Beyond Word and Image

Networking Moving Images:
More Than Just the "Movies"

A two-part examination of networking cultural heritage materials

David Green
National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage
Washington, DC
[email protected]

D-Lib Magazine, July/August 1997

ISSN 1082-9873

The National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage is a new membership coalition of national cultural organizations and associations (libraries, museums, education, research and contemporary arts organizations) committed to bringing greater coordination and integration to the project of networking our cultural heritage resources.

As part of NINCH's mission, it seemed important to me to discover how the community was preparing to network materials, in media other than text and image, that are increasingly being accepted and used as evidence and material in the study and creation of culture and history. What is being done to prepare for the time when use of high-quality, reliable networked moving images and sound is an everyday occurrence?

Here I examine what appears to me to be the important activities with moving images -- on film and videotape. In a second piece (to come in the late fall), I will look at the use of sound. Here, after exploring developments in the medium in general, I conclude with a look at how a particular artistic practice and discipline, that of dance, has organized itself in preparation for networking its materials. I invite contributions or discussion to the necessarily limited overview I present here.

Word and Image

The grand project of digitizing and networking cultural heritage materials has, for obvious reason, focused on text documents. Electronic analysis of text goes back to Father Roberto Busa's massive project, started in the late 1940s, of preparing what would be a 60-volume concordance of the 8 million words in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas--finally completed in 1980. Today such work has exploded exponentially due to the development of SGML and the work of the Text Encoding Initiative and more recently the Encoded Archival Description.

With the advent and wide use of the Web, images have been receiving remarkable attention. In the cultural arena, the Getty Information Institute has been a leader, thanks to the years of work it has invested in pioneering the development of vocabulary, naming and cataloging standards in the field of art history. Started before the digital revolution, this work has nicely led into the networked environment and expanded beyond the confines of art history. Having developed a suite of tools, from the Art & Architecture Thesaurus to the Categories for the Description of Works of Art,1 Getty is now working with the Research Libraries Group and others on the REACH project that will explore issues of data mapping between the "Categories," the Core Categories of the Visual Resources Association, the Museum Educational Site Licensing Project , and the Dublin Core,2 to communicate information about museum objects across widely various platforms, in an even greater effort at integration and coordination.

Beyond Word & Image: the time is right

With work in networking text and images well advanced, now is a critical time to examine issues and developments surrounding the networking of moving image resources for a variety of reasons.

First, there is the promise of acceptable delivery of moving images on demand over the Internet in the near future. Media streaming technology (see, for example the American Film Institute's Online Cinema), even though still in its infancy, is a vast improvement on previous methods of downloading media files. The Internet2 project promises, as one of the first class of applications to be worked on, to accelerate development of more efficient streaming applications as well as on quality and reliability of service (through reservation protocols, verification and authentication procedures, etc.).

Second, work has been proceeding apace with technological solutions to the problem of content searching across multiple film and video titles. At the University of Kansas, Susan Gauch and others have worked on VISION (Video Indexing for Searching Over Networks), a pilot system that uses automatic content-based segmentation and indexing of videos to allow viewers to search quickly across multiple videos to locate specific segments. One of the projects of the Digital Libraries Initiative, the Informedia Digital Video Library at Carnegie-Mellon University, is now automatically encoding, segmenting and indexing video data, while research "in the areas of speech recognition, image understanding and natural language processing supports the automatic preparation of diverse media for full-content and knowledge-based search and retrieval." We must add to this the activities of the Video Working Group of the Defense Department's new National Imagery and Mapping Agency, already working on video indexing and metadata. 3

Third, the moving image preservation community has become a force, as, with film and video stock rapidly disintegrating, preservation is becoming an increasingly urgent issue in the moving image world. Indeed, many feel a major national campaign is called for along the lines of the "Brittle Books" preservation campaign of the last decade.4 Aligning many of the forces for such a campaign is the Library of Congress. In 1993, it published a report: Film Preservation 1993: A Study of the Current State of American Film Preservation and, this September, will be publishing a companion report, Television and Video Preservation 1996: A Report on the Current State of American Television and Video Preservation.

Preservation as a Motivating Factor

The archiving and preservation of film is not new. Films were deposited either as still photos or "paper prints" as early as 1893 in the Library of Congress. The Library began actively collecting in 1942, assisted by copyright deposit requirements. The American Film Institute (AFI) was founded in 1967, and in 1984 it established the National Center for Film and Video Preservation.

