Resurfacing treasures from California archives

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-7-28-39-pmCalisphere is a growing aggregation of digital collections from 180 institutions across California. It currently contains more than 670,000 images, texts, and audiovisual materials on a sweeping range of topics that reflect the collecting areas of its participating institutions.

Sherri Berger is a project manager at the California Digital Library who managed the re-release of the Calisphere collection in 2015. We talked to Sherri about this massive project, including goals for the redesign, the response they’ve had from the public, and some of her favorite audio available in the collection.

What was the goal of Calisphere? Who is its audience?

Calisphere was developed and is maintained by the California Digital Library, in partnership with the ten campus libraries of the University of California. One of the biggest and oldest regional digital library sites of its kind, Calisphere is more than ten years old and still going strong!

Calisphere was originally launched in 2006 with the goal of making academic research collections accessible to non-academic audiences, with a deliberate focus on K-12 teachers. Today, the site maintains this public mission, but we think of the audience as even broader, including K-12 students, undergraduates, scholars, family historians, creative professionals, and the “casually curious.”

You recently did a re-design. What challenges did you encounter?

I think one of the hardest things about a “reinvention” of an existing site is balancing the new vision with the needs of legacy objects and metadata. This issue comes up in any redesign, but the scale at which we work and the heterogeneous nature of the collections can make it all the more complex. At the same time, you don’t want to always do the safe thing — you want to take risks that will make at least a majority of the content more easily discoverable and interesting for users.

Between the project team at the California Digital Library, additional development staff at UC Berkeley, and librarians at all ten campuses, I’d estimate about 30-40 people played some role in the implementation. It was a true collaboration.

Sound is part of your collection. What types of audio are included?

Calisphere only recently has started to take in sound objects in a systematic way, which is exciting. The audio really runs the gamut.

There are a ton of oral histories, featuring all sorts of people, whether they have had a renowned career (for example, jazz composer Dave Brubeck from University of the Pacific) or have important personal or community stories to tell (for example, the Vietnamese Oral History Project from UC-Irvine).

The single largest collection of audio is UC-Santa Barbara’s Cylinder Audio Archive, which includes recordings made from the late 1800s to early 1900s, including popular songs, vaudeville acts, comedic monologues, and more. (I am particularly fond of this recording of the “Maple Leaf Rag” hand-played by Scott Joplin.)

And many of the sound objects on the site were identified as essential for the preservation of California’s historical record. These were digitized by the California Audiovisual Preservation Project from a variety of institutions.

How did you decide how to organize the audio to make it searchable?

Admittedly, Calisphere isn’t currently super optimized for searching audio for a couple reasons. For one, the model for Calisphere is that it is first and foremost an aggregator: for audio objects, it brings the metadata in, but it currently doesn’t stream the files right on the site (except in some special cases).

Meanwhile, from a user experience perspective, the fact is that Calisphere was traditionally mostly an image and text repository, so we leaned heavily on the visual component. But now that we are getting more audio, we are revisiting some of our design decisions to make sure that content is just as findable and accessible.

Why is Calisphere important?

California contains such an incredible group of collecting institutions, from public libraries to universities to community historical societies. But many of those institutions lack the technical resources to really get their collections out there and visible to their users. For instance, maybe they’ve got some digital objects in a library catalog, but they are hard to find on the open web and not presented in a modern design.

In Calisphere, those collections really shine: they get the full user experience, they get indexed in Google, they get put in exhibitions, they get sent to the Digital Public Library of America. In short: they get discovered and used!

Thanks, Sherri!

See you in the archive,
The Pop Up Archive team

Archiving the pioneering voices of punk

Ramones_Toronto_1976

Punk broke in the summer of 1976 and spread like a heatwave as the Ramones made their eponymous debut and invaded England with their tough, no-frills rock. Long incubating in the post-hippie era, punk was named for the sonic deviance of bands like the Sex Pistols — who debuted Anarchy in the U.K. that same year — the Buzzcocks, Patti Smith, Television, the Clash, and countless others armed with noise-bearing instruments.

More an attitude than a sound, punk began as a youthful distillation of anti-establishment politics, street grit, and even a dose of French surrealism (Richard Hell famously claims to have stolen his enfant terrible act from Arthur Rimbaud). It spawned various sub-genres, many still heard today, and contributed DIY (do it yourself) to the cultural lexicon, championing hyper-localism when it was still as alien as mohawks and fashionably ripped clothes. Today we celebrate 40 years of punk with audio artifacts of the shock heard around the world.

1. Interview with Penelope Spheeris (Bullseye)

Jesse Thorn interviews director Penelope Spheeris about Decline of Western Civilization, her 1979 documentary on the LA punk scene featuring candid interviews with teen punkers and live performances by the Germs, X, Black Flag, and others. The documentary captures the youthful exuberance of the scene as well as the nihilism and addiction problems that befell many.

