Life, Death, and Home Movies

Home Movie Day Promo 2014 from Center for Home Movies on Vimeo.

This year marks the fifteenth annual observation of Home Movie Day — a project I co-founded with four cherished colleagues when I was just starting out in my career as an audiovisual archivist. For the students I’m teaching now, it’s the best example I have of how you can create your own opportunities to learn, grow, and make an impact professionally.

As a Home Movie Day host, I learned to organize public events, deal effectively with the media, solicit donations of venue space, equipment, supplies, food, and cash, coordinate volunteers, and talk to people about film preservation issues and how the images we looked at together could have historic significance, even if they didn’t show famous people or notable places. I also learned a lot about small-gauge film that I didn’t learn as a graduate student — what it looks and feels like, how it behaves, how to prep it and project it. (True confession: Despite being the founding chair of the Small Gauge and Amateur Film Interest Group of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, I had never once operated a film projector before the first Home Movie Day event on August 16, 2003, and only barely knew how to splice film. It took years for me to become an expert film handler, but Home Movie Day was both a motivator and a means for me to do that.)

Being a co-founder of the Center for Home Movies, which oversees not just the annual, international Home Movie Day event, but a range of other projects aimed at transforming the way people think about home movies, furnished still more opportunities. I learned what it takes to create, incorporate, and responsibly run a non-profit organization, to write and revise mission statements and other core documents, to fundraise, to write grants. I’m incredibly grateful to my co-founders and fellow board members for being smart, talented, and driven in different ways from me — so that I could learn how to have productive disagreements, ask for input from the folks in the group who are inclined to be quiet, get help when I needed it, and be accountable for my mistakes. Together, we produced a DVD, helped get multiple amateur works listed on the National Film Registry (I’m still working on getting the NFR opened up to works that originated on video, but am confident that will happen in the near future), and expanded Home Movie Day from two dozen venues in four countries to nearly a hundred cities on every continent except Antarctica. This year, the Center for Home Movies and Home Movie Day were honored with the Society of American Archivists’ Hamer-Kegan Award for archival advocacy.

Although I stepped down from the CHM board a few years ago to focus on research, teaching, and writing (count that as another lesson I’ve learned — how and when to step away from a project you love, making room for others to step up and carry it forward), I remain strongly connected to the project and support it in all the ways I can. I’m helping out once again at this year’s Home Movie Day events in Los Angeles, of course. There’ll be two “classic” open screening events at different locations on Oct. 7 and Oct. 21, plus a curated program of selections from the Academy Film Archive’s collection the evening of the 7th — full details for all the LA events are here. And I’ve just drafted a new “living will” for home movie collections, which I’ve shared with the Center for Home Movies, and which I invite everyone to circulate far and wide. Fillable PDF and editable Word and Google doc versions are all available for use under the Creative Commons CC-BY (Attribution) license — which means anyone can freely adapt them for use in other circumstances, with acknowledgment of the original source/creator.

Whether you’re going to a Home Movie Day event near you this year or not, you can use this template to capture basic information about your (or your family’s, or your community members’) home movie collections. The document is also designed to stimulate home movie owners’ thinking about what might happen to their home movies in the future, and make sure their wishes and preferences for this are formally noted somewhere. I recommend printing out one copy to keep with the movies themselves, one copy to keep with your important papers, one copy to send to a fried, family member, attorney, or someone else who can act as a “trustee” for your home movies in the event of something happening to you.

Why is this important? Well, among other things, it’s part of the basic disaster planning that we should all probably do. Whether you live in earthquake-and-wildfire country like me, or flood-and-landslide country, or hurricane-and-tornado country, or plague-of-locusts territory, or under an oppressive political regime, or what have you, it’s important to recognize that your materials might be at risk — and, more importantly, that you might not always be able to care for them yourself. Over a decade ago, families who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina lamented the loss of irreplaceable keepsakes like family photos, and strangers were moved by finds of abandoned and displaced images left behind by fleeing residents and receding flood waters. Even in the absence of disaster, surviving family members (or estate agents) who have to clear a lifetime’s worth of stuff from the house of a loved one may not recognize the importance of a home movie collection. A few words of direction jotted down on a form like this lets them know they’re acting in accordance with your wishes, and helps ensure that your movies will survive and remain accessible into the future.