There is a new sense of urgency to the matter of moving image preservation, due to both a recent cut in federal funds available for film and video preservation and a growing body of material demanding urgent treatment. Initial film preservation efforts focused on copying early films from the unstable, flammable nitrate stock onto the "safety film" that replaced nitrate in the early 1950s. While nitrate conversion continues, safety film itself has recently been discovered to suffer both from color fading and a chemical decay ("vinegar syndrome"). "Film," the Film Preservation 1993 report notes, "far more fragile than stone monuments or even sixteenth-century books, decays within a few years of its making, if it is not properly stored." According to the AFI, only half of the 21,000 feature films produced since 1951 remain in existence. Add to this the discovery that video itself is unstable, that videos from the 1960s and 1970s are disintegrating5 and that much of early video history, video art, and social documentation is disappearing, then the vastness of the problem becomes evident.

The problem is even greater as academic research and business communities have discovered that moving-image products (newsreels, documentaries, avant-garde works of art, anthropological and regional films, advertising shorts, home movies and videos--especially of social groups invisible to mainstream media) are proving valuable resource materials. As Film Preservation 1993 put it, "Motion pictures have become popular memory, art form, historical document, market commodity, anthropological record, political force and medium for disseminating American culture around the world. A narrow "entertainment" definition of film no longer matches the diverse concerns of scholars, students, advocacy groups, social planners, ethnic communities, and the broader American society."

Now, mere digitization is not the immediate or full solution to this crisis. Quite apart from the expense and the ambiguity of still-evolving technological standards, are questions relating to description, which are, in many ways, technology independent. A first common step for both preserving and digitizing cultural heritage material is the ability for a community to agree on description, indexing and cataloging standards for the material at hand. Preservation and digitization are both expensive procedures. Partly to avoid unnecessary duplication of work, it is necessary for both the holder of material and the researcher or potential viewer to be able to describe and locate it together with related and contextual material.

The search for the pre-conditions for a unified, cross-domain catalogue for moving image material is at the heart both of this paper and of current moving image preservation activity. Although the Holy Grail is the cross-domain discovery, retrieval and direct delivery of moving image (and related archival) material on demand to the desktop, a triumphant first step would be the availability of an online cross-domain catalogue that will indicate where one could view analog work.

Towards Unified Cataloging Practice

A good first step in this direction was the establishment of the National Moving Image Database (NAMID) project in 1984 as part of the NCFVB to centralize information on film and TV holdings. NAMID started to collect holdings information from archives, studios, networks and other repositories and the database currently houses some 200,000 records (80% in MARC format). NAMID quickly realized the importance of going out to the smaller holders of moving-image material. It started to train staff of small organizations how to catalog, including using the Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) format. NAMID provided a user-friendly Filemaker Pro template for staff to describe and catalog collections using NAMID's developing authority files and engaged the community in dialog about necessary fields in creating databases.

However, for a variety of reasons, a lot of steam has evaporated from NAMID's leadership role, especially in its cataloging and standards building activities. One particular hard fact is that with the 1995 reorganization of the NEA, the NEA-AFI preservation money disappeared. Continuing drawbacks to NAMID are that permission to share information from many holders of material has not been obtained and that because of this and some technical issues, NAMID is not available online (other than through OCLC and RLIN to NAMID participants), and even on-site access is limited.

Description and cataloging are still issues across the field, especially outside the main institutions. Even some of the larger repositories, such as the Museum of Modern Art and George Eastman House, catalog material using proprietary databases rather than the standard library tool, the MARC record. AMIM (the Archival Moving Image Materials cataloging rules), established a decade ago to help interpret the standard Anglo-American Cataloging Rules for MARC formatting, are followed by many research and archive institutions, but another group--the On-Line Audio-visual Cataloguers (OLAC)--doesn't use AMIM at all. AMIM is a decade old and many of those using it have gradually developed their own idiosyncratic in-house practices. As part of a move to update the AMIM guidelines, but also to get a single overview of how cataloguers deal with moving images, the Association of Moving Image Archivists, a comparatively new professional association, is currently conducting a survey of cataloging and description systems used by its members that will form the basis of a "Compendium of Practice" to be published in early 1998.

