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  • The Media Ecology ProjectLibrary of Congress Paper Print Pilot
  • Mark Williams (bio)

The Media Ecology Project (MEP) is a digital resource at Dartmouth College that I direct. The mission is to provide more and better scholarly access to online moving image archive materials. The project enables new research capacities toward the critical understanding of historical media and facilitates a dynamic context of research that develops in relation to its use over time by a wide range of users. Additionally, the MEP is also the means for scholars and others to give back to the archives.


Through the generosity of the Leslie Humanities Center at Dartmouth College, we were able to convene a symposium in May 2013, which brought together representatives from many archives and institutions.1 The discussions led to developing a metadata server and middleware that will bridge the Mediathread and Scalar platforms and maintain quality metadata. Utilizing funds from the Neukom Institute at Dartmouth, we have been working with John Bell (Dartmouth College) to design and test the architecture for MEP.

Our moving image heritage is at enormous risk. Moving image archivists and digital repository advocates are developing solutions to these problems, but we cannot sustain interest in preservation without a better sense of the historical value of these materials. Simple access is not enough; new knowledge production is required to connect archival materials with audiences and to prompt preservation and access efforts. MEP is designed to facilitate efficient cooperation and motivated engagement with academic communities.

The notion of ecology is central to the project. Those of us who work on media history recognize all too well that the materiality of historical media is fated. These historic materials simply will not endure, but for the work to preserve and archive them. In a fundamental sense, this is a sustainability project: MEP will help to protect and ensure cultural memory in the form of historical media collections.

Another facet of this ecology is our recognized need to involve the scholarly and academic communities in these preservation efforts. A core goal of MEP is to provide better access to archival media by devising new formats of digital scholarship and publication and to intervene directly in this key ecology of professional efforts.

In addition, MEP intends to address an evident and almost pernicious belief in the permanency of the internet. A great many online users appear to assume that if an entity can be discovered on the web, it has become eternal—available forever. Ease of access to media files online can seem to imply a limitless supply of texts from the past, which is precisely the opposite of the true conditions of preservation and access. Indeed, many artists, scholars, librarians, and archivists are worried that once their work or assets become digitized, the physical source materials will become subject even more to decay, lack of further conservation, and reduced access. In fact, digital assets have a greatly reduced likelihood to endure, for a variety of reasons starting with basic formatting or platform maintenance.

Yet the digital environment is central to MEP and its goals. Greater access to historical media materials online can provide new outlets for research and discovery that complement the efforts to preserve these materials and even fuel future preservation strategies and tactics. We are mobilizing the extraordinary range of access the internet offers to introduce a set of innovative new platforms, tools, and resources that signal new means of scholarly production and, in the pursuit of original primary scholarship, will add value to the assets of participating archives.

The specific platforms we have engaged and are working to bridge are (1) Mediathread, a classroom platform developed at Columbia University, which we are augmenting as a research platform; (2) Scalar, a digital publishing platform developed at the University of Southern California; and (3) Onomy, a new online tool developed for MEP that will facilitate the [End Page 148] creation of glossaries and controlled vocabularies that can be assigned to online media files.

Mediathread, Scalar, and Onomy are integrated within MEP. The MEP metadata server sits in between these platforms and the participating archives, navigating the import, export, and production of metadata...


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