I believe, after over fifteen years of working with other people’s home movies, that the personal stories told through this medium are an essential part of the historical record. I’ve observed that home movies are often exquisitely well cared for and cherished by their families of origin, but I’ve also seen how easily that care can be interrupted. Taking an hour or so to fill out a form, jot down some notes, and think about what you want for your films and videos in the future is a worthy investment in these heirloom images — put it on your disaster-preparedness checklist today!

 

UX in PDX: A professional love story

Ever meet someone at a professional gathering and just instantaneously have that feeling like, “We are going to work together on something. I do not know what that will be, or when that will happen, but it will be AMAZING”? Yeah, me too. It’s one of the things I like most about going to conferences: meeting new people, getting that feeling, and making those projects happen. Whether it’s a panel proposal for the next year’s conference, or an article you write together, or a grass-roots film preservation effort that goes on to win a major award for archival advocacy, putting your head together with people who are really simpatico and seeing what you can cook up is kind of magical.

The latest of those brain-fruits is ripening for me this July, in Portland, when I finally get to collaborate with my cherished friend and colleague Amelia Abreu on an exciting new UX Night School workshop for archivists and their ilk. I first met Amelia at the inaugural Archival Education & Research Institute in Los Angeles yonks ago and I’ve ardently followed her on every possible channel since then. She’s a writer whose work never fails to provoke my thoughts, a woman in tech who works with major-label clients, and a human of genuine grace and dignity (and humor, let’s not forget humor). Although the work we each do day-to-day is pretty different, professionally we’re both under the star sign of Janus the Archivist. So we’re cooking up a learning experience to tap some of this Velma Kelly-Roxie Hart-type chemistry.

If you happen to be coming to Portland for SAA’s annual meeting, the timing of our GLAM Weekend Intensive makes it a perfect lead-in for the conference — as does the focus of the workshop, which will be all about user-centered design as a set of principles that cultural heritage organizations like galleries, libraries, archives, and museums can really use. (If you’re not clear on why GLAM professionals desperately need UX skills, I’ve listed a few very good reasons here in a guest post on the UXNS blog.)

Enrollment is limited, tuition is very reasonable, and I seriously doubt you’ll find a friendlier introduction to UX…let alone one led by two people so excited to finally be teaching together. Register here.

What you can learn from your bag of swag: Notes from IACP Tech

Last week, I attended the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s annual Technology Conference (IACP Tech) for the first time. My teaching schedule prevented me from attending as much of the event as I’d have liked, but I was there long enough to present a workshop session with a SWGDE Video Committee colleague (Sgt. Brandon Epstein of the New Brunswick PD — see slides from our talk on hiring and training staff for effective management of video evidence here). I also got to meet and talk with some interesting people from agencies all over the US and Canada, and I took a walk through the exhibit hall, where I talked to over a dozen vendors about their products and services.

If you go to professional association meetings and conferences and take the time to check out the vendor booths, you will learn as much about trends in your industry as anyone who attends the keynotes, workshops, papers, and panel sessions — perhaps even more. As a non-LEO (law enforcement officer/organization) attendee of IACP Tech, I found it easier to engage with the vendors here than at archives-oriented conferences, perhaps because I wasn’t remotely in a position to buy anything they were selling. I was up-front about the fact that I wasn’t really a potential customer or agency decision-maker, but that I was interested in their products/services and where they fit into the big picture of a community of practice I’m seeking to understand better. Pretty much everyone just shrugged, scanned my badge if they had a raffle in progress, and made what I’m pretty sure would be their usual sales pitch.

IACP Tech is the new name for the Law Enforcement Information Management (LEIM) Education Conference and Technology Exposition; IACP’s own description of the event notes that it’s a venue for exchanging “information, best practices and lessons learned regarding state-of-the-art law enforcement information management, communications and interoperability, technology standards, and information sharing, analysis and fusion.” The technology products and services being promoted were therefore more likely to be platforms or applications than objects or equipment (my sense is that the fall IACP meeting is where more equipment vendors go). Vendors of in-car video systems and body-worn camera tech were present, but there were far greater numbers of people who were promoting video-processing products such as ALPR (automated license plate recognition), facial recognition, digital evidence management, or automated redaction software. Some of the demos were visually impressive; one vendor had a monitor set up to demonstrate how their application recognizes and automatically blurs human faces in real time. You can see it working on me, to my evident amusement, in this pic courtesy of Brandon Epstein:

Epstein_redaction_selfie

Others products I saw demonstrated were impressive for their computational power, the elegance and effectiveness (or clunkiness and utilitarianism) of their interfaces — as well as for their implications for personal privacy, or for the authenticity and integrity of recorded information they interfaced with. I picked up flyers for virtually everything, much of which I still need to read through; I’ll be doing so with an archivist’s eye, and looking for material that will support the next iteration of the class on bodycams, surveillance and data management that my “On the Record, All the Time” research partner Jean-Francois Blanchette and I taught last fall.