The results of a less comprehensive, but still eye-opening survey of cataloging practices can be seen in "Moving Image Collections," a brief snapshot of cataloging practices in Britain by James Ballantyne. Ballantyne recently visited nine moving image archives (from those of the BBC to the British Film Institute's National Film and Television Archive (NFTVA) of 500,000 titles, to the recently formed Scottish Film Archives) finding different mostly in-house proprietary database management systems at work.

As suggested earlier, there is also considerable difference between the standards and practice of an NFTVA and a NAMID or Library of Congress and small, local collections. Many smaller collections are de facto, often even accidental, collections and their owners and staff de facto, but often untrained, archivists. Even within large non-moving-image institutions that have moving-image collections, those collections will typically have stand-alone cataloging and procedures. This situation has inevitably slowed down the process of interoperability across domains and formats. Internationally, there are as yet no standards for moving-image resource locators (such as the ISBN for books) and no consensus on standard reference tools for subject index, genre classification, or data entry standards.

Currently, one can search for moving image material on the Library of Congress catalogs via the World Wide Web (some 200,000 records are available online of some 800,000 moving-image items). One can also search the 89,000 moving-image records on the National Archives and Records Administration's excellent pilot database NAIL (NARA Archival Information Locator). Other Internet available resources (stressing feature films) are the UCLA Film Archive, an integrated part of the University of California's MELVYL system, currently accessible only via telnet, and, if you need just to find information about films, irrespective of their location, there are the 100,000 records of the Internet Movie Database. Integration, however, is still a long way off.

British Explorations

Over in the UK, there has been a recent surge of interest in providing moving images over digital networks to the educational community. Many D-Lib readers will know that one of the core differences between networking cultural heritage materials in the USA and the UK is the degree of centralized planning and funding of activities in the UK, especially in higher education and research, where there is virtually no private higher education system. In the USA, networking projects have been funded by a multiplicity of sources, government agencies, foundations, corporations, etc. Controlling most of the funding, and thus developments, in the UK in this arena is the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of the Higher Education Funding Councils (HERC).

In December 1996, JISC sponsored a conference organized by the British University Film and Video Council (BUFVC) on this very issue in the university context: "Networking Moving Images for University Teaching and Research." Recognizing that SuperJanet (in many ways an equivalent in the UK to the Internet2 initiative in the USA) is preparing to deliver high-quality moving pictures to institutions on demand, the JISC is itself preparing for the necessary "heavy start-up investment, and the need for careful planning and inter-institutional cooperation." The conference examined what kinds of services would be feasible and desirable. (One interesting US:UK difference here is in the way that the JISC comes across as describing its role as partly that of delivering services, almost pre-packaged, to its constituents, rather than enabling access to comparatively unbounded resources.)

Both the British Film Institute (BFI) and the British University Film and Video Council (BUFVC) made strong presentations. The BFI's database of its enormous collection in the National Film and Television Archives of some 500,000 titles is not currently available online but is accessible to visitors to its London headquarters. However, in its very ambitious plan for the future, BFI 2000, the BFI has announced, among other objectives, the Imagination Network, by which it plans to make all of its material available digitally -- both moving images themselves and their related contextual material. The BFI would use its own proprietary database (SIFT--Summary of Information on Film and Television), which would be available at BFI-related regional media centers across the UK and, it is proposed, in public libraries and through "BFI-designated booths" in university libraries. Although not as influenced by Hollywood industries as the American Film Institute, the BFI generally has focused on feature film and television material. However, it does have plans to develop online material beyond media studies in areas such as history, politics and medicine.

Another ambitious scheme described at the Networking Moving Images conference is the digital development of BUFVC's Recordings on Demand off-air recording program for higher education (taking advantage of the fair use provisions of the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act). Under the current system, member universities can receive up to 24 copies a year of recorded broadcast material to supplement their own collections. BUFVC is now working on a system to digitize and index this material and link it to contextual non-broadcast material for licensed use by member universities.

On to Dublin Core?

Throughout the British "Networking Moving Images" conference there was considerable concern and interest in cataloging and indexing activity as well as in content searching within and across individual titles. This latter research activity we have seen is well-advanced in the USA, but the cataloging and indexing concerns are common to both countries. The interest in cross-media and cross-domain searching of digitized material that includes moving image material leads straight to the conversations about metadata that have taken place over the last two years -- generically referred to as the Dublin Core meetings (see above and footnote). These meetings have been about the possibility of defining some core metadata elements that would be common across domains, media, and disciplines. The Dublin Core set (comprising Title; Author/Creator; Subject; Description; Publisher; Other contributors; Date; Type; Format; Identifier; Source; Language; Relation; Coverage; and Rights management) has already been tested against still visual images. Originally conceived to apply to "document-like objects," Dublin Core has also been tested against the un-document-like objects, moving images.

