Preserving Ireland’s Traditional Sound Heritage

Project Archivist, Fionnuala Parfrey, reports on ITMA’s current digital preservation project, DAP

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Project Archivist, Fionnuala Parfrey (left) and ITMA Archivist, Maeve Gebruers, putting barcode stickers onto DVCAMs

The Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) has long played a vital role in the preservation of Ireland’s traditional sound heritage. In more recent years it has recognised the need to develop new preservation and access strategies that not only prioritise the digitisation of analogue sound but also long-term digital preservation. 

The Digital Audio/visual Preservation (DAP) Project is the first phase in the implementation of this strategy. The aims of the DAP Project are to digitise and digitally transfer analogue and digital audio and audiovisual content from carriers that are at high risk of obsolescence and degradation, and to make the sound and video files easily accessible on a new online platform.

ITMA has received generous funding from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht as part of the Department’s ‘national digitisation investment programme’. This programme recognises that by investing in digitisation and digital preservation, we are ensuring a future for Ireland’s national collections, and that through digitisation, these collections can continue to reach new audiences. 

The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht's ‘national digitisation investment programme’ recognises that by investing in digitisation and digital preservation, we are ensuring a future for Ireland’s national collections.

A selection of non-commercial sound and video recordings on a variety of formats was chosen for inclusion in the DAP Project. A lot of this material is unique and ranges from field recordings made by ITMA staff at festivals and events around the country, to intimate domestic recordings in the homes of some of Ireland’s best-known traditional musicians and singers. 

The material isolated for inclusion in the project eventually numbered approximately, 1,600 CD-Rs (Compact Disc-Recordable), 280 Digital Audio Tapes, 600 Digital Video Tapes (MiniDV and DVCAM) and 70 Reel-to-reel Audio Tapes. These are all media formats that are no longer widely used and are in danger of degrading to the point where the information on them may be lost. 

Following a public tender process, Memnon, a Sony-owned company based in Brussels, Belgium was selected to transfer digital content from the CD-Rs and the Digital Audio and Video Tapes. For the Reel-to-reel Audio Tapes, digitisation services are being provided by Fuaimlann, based in Donegal.

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A selection of the carriers being prepared for digital transfer as part of the DAP Project

Eneclann was selected to appoint a Project Archivist and I came on board to fill that role at the end of January 2019. I am involved in the three key areas of the project: preparing and documenting the legacy carriers and arranging their shipment to Brussels for digital transfer; checking the new files upon their return, and ingesting them into ITMA’s digital preservation system; and creating and adapting the archival descriptions for the digitised material so that they can be easily accessed and explored through a new online platform. 

The DAP team also includes a digital humanities consultant, Niall O'Leary who has helped to automate workflows and extract and manipulate data from the archive’s current cataloguing system, and two ITMA staff members, Archivist Maeve Gebruers and Alan Woods Non-Commercial Media Officer, who have extensive experience with collections management here in the Archive. 

One of my first jobs on the project was to compile basic catalogue information pertaining to each of the carriers (title, reference number, collection) and to locate the items and group them together within their collections. I had to get to grips with ITMA’s cataloguing system, which is more of a library system, and envision how the items might look in a structured, hierarchical archival system. 

At the same time I was also in contact with the Project Manager from Memnon in Brussels with whom I was ironing out the details of the digital transfer services that they would be providing. 

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Keeping track of progress

All these elements eventually came together and we began to plan for the barcoding and shipment of the material from Dublin to Memnon in Brussels. To ensure there would be no confusion or mix up, each of the items was given a unique 13-digit barcode that would allow Memnon to register its arrival on their site and to identify the object throughout the digital transfer process. This barcode was paired with essential object-specific metadata in a spreadsheet forwarded to Memnon and a barcode sticker was attached to each of the items.

For this phase of the project I managed to solicit the help of my ITMA colleagues for the barcoding and packing of just under 2,500 physical items. It took four full days and required a lot of repetitive actions and close attention. We then packed up our precious cargo into cartons and loaded them onto pallets for collection.

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The team at ITMA spent four days barcoding and packing all of the items to be shipped to Memnon in Brussels
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As the DAP Project develops, one of our aims is to draw attention to the time, planning and energy that go into digitisation, digital preservation and creating online platforms that allow the public to interact with the collections at ITMA. We have become so used to accessing everything through online portals that it is easy to forget how it gets there in the first place.

We have becomes so used to accessing everything through online portals that it is easy to forget how it gets there in the first place.

The next phase of the DAP Project involves the return delivery of the sound and video files. They will need to be quality controlled, have all associated metadata attached, and be fully catalogued before they are ingested as ‘Submission Information Packages’ into Arkivum Perpetua, ITMA's digital preservation system. 

We are very excited to hear what they sound like and see how they look. Please watch the ITMA blog for more updates on this project. 

The DAP Project was made possible through generous funding from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht as part of the Digitised Collections Funding Scheme.