In some cases, not just the vendors’ sales pitches and products, but the swag itself — the giveaways and promotional trinkets — pointed toward the changing world we live in. One vendor was handing out webcam covers emblazoned with their logo, little plastic shutters you could stick to your laptop and slide to open or close, preventing unwanted intrusion and surveillance. Another had sticky note pads printed to look like citation books — funny if you like pretending you’re writing someone a ticket for missing an important phone call; less so if you’re concerned about the possibility of your coworkers, family members, or neighbors monitoring and reporting your behavior to authorities. Other vendors were handing out microfiber cloths — so handy for cleaning those screens that are increasingly prevalent in law enforcement work, as elsewhere! But there was no shortage, either, of pens, sticky notes, and paper pads and notebooks…which tends to make me think taking good old-fashioned hand-written notes has not been completely supplanted by electronic equivalents. Perhaps most suggestive, though, was the foam-rubber toy in the shape of a head with a demented expression on its face, which, when squeezed, would holler a series of rather agitating commands to seek serenity: “HOOOOOOLLD ON NOW! TAAAAAKE IT EASY! DOOOON’T STRESS!” As with many of the products and platforms on display, this device seemed as likely to create headaches as to relieve them.

Libraries as a luxury item

The recent federal budget outline, with its proposal to entirely dispense with major agencies that support arts and cultural programming, perpetuates a false dichotomy that’s already been around for too long: That in an industrialized nation where half a million people are homeless on any given night and entire communities don’t have potable drinking water for months at a time, spending public funds on pretty pictures or escapist fiction is frivolous at best, and perhaps even morally suspect.

I’m someone who’s been personally affected by one of those imperiled agencies–IMLS–in several ways. A fellowship funded by a grant from IMLS paid for my doctoral studies at the University of Texas, Austin. My ongoing research with Jean-François Blanchette and our National Forum meeting on data management needs related to police body-camera programs is also funded by IMLS.  I’m on the advisory board of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting’s National Digital Stewardship Residency project (which is not only funded by IMLS, but partners with public broadcasters who are supported by the similarly-imperiled Corporation for Public Broadcasting…so that makes this a twofer, I guess).

I therefore called my elected representatives about this today, told them how the proposed cuts would affect me and my community, and urged them to fight for the retention of arts, library, and cultural funding in the federal budget. I also finally got myself signed up as a contributor to Medium, and wrote about the positioning of libraries as a luxury item there. (SPOILER ALERT: They’re not.)

SAA Records Management Section Hangout, 2/8/17: Further reading

The SAA Records Management Section kindly invited me to participate in one of their regularly scheduled Google Hangouts this month, to talk about records management implications of new police body-worn camera (BWC) programs. You can tune in to that Hangout live (Noon Eastern, 9:00 AM Pacific) or watch the recorded version here. We plan to leave lots of time for Q&A, and you can tweet questions in advance using the #saarmrt tag–with help from the moderators, I’ll try to get to everything!

Anticipating there’ll be some questions related to information resources and where/how to read up on this subject, I have put together some suggestions for records managers who are, or may be, working with BWC footage or other digital media evidence (DME), either within or in collaboration with law enforcement agencies that are generating that material. This list is far from complete–I literally see new stuff every day, and have not read every last news story on the subject myself despite being very much interested in it–but it’s a start. Before I start listing links, I’ll also (somewhat) briefly summarize my introductory remarks from the Hangout to help frame the topic of BWCs and their records-management implications…

As noted by UCLA Law School Dean Jennifer Mnookin in her opening remarks for “On the Record, All the Time,” the IMLS-funded National Forum that Jean-François Blanchette and I organized in August 2016, body-worn camera programs and their associated recordings can be construed in two different ways:

An evidentiary construction of BWCs privileges their ability to create additional pieces of evidence to supplement police and witness testimony and material evidence. An instrumental construction, on the other hand, understands BWCs more broadly as tools of surveillance and social control–tools which are being used to incentivize and modify behavior (of both police and the public). The evidentiary construction of BWC is far narrower–recordings are retained solely on the basis of whether or not they document and can furnish evidence for prosecution of specific crimes, and retention periods are linked to state codes of criminal procedure and statutory limits on prosecution for the crimes in question (which differ from state to state), as well as on local, agency-level policies for evidence retention. The instrumental construction allows for, and even assumes, the use of BWC footage toward a variety of evaluative, analytical, and critical aims, whether or not that footage is explicitly evidentiary.

