Official Opening of the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative

Whittenberger Auditorium
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
October 21, 2015


In 1906, when the film industry was still in its infancy, the trade publication Views and Film Index published a far-sighted editorial on the need for preservation. It read, in part:

“In looking through the filmmakers’ catalogues, we observe important subjects of great public interest… all of which are of value to the present generation; but how much more so will they be to the men and women of the future?”

“Our great universities,” the editorial continued, “should commence to gather in and save for future students films of national importance.”1

Today, we celebrate the opening of an initiative through which Indiana University is preserving for future students and scholars not only films, but also a vast collection of audio and video recordings held by Indiana University and that are of major cultural and historical importance—the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative.

The Preservation of Time-Based Media at IU

Indiana University is home to an extensive range of extraordinarily rare and, in some cases, irreplaceable and unique collections of sound recordings, video recordings and films. These collections contain material from a wide range of areas in the humanities, the arts and music, the social sciences, and the health sciences—areas of great traditional strength at Indiana University.

IU has also long been a major national leader in large-scale and wide-ranging projects to preserve, digitize, and provide wider access to these materials.

The IU Variations Project in the Jacobs School of Music, for example, began in 1990 and in partnership with IBM, the National Science Foundation, and a number of foundations, developed a renowned digital music library to support instruction.

From 2005 to 2012, three grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities enabled IU—in partnership with Harvard University—to preserve critically endangered, highly valuable, unique field recordings of extraordinary national interest in the collections of IU’s Archives of Traditional Music through the Sound Directions project.

These are just two examples of the many ambitious and visionary initiatives in which Indiana University scholars and technologists have worked with partner institutions to preserve and digitize material across a huge spectrum.

But such work has typically—out of necessity—been done on one recording at a time and has been painstakingly slow. Those who worked on the Sound Directions project estimated, for example, that at their average rate of progress, it would take 58 years to preserve all the materials in the Archives of Traditional Music and that it would take 120 years to digitize all of the nearly 200,000 recordings in the collections of the Jacobs School of Music.

To further complicate the challenge, and to underscore its seriousness, most of IU’s audio and video media recordings are deteriorating rapidly—many of them catastrophically—and nearly all of them are recorded on formats that are now obsolete.

Given all of this, in 2008, a faculty and staff task force was appointed and charged with creating a comprehensive, detailed inventory of IU Bloomington’s audio, video, and film holdings. The group’s 2009 report, the IU Bloomington Media Preservation Survey, found that IU Bloomington alone owns more than 560,000 audio, video, and film objects on more than 50 different formats housed in 80 units. It is estimated that the IUPUI campus is home to more than 32,000 additional such items, and the regional campuses are home to more than 43,000 more.

In response to this groundbreaking, comprehensive report, the Media Preservation Initiative Task Force was created in 2010 and was charged with developing plans for a media preservation initiative at IU Bloomington.

Then, in my 2013 State of the University Address, I announced that IU would establish the Indiana University Media Preservation and Digitization Initiative, with the additional support of the offices of the Provost and the Vice President for Research, with total funding from all three of our offices of $15 million over the next five years.

The extremely ambitious goal of this initiative is, in short, to digitize, preserve and make universally available by IU’s Bicentennial (consistent with copyright or other legal restrictions) all of the time-based media objects on all campuses of IU judged important and worthy of preservation by experts.

The Media Preservation and Digitization initiative builds upon Indiana University’s investment over many years in outstanding technology infrastructure as well as the extensive expertise in digital preservation that has been developed at IU.

It is also unprecedented. Other leading universities have been and are engaged in major preservation and digitization initiatives, but no other institution has completed such a comprehensive survey of its holdings, developed a strategic plan for preservation and access, or is pursuing such an ambitious digitization initiative.

We expect that MPDI will make IU the preeminent leader in this field and open up many new opportunities for partnership and collaboration.

Special Thanks

Many people have been responsible for the extensive work that has lead to this initiative, and you will hear from a number of them today.

I want to commend and thank Provost Lauren Robel, and her predecessor, former Provost Karen Hanson, for their strong commitment to MDPI.

You will hear in a moment from Vice President for Information Technology Brad Wheeler and Dean of University Libraries Carolyn Walters. They also deserve our thanks, as do Dean Walters’ predecessors, Brenda Johnson and Patricia Steele.

Former Vice Provost for Research Sarita Soni helped oversee and drive, with great energy, much of the planning process. And former Vice President for Research Jorge Jose is also to be thanked. Professor Ruth Stone, formerly Associate Vice Provost for the Arts and Humanities, led the Media Preservation Initiative—and you will also hear from her in a few moments.

I also want to thank Laurie Antolovic, Associate Vice President & Executive Director of MDPI; Jackie Simmons, Vice President and General Counsel; Mike Casey, Director of Technical Operations for MDPI; Julie Bobay, executive associate dean of IU Libraries, director of Library Operations for MDPI; and all of the members of the MDPI operations teams and the Strategic Media Access Resource Team.

And finally, I want to thank the many faculty and staff—too numerous to mention individually, but many of whom are here today—who served on and assisted the various task forces, working groups, and advisory boards whose guidance has been instrumental to the establishment of the MDPI.


The editors of the 1906 trade publication I quoted earlier could not, of course, have imagined the rapid advancements in information technology we have experienced in recent decades, nor could they have imagined how various audio and video formats would be subject to rapid deterioration and obsolescence.

What they did foresee with great clarity was the absolute need to preserve recorded media that will be of great value to future generations of students and scholars.

The Media Preservation and Digitization Initiative will ensure that IU’s extensive holdings will be made available to the broadest possible audience and that these important collections are preserved in perpetuity. The MDPI will fully maximize the value of all these important collections to the IU community, the state, and beyond in the digital age.

Source Notes

  1. "History and Motion Pictures,” Views and Film Index, Volume 1, Number 32, December 1, 1906, 1.