Although a theatrical performance is naturally a community event, being a part of a cast can sometimes feel very intimate or exclusive, and we are grateful for the insights you were willing to share with us.

Speaking of sharing – I would like to again extend an invitation to you to contribute to this blog.  I would love to post anything that was inspired by your experience in “Working,” whether it is a written piece, a film or recording, a piece of visual art, or even a brand new interview (perhaps featuring an artist or a drug dealer!).  If you have any questions, please get in touch with me at gradkins@wfmt.com.

The team and I wish you all the best with your performance this weekend (I’m really looking forward to seeing it!) and with your future theatrical and academic pursuits.

Break a leg!

Grace (and the entire Studs team)

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Using the Studs Terkel Radio Archive in the Classroom (part 2)

In a world where we are constantly bombarded by an ever-changing, impermanent parade of sound bites, memes, video clips, and “breaking news” ticker tape, taking sixty minutes to listen to an interview can feel like a major time commitment.  For those of us who remember when the world was a little slower, it means rediscovering how to sit quietly and focus on something that does not scroll, beep, refresh, or show videos of really cute baby animals.  And for those of us who don’t remember that world, it may mean learning a new way of hearing and processing information.  Not an easy task.

And yet, as we’ve mentioned before on this blog, we are strongly committed to introducing Studs’s work to a new, young audience.  Continue reading →

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#AskAnArchivist Day

Tomorrow, October 30, is the Society of American Archivists‘ #AskAnArchivist Day!  Archivists participating in #AskAnArchivist are eager to respond to any and all questions you have about archives and archival work.  To participate, just tweet a question and include the hashtag #AskAnArchivist in your tweet!

No question is too silly

  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve come across in your collections?
  • If your archives had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?
  • What do archivists talk about around the water cooler?

and no question is too practical!

  • What should I do to be sure that my emails won’t get lost?
  • I’ve got scads of digital images on my phone.  How should I store them so I can access them later on?
  • How do you decide which items to keep and which to weed out from a collection?
  • As a teacher, how can I get my students more interested in using archives for projects?

Allison Schein, our Archive Manager, will be on hand to answer your specific questions about our collection.  Tag her at @StudsArchive and use #AskAnArchivist.  We’ll be posting our favorite questions and answers in the coming weeks!

Original tapes of Studs's shows waiting to be digitized at the Library of Congress

Original tapes of Studs’s shows waiting to be digitized at the Library of Congress

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