Each of these two constructions of BWC programs suggests very a different approach to creation, classification, retention, access, and post-custodial use of BWC recordings. And, as Dean Mnookin also noted, neither of these constructions of recording devices and their use in law enforcement will allow for policy solutions that wholly eliminate the tension between personal privacy and potential use(s) of the resultant footage. Balancing those interests is largely a matter of local implementation, guidelines, and procedures–including retention schedules and access policies.

This is a place where theory strongly influences policy and practice, as well as public trust and the public record. If an agency adopts a BWC program with an evidentiary construction in mind, they might very reasonably intend to retain only those recordings deemed evidentiary in nature. Everything else would be deleted after, say, 30 or 90 days–because the costs of storage are prohibitive, and the risks to personal privacy also increase the longer non-essential records are retained. But if the community that agency serves is advocating for adoption of BWCs because they want increased ability to monitor all contacts between police and the population–that is, they have an instrumental construction in mind–then trouble arises when requests for access to non-evidentiary recordings are turned down, or the recordings simply haven’t been retained. Large numbers of periodically deleted BWC records can look like good records management pratice, or it can look like a systemic cover-up. Conversely, instrumental approaches create the potential for camera-wearing officers to be subject to perpetual and pervasive scrutiny of their interactions with the public (even in the absence of complaints or use of force), and for members of the public to also be subject to far more invasive forms of surveillance and associated with a far more enduring and accessible record of that surveillance.

How well these recording programs work, and how well they’re received, especially in crisis, depends a great deal upon how well the intent and limits of each program are understood by all stakeholders. The wide variation in retention and access practices from state to state, and from agency to agency even within a state, further muddies these waters. For those working with BWC records or developing policies to manage them, determining whether the program is fundamentally construed as evidentiary or instrumental is an essential starting point–all else flows from there.

Many of these issues, and especially their implications for information managers, will be discussed in the final report from the OTRATT National Forum meeting, which is forthcoming. In the meantime, here are some links and resources records managers might find helpful:

  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press (RCFP), Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), and WITNESS are all tracking this issue and exploring different aspects of BWC programs. They’re worth checking in with regularly, or following on FB or Twitter if you feel comfortable doing so.
  • Given the wide variation in local practices, and the limited likelihood of a national standard for BWC policies emerging, you should at the very least be aware of what your local police department’s and sheriff’s office’s BWC program plans and related policies are. Check out their policy documents (especially drafts for public comment) and any press releases on BWC programs. Sometimes it will be clear whether they’re partaking of an evidentiary or instrumental construction for these programs, sometimes not. City Council meetings are a good place to learn about BWC program plans, too.
  • Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute has links to the criminal code for each state. Bookmark yours, and follow your state legislature when it’s in session with an eye to any bills related to the status of BWC recordings as public records.

For a deeper dive on some key aspects of this topic:

BWC footage as public record: Remember, none of this is really new! Laws governing access to and retention of records in novel formats (especially electronic records) have rarely kept pace with technological change and contemporary record-making practice. Recent coverage suggests we’re grappling with these issues now in much the same ways we always have.

FOIA Legislative History. National Security Archive, The George Washington University.

Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic, Divine, J., Ehrett, J., Eidelman, V., Musinipally, D., & Wexler, R. (2015). Police Body Camera Footage- Just Another Public Record (Whitepaper). New Haven, CT: Information Society Project at Yale Law School. (PDF link)

Wheeling, K. (2016, June 13). Should Police Body Camera Footage Be Public Record?  Pacific Standard.

HB 972, the NC bill that went into effect October, 2016, declaring that BWC recordings are not public records: Here’s the bill status tracking showing various edits and full text of the bill (PDF link) as signed into law.

