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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Why We Vote: education

In this final week of campaigning, we’re exploring the ideals that send us to the voting booth and help us make these vital choices.  Verify your registration and find out where to vote here!

In this post we’re looking at education.  The first interview features Mrs. Alberta Patterson, the mother of an autistic boy. She started the S.T.E.P. School in Chicago in order to meet his needs.  We also hear from Alice Jerome, the school’s director, and Sally Heynemann, a teacher.  These days, it is not unusual to hear about how best to educate children with autism, but this 1970 interview demonstrates the challenges that parents and students faced before schools were required and trained to educate students with autism spectrum disorders.

We reach further back in time to 1968 when Studs visited the St. Mary’s Center for Learning in Chicago.  The teachers and parents talk about their excitement for education, while the students share their passions for courses and teachers.  Educating young women, particularly in STEM subjects, has become a great talking point, and Mrs. Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative has made it global.  The teachers and parents at St. Mary’s believed it was a priority nearly 50 years ago – and much of what they say rings true for today’s students.

Next up – Why We Vote: Women’s Rights

Photo Credit: By Macruve (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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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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Studs Discusses “School Busing” and Magnet Schools with Chicago Parents

This post was written by our summer intern Megan, who is a MLIS student at Dominican University.

It’s August, which means that summer is coming to an end and school is almost in session. This week, we will hear Studs’ 1981 interview with three Chicago parents, Karen Grzybek, Barbara Tekiela, and Mark Smith, who chose to pull their children from their neighborhood schools and bus them to magnet schools around the city. In the process of doing so, they participated in “voluntary integration”. We will hear the stories of these parents, their children, and the advantages and disadvantages of sending children to magnet schools.

Studs asks Karen, Barbara, and Mark–three white, middle-class parents–to share their experiences of “school busing” and the reasons why they believed their children would be better off at magnet schools. Barbara explains that when her son was about to turn eight, the neighborhood public school lost teachers and ended up having to combine classes. No matter how hard the teachers worked, Barbara found that it was close to impossible for them to give their full attention to a split class. For this reason, Barbara decided to send her son to Owen Elementary Scholastic Academy, a magnet school in Chicago with a predominately black student population. Because Barbara believed her son could receive a better education at Owen, she decided to send him there, and he enjoyed it and received a great education.

Karen, who lives in Marquette Park, explained her reasoning for pulling her children from their neighborhood public school and sending them to Randolph Elementary School. Karen was dissatisfied with the school her children were attending in Marquette Park, and explains that there was a general lack of discipline and that her children hated school and would even skip it. When she received a letter in the mail notifying her of the opening of Randolph, a communications and arts school, she applied and ultimately decided to enroll her children in the school–which they love.

Finally, Mark Smith from Beverly describes his rationale for choosing to send his children to a magnet school. Mark explains that their neighborhood school wasn’t exciting, and he didn’t feel like his children were receiving the best education they could. When he heard of McDade Classical School, a predominately black school that offers a greater emphasis on art, music, and foreign language, he decided it would be a good fit for his children. It was indeed a good fit, and his children had great experiences at McDade Classical School.

After hearing the stories of these parents who chose to send their children to magnet schools, it seems there can be several significant advantages to busing students. Everyone at a magnet school has made a conscious decision to be there–from the principal, to the teachers, to the students who choose to attend. They also offer more varied curricula, offering courses that may not be available at traditional public schools. Finally, school busing offered a way to integrate children into more mixed student bodies. Neighborhood schools were often racially isolated, and reinforced neighborhood attitudes.

While magnet schools may possess several advantages over neighborhood schools, they had their disadvantages for these parents, too. Barbara, Karen, and Mark explain that their children faced some teasing from the neighborhood children, and it took a while to get the students situated in the magnet schools. Furthermore, it was often challenging for the children to play with their school friends outside of school, due to the often large distances between their homes.

After taking these advantages and disadvantages into consideration, Barbara, Karen, and Mark explain to Studs that magnet schools were a good decision for their children. Their children are learning more, enjoying their time at school, and interacting with a more diverse student population. Ultimately, this interview is about parents’ universal concern for their children, and their desire to give their children the best education they can. The Studs Terkel Radio Archive Blog wishes all students and parents the best for the upcoming school year.


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