The only test I'm referring to took place in one of a series of "Resource Discovery Workshops" organized by the British Arts & Humanities Data Service (AHDS) in collaboration with the UK Office of Library Networking. The workshops, held this May, were part of the AHDS strategy to organize discovery and retrieval mechanisms as a first step in its eventual assembly of an interoperable cross-domain catalog for digital resources for academic use in the UK. Six workshops were held, mixing formats and disciplines, for archaeology, history, electronic texts, sound resources, visual arts, and moving images.

The discussion in the Moving Image Resources workshop reportedly seemed a little abstract at times to some participants, given that widespread digitization of moving imagery is still far from a reality. However, the group did test specific digital and traditional format moving-image resources against the Dublin Core metadata element set. Its conclusions were that the Dublin Core model is generally adequate to describe such resources, but that there is concern some of the elements -- including the use of "Coverage," issues of possible overload of Elements 2 and 6 ("Author/Creator" and "Other contributors"), and difficulties with the definition of Elements 3 ("Subject") and 8 ("Type"). These are very early stages in testing Dublin Core against moving images, and we are interested in seeing further developments. Meanwhile, it will be useful to discover the results of parallel metadata work in the US Defense Department and in the commercial world -- perhaps we will do so through the auspices of the Association of Moving Image Archivists.

A Success Story in the Arts

I thought I would close this report by examining the state of affairs in one art form that has been using moving images increasingly as documentation: dance. Dance is in a way a special case, but an interesting one in that video has been discovered as a major new tool for documenting and preserving choreography and dance performances. Aware of the need to find ways to effectively preserve an ephemeral form, the dance community is now working not only to systematize and standardize the use of video to record dance but also to help preserve those videotapes. In rousing testimony delivered by the Dance Heritage Coalition for the Library of Congress' forthcoming Television and Video Preservation 1996, Michael Schwartz was quoted from the "Poor Dancer's Almanac:"

Of all the arts, dance has been the most profoundly affected by the widespread use of video technology. Choreographers, dancers, critics, historians, and producers now have a tool that can preserve the ephemeral material of rehearsal and performance -- for repeated detailed viewing. Video has affected not only the preservation and teaching of established repertory but also the work process itself...Video documentation has become an essential part of the business of all performance -- a tool required by funders and presenters to determine who receives funding and who is presented.

The recent history of the dance preservation movement begins with the 1991 publication of a Mellon Foundation/NEA-funded study, Images of American Dance, that examined the state of the documentation and preservation of dance in the US. One result of that report was the formation of the Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC), a consortium of the seven chief repositories of dance materials in the U.S., organized to help form an international documentation and preservation network promoting documentation standards and shared resources. Currently, these seven depositories hold some 30,000 videotape titles, ranging from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts' Dance Collection (with 20,000 titles--the largest in the world), to the 200 titles in the Harvard Theater Collection.)6 Working at the institutional level, its focus and great achievements have been with cataloging standardization and interoperability.

Its main project, "Access to Dance Research Resources", has encompassed the design of a national union catalog of dance documentation and archives and the coordination of cataloging standards and guidelines. Its seven members are working together to arrange, describe and catalog previously inaccessible holdings. MARC-VM records for moving images are being created and are being contributed to OCLC and RLIN. The Dance Research Resources project has also developed cataloging guidelines for the implementation of the national standards of AMIM (the Archival Moving Image Materials cataloging rules) and MARC for dance materials, which are now used by DHC members in their cataloging. These guidelines have been developed and refined as a result of the cataloging experience. The cataloging is generally full-level with access provided for all dance-related subject matter, and, in addition, a cooperative authority project insures that names and uniform titles for choreography are added to the national name authority file. The catalog will be available on DHC's new website this winter.

An exciting new phase of the DHC Access to Dance Research Resources project is one in which participants will use the Encoded Archival Description DTD to encode project finding aids to make cross-collection searching possible on the Web.