BWC policies, in their infinite variety, and recommendations for same: While not many of these policies address retention and preservation in any detail, they all have implications for records management and access policies. Even model policies leave a lot of room for local variation in the retention-and-release aspects of BWC programs.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, & Upturn. (2016). Police Body Worn Cameras: A Policy Scorecard. https://www.bwcscorecard.org/

Stanley, J. (2013/2015). Police Body-Mounted Cameras: With Right Policies in Place, a Win for All. An updated version of this ACLU policy report (PDF link) was released in March 2015.

Miller, L., Tolliver, J., & Police Executive Research Forum. (2014). Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned. (PDF link) Washington DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

BWC policies and their relationship to access and use by the press, the public, and others: Not all investigations are criminal investigations. Journalists are major beneficiaries of state and federal open records laws, so not surprisingly, they’ve been watching the debates around BWC recordings and their status as public records very closely. Even in cities like Seattle, though, where municipal open data policies double down on an already-quite-broad state-level public records act, and the PD is taking a leadership role in developing technical solutions to the challenges posed by BWCs and other new tech, the balance between privacy and accessibility is hard to find, and available resources are being outstripped by public demand and the complexity of media records.

Marshall, A. (2015, May 6). Police bodycam videos: The Wild West of open records requests | Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. (2015, July 10). Access to Police Body-Worn Camera Video This policy map is being updated regularly with contributions from the public–feel free to send in any policies you are developing or have access to yourself!

Seattle Office of City Auditor. (2015). Audit of the Seattle Police Department’s Public Disclosure Process. (PDF link) Seattle Office of City Auditor.

Privacy and ethical implications of video evidence, including BWC video:

WITNESS.ORG. (2016). Video as Evidence: Ethical Guidelines.

Funk, M. (2016, October 18). Should We See Everything a Cop Sees? The New York Times.

Data volume and data management challenges for DME:

Kreft, J. (2016). Measuring the Impact of Body Worn Cameras (BWC) on Data Management and Record Retention for Law Enforcement Agencies (Link to full-text version) (MSIS thesis). University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Coleman, V. (2016, August 30). Thousands of Seattle police dashcam videos lost due to computer glitch. Seattle Times.

How to Read an Article

TL; DR: My tips for How to Read an Article (PDF)

This year, I’m teaching a newly-revamped version of our Intro to Media Archives and Preservation course. (Download the syllabus as a PDF here.) There’s a lot of reading, which poses some key challenges: First of all, how do you assign a ton of reading without completely freaking your students out? How do you convey to already-overworked grad students that there’s value in re-reading something they read a year or two ago, or reading things that aren’t directly related to their research interests? And finally, how do you not offend people who have already graduated from college at least once already when you suggest that maybe they don’t know how to read in the first place?

From my own perspective as a mid-career professional, I think it’s GREAT that the last decade or so has seen so many new books and articles fleshing out a canon of professional literature that used to begin and end with Anthony Slide’s Nitrate Won’t Wait and Penelope Houston’s Keepers of the Frame. I am jealous that so much of the stuff I had to learn the hard way–by digging through bound volumes of barely comprehensible technical journals that hadn’t been digitized or fully indexed, asking around amongst senior colleagues, enduring 20 minutes of mansplaining to get 12 seconds worth of actual new information, trial and error when no one was watching, etc.–has now been thoroughly synthesized by very smart people and expressed in whole chapters of (compelling and witty, painstakingly researched) prose that you can just download from the library and read in the Kindle app on your smartphone.We’ve come such a long way since I was starting out in this field, and there has never been a better time to be studying this topic!

From the perspective of a graduate student who only just found out that you can actually go to school for this, though, I can see where the tidal wave of readings could be really daunting. Because so much domain knowledge has now been neatly packaged by scholars and practitioners, there’s an increased expectation that domain workers will be well-versed in ALL of that knowledge. When professionals already working in the field pushed back against the creation of graduate-degree-granting programs in media preservation back in the early 2000s, one of the concerns they commonly expressed was that (to paraphrase, in the voice of a cartoon farmhand) “these snot-nosed kids with two years of book-learnin’ are going to run around and take all the good jobs from folk like me, with my twenty years of good old-fashioned bench-learnin’, but I guess that’s not good enough for anyone anymore, now that we got all these here fancy dee-grees and peer-reviewed journals and such.” They might go easier on the snot-nosed kids if they actually looked at the book list in my syllabus for this quarter. Two years of book-learning can really be a great deal, especially if you’re doing it full-time.