2. Just Girls: The Hidden World of Patti Smith and Judy Linn (Kitchen Sisters)

The Kitchen Sisters share audio snapshots of punk icon Patti Smith, intimate and quotidian, as recorded by her friend Judy Linn in the ’70s. The vignettes capture the interior life and voice of the quirky and dreamy youth Patti writes about in her seminal biography Just Kids.

Patti_Smith_in_Rosengrten_1978

 

“To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It’s freedom.” —Patti Smith

3. Maximum Rocknroll: Punk magazine, radio show, record label, and vinyl archive since 1977 (KALW)

KALW gives a tour of the Maximum Rocknroll house, ground zero of West Coast punk, headquarters of the fanzine, and home to the world’s largest archive of punk records. As punk arose in reaction to the excesses of ’70s rock and hippie idealism, fanzines were used to get the word out about underground shows and albums. In 1982, Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys and Maximum Rocknroll founder Tim Yohannan released a compilation of Northern California and Nevada punk rock; the album’s liner notes would be published as the first issue of MRR, which has stayed true to its austere form — black-and-white newsprint — well into the digital age.

4. The Stranger (Snap Judgement)

Musician Damien Jurado tells about his adolescent retreat into the cabalistic world of punk zines and records, and the shabby janitor who got him hooked (no spoilers, but Damien’s punk pusher would go on to revolutionize the genre).

5. Rocket To Russia (Sound Opinions)

Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot talk to drummer Tommy Ramone, who lays down the origin story of punk and details from recording the Ramones’ first three records, including Rocket to Russia. Jim and Greg dissect the 1977 classic record and its punchy, two-minute anthems including “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” — the epitome of the genre, according to the rock doctors.

6. Carrie Brownstein on Punk Rock and ‘Portlandia’ (Forum)

Sleater Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein discusses her coming up through the Olympia punk and riot grrrl scenes, feminism, and her new memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl.

Turning to the past to understand race in America today

“If we talk about the past decade, if we talk about the past century, if we talk about the past two centuries… what we ought to seek in discussing black history are lessons on how to struggle today,” said Dr. Angela Davis during a lecture at Occidental College.

The frequency and impunity with which police use deadly force against people of color shatter any notion that racial inequity ended in the ’60s.

#BlackLivesMatter has sparked a national dialogue similar to that of the Civil Rights era, when Angela Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and countless others combined grassroots activism with the media pulpit to speak out against racial injustice. Their words, despite the intervening decades, describe our own times to eerie effect.

Archival recordings from Pop Up Archive’s public collections speak volumes on race and racism in America and the legacy of black activism:

 The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee talks and sings with Studs Terkel (1961)—WFMT

Students describe how the violence they incur during sit-ins and freedom rides strengthens their resolve in the fight against segregation and voter suppression.

Sometimes when the person next to us was being pulled off the line and being beaten and knocked to the ground, we’d still sing and hold our heads high and walk in unity and strength.” —SNCC member Bernard Lafayette, 1961

 Martin Luther King speaks (1968)—Ethnic Studies Library

This audio recording is a dense archaeological treasure. In addition to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s rousing speech to a union calling for racial equity in the labor movement and a jail cell news interview with Black Panther leader Huey Newton, this recording contains a KPFA reporter’s interview with Mr. and Mrs. Smith about the “common experience of many families in the black ghetto.” The Oakland couple describes police hostility aimed at their family and community and how officers’ racially motivated violence is inspiring the rise of armed self-defense groups, like the Black Panthers, in their neighborhood.

After they let me up, they were still beating my son and blood was running every which way and I asked the police department, ‘Please don’t kill him.’
—Oakland resident Luther Smith, 1968


Alabama State troopers attack demonstrators outside Selma, Alabama,
on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965.

 Dick Gregory talks with Studs Terkel (1961)—WMFT

Comedian and social critic Dick Gregory describes the historical connections between American foreign conflict and racial turmoil, describing how wars exacerbate the “us” vs “them” mentality. After fighting to “liberate” Vietnam, black soldiers returned home to find their own freedoms restricted by increasingly militarized racial boundaries, he explains.

The speeches that black folks are making today are straight out of the pages of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.” —Dick Gregory, 1964

 H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael address the Black Panthers (1968)—Pacifica Archives

Hearing this clip of H. Rap Brown speak at a “Free Huey” Black Panthers rally in Cleveland, there is no question where he got his name. The crowd roars as Rap waxes political with equal parts fire and wit. He and Stokely speak to the rise of black militarism, saying Vietnam has taught black soldiers how to go to war. It’s time, they rally, to fight for their own freedom.

We are the vanguard of the revolution because we are the most dispossessed.”—Black Panther H. Rap Brown, 1968

 Angela Davis at