The dance community has thus taken cataloging seriously in hand (perhaps through the fortuitous involvement of the Library of Congress). But the next step is access. Much of the material at the tremendous NYPL collection cannot be viewed outside the library due to copyright restrictions. As the DHC put it in testimony for the LC Report on Video Preservation, "Very few of the great dance pieces of this century are available through distribution for the study by students of dance and dance history. Some of the most sought after dance films and videotapes have both union and copyright restrictions." There is thus the urgent dual need both for a copyright clearance center for choreography and taped dance performance and the development of ways of networking tapes themselves.

In its testimony before the Library of Congress, DHC urged the provision of a national preservation program for videotape in order to save the documents of America's cultural heritage. It noted that such a program should achieve, alongside enabling video preservation, establishing preservation standards, developing storage facilities, and encouraging "access to videotape materials through shared cataloging and investigations into new technologies for virtual access to video resources over the Internet."

Another outcome of the Mellon/NEA Report, "Images of American Dance", was the development in 1993, by the Pew Charitable Trusts, of the National Initiative to Preserve America's Dance (NIPAD), founded in 1993 as a pilot grant-making project to support dance preservation activities. Its first two grant cycles awarded $1 million to 22 projects. Recently re-launched as a component of the new Pew Charitable Trusts-funded Save As: Dance, NIPAD will fund a group of model projects that expand the field's knowledge about the best practices in dance documentation and preservation. Alongside its grant program (three cycles with $1.5 million each) is a communications and education program.

NIPAD's partner in Save As: Dance is the UCLA National Dance/Media project. While NIPAD promotes standards for dance documentation and preservation, the UCLA division will aid the dance field in actively conducting better documentation by offering training, research and leadership activities. These include an annual leadership group conference, a fellowship program, focusing on film, video and new media training, and an international 1999 conference on dance, media and documentation.

Few could sum up the importance of this work (and of the larger moving-image projects) than has Judith Mitoma, director of the National Dance/Media project and of UCLA's Center for Intercultural Performance. She says, "Dance has at least reached the stage that literature reached with the invention of the printing press. The emergence of so many new technologies enables us to document anything we want. But if we do not use these tools to save our dance history -- and to make it more accessible and exciting for the public -- Americans will never fully appreciate the contributions of dance to our culture or be inclined to support it in the future."


1 The Categories for the Description of Works of Art were developed with the Art Information Task Force, the "Categories" included input from the College Art Association, Visual Resources Association, the Art Libraries Association of North America (ARLIS/NA) and the Museum Computer Network.

2 Dublin Core refers to the Dublin Core Element Set, a simple resource description record that can be used to describe electronic "document-like objects" across many different disciplines. It was the result of the Dublin Metadata workshop of March 1995, held at OCLC in Dublin, Ohio. The third meeting in the ongoing series of "Dublin Core" meetings, the "CNI/OCLC Workshop on Metadata for Networked Images," was held in September 1996 to explore the usefulness of extending the Dublin Core metadata element set to the domain of digital images.

3 See also John Smith's paper on the WebSeek project at Columbia University, a content-based image and video catalog and search tool for the World Wide Web.

4 Due to the combined efforts of the Council on Library Resources, the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries and others, this campaign during the 1980s led to the creation of the Division of Preservation and Access at the National Endowment of the Humanities and the release of over $100 million of federal funds for book preservation at the Library of Congress and other federal and research libraries. See Julius J. Marke, "The Problem of Self-Destruct Books," New York Law Journal, Tuesday June 20, 1989, p. 24. In Preserving Knowledge: The Case for Alkaline Paper, Association of Research Libraries, 1990.

5 See Deirdre Boyle, "Video Preservation: Securing the Future of the Past," 1993, Media Alliance, New York, and "Playback 1996: A Roundtable on Video Preservation," Bay Area Video Coalition.

6Other members include the Library of Congress-Music Division, the San Francisco Performing Arts Library, the American Dance Festival, Ohio State University Department of Dance, and Jacob's Pillow.


Many thanks to Winston Tabb, David Francis, Barbara Humphreys, and Vicky Wulff, Library of Congress; Gloria Werner, UCLA; Joseph Busch, Getty Information Institute; William Murphy, National Archives; Mona Jimenez, Media Alliance; Andrea Snyder, NIPAD; Catherine Johnson, Dance Heritage Coalition; Karen Bradley, Council on Research in Dance; Jaia Barrett, Association of Research Libraries; and Susan Gauch, University of Kansas.


Copyright © 1997 David Green

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