As rich as the canon on media archives now is, there are still many blind spots and gaps in the written knowledge of our field. A lot of the literature is still pretty cinema-centric and/or focused on film as a physical artifact (or, in some cases, cinema-studies oriented and/or focused on “the archive” as a concept, rather than a physical place or functional institution). How much does a student who’s interested in, say, the preservation of complex, time-based media in the context of personal medical records really want to know about the history of silent cinema and the percentage of early films that are known to have been lost? Why should they bother with readings that approach their research areas only tangentially?  Well, in short, because they will have to ground their narrowly focused, groundbreaking research in some sort of larger intellectual context. If they’re going to be the ones writing that new component of our canon, it will help to see how others have approached (or revisited, or refined) the broad-strokes descriptions of media preservation history, theory and practice. The cinema-centered, film-focused, existing literature has many flaws, but still presents a complex enough picture that I can use it as a starting point for extrapolation and talking about what’s missing, suppressed, under-researched, or still unknown.

Now, to the question of teaching graduate students how to read: One aim of this course is to provide students with comprehensive foundational knowledge about the history/ies of media archives in the U.S. and abroad, and the ways in which fundamental archival theories are applied to moving image collections and preservation practices (or foregone entirely in favor of models borrowed from libraries, archives, or business). As a gateway elective for the Media Archival Studies specialization track in our MLIS program, though, it also needs to function as a first-term orientation to graduate-level reading, writing, and thinking–to set expectations high, and also provide tools to ensure students can meet those expectations. So I’m opting to acknowledge that yes, there is a tidal wave of literature out there; and yes, people (including me) are going to expect you to have read all of it by the time you finish this degree program; but no, that doesn’t mean you have to open the book at page one and read straight through to the final words of the conclusion. In his syllabi, my UCLA colleague Jean-François Blanchette recommends, among resources, the excellent “How to Read a Book” essay by Paul Edwards, which presents various methods for getting through a 300-page book in 6-8 hours. The trick, I would say, is not to drink the tidal wave, but to surf it. I’ve gathered my own tips and reflections on how to read scholarly literature here–along with Edwards’ piece, it’s something I’ll be offering to students this term as a way to survive my class with sanity intact. Because not doing the readings is just not an option.

Opening remarks from OTRATT

Provided below is a transcript of my opening remarks from the recent “On the Record, All the Time” National Forum meeting held at UCLA August 17-19. Our project team is currently preparing a whitepaper summarizing our meeting outcomes, work products, and next steps; check the OTRATT site for further news and updates.

Welcome and thank-yous

I’d like to join my co-organizer, Jean-François Blanchette, in welcoming all of you, and in thanking the many people and institutions who have made this event possible. First and foremost, we thank our primary funder, the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, and express our particular appreciation to program officers Emily Reynolds and Trevor Owens for their support throughout the application process, as well as to IS PhD student Stacy Wood, who provided essential assistance in researching and drafting our original grant proposal. A number of people who wrote in support of the grant are also here today as participants, and we welcome them with thanks: Jason R. Baron, Howard Besser, Jan Garvin, Karen Gracy, Cal Lee, Yvonne Ng, Shira Peltzman, and Linda Tadic.

Other supporters who have contributed to making this working meeting more comfortable and more fun—and therefore far more productive!—include Dean Jennifer Mnookin and the UCLA School of Law, who generously sponsored our Taco Tuesday social hour and opening night reception; Sharon Farb and the UCLA Library for use of their well-appointed meeting spaces; our colleagues in the Department of Information Studies, particularly our Chair Jonathan Furner, and the Wasserman Dean of the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Marcelo Suarez-Orozco. And now, to the topic at hand: audiovisual recordings and record-keeping.

A crowd forms in Dallas

Imagine for a moment that we are not in California, but in Dallas, Texas, where a crowd is forming. They have come as spectators and supporters, to be part of something memorable, even historic; at a time when racial tensions are peaking nationwide, it is important for these people to be here together on this day. Thousands of them line the downtown streets. Then, without warning, a sniper fires his weapon from above; chaos, confusion, anger, and grief quickly follow. Federal, state and local law enforcement reach out immediately, along with the media, to those who witness the event in an effort to establish just what happened and why. Not everything goes as it should; a Dallas policeman dies trying to apprehend the shooter.

HMInsertPaper insert accompanying Texas home movies processed in late November, 1963; image courtesy of Austin History Center.

I am talking here not about events that occurred six weeks ago—in July of 2016—but fifty-three years ago, in November of 1963. Then, as now, people captured the events of the day on camera—the moments before and after shots are fired, the times when citizens encounter the state in violent and lethal ways. People created records that became evidence, evidence that became history. The challenges we are here to discuss this week are not new, but venerable.

Zapruder371

Frame 371 of the Zapruder film (This version downloaded from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/ce/Clinthill_limo.png)

Among those challenges are material and mechanical ones: What are the critical affordances of our recording technologies, their capabilities and limitations? What falls beyond the frame; what gets redacted or corrupted? Four frames of the original Zapruder film were, famously, damaged by LIFE magazine photo technicians during copying. Two other frames appeared out of sequence in the original printed version of the Warren Commission Report. In every frame of the 8mm original, there is exposed image area between the sprockets—which, as can be seen here in frame 371, captures important information about the scene as it unfolded, but which is not visible during regular projection. In a climate of suspicion and distrust, any missing, hidden, or altered data quickly becomes fodder for conspiracy theories. It is impossible to restore integrity to a broken chain of custody, or authenticity to an altered original.

6101373life_nov_29_1963_1-copy

LIFE Magazine spread, November 20, 1963; © TIME, Inc.

Other challenges are informational and access-related: What right do the people and the press have to see and circulate images of significant events? What ethical guidelines govern the use of these images in news, in entertainment, in the social sphere? Zapruder sold first-publication rights to his film to LIFE for a hefty sum, but stipulated that frame 313, which showed the moment of the bullet’s impact, should not appear in print when the magazine ran its feature on the assassination the week of November 29. Originally printed in black and white, the images were reproduced in color in a special “JFK memorial edition” one week later, and in three more issues that followed over the next two years, creating multiple versions of the sequence to haunt the visual imagination of the public. LIFE’s registration of the published images for copyright protection in 1967 led to multiple civil lawsuits, and to long-running debates over the applicability of fair use doctrine and ownership of the original film—not to mention widespread public dismay over the airing of the assassination images on broadcast television in 1975. We continue to struggle now with discussions of what images we may see and what images we might not want to see—and with the morality of sharing those images, or profiting from violent death as spectacle.

JFKassassinationrecs_scnsht

Screenshot of the National Archives and Records Administration’s finding aid for Record Group 272: Records of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy

Finally, these records pose custodial and curatorial challenges: Who takes responsibility for the preservation of these recordings? What happens to their material forms and social meaning over time? How do the acts of classification and designation dictate these records’ disposition, and what kinds of value do we ascribe to them? The U.S. government effectively asserted eminent domain over the original Zapruder film, designating it an “assassination record” under the 1992 John F. Kennedy Records Collection Act. In the case of the Zapruder film and its contemporaries, the original materials are stored by archives and museums—but what about the records we are all generating today of the stories that dominate our headlines? How do we secure their survival for the next fifty-three years? Records retention policies and the legal “duty to preserve” extend only to what we must keep; they do little to address what we should keep, or how to move beyond basic compliance and toward responsible stewardship.

What’s more, the widening gap of trust between our communities—especially communities of color—and those empowered by the social contract to wield force in the cause of keeping the peace has made it difficult to find common ground. Whatever echoes there may be between the past and the present, 2016 is not 1963. We are now working in a media and technology environment that is incredibly swift-moving, and unprecedentedly powerful. This is a hard time for having conversations about the long term. It is a hard time to take on complex problems for which solutions may be a long time coming. It is a hard time to be making and collecting records that are written with invisible electrons in machine languages that will be forgotten by next year. It can be difficult, as well, to confront the succession of news events and the lengthening list of names of the fallen that are connected to these issues, and that continually redefine the boundaries of this topic.

I am therefore humbled and heartened at the fact that so many people, representing so many different interests, have come here to do just that. Three days of meetings and talking—with travel on either side of it, for most of you—is a big ask for working people, whatever field you do your work in. But like me, I think you are grateful for this chance to ask questions of one another, share what you know with each other, and focus on what we might do together to address these very timely, very old concerns. Thank you for coming, and thank you for the work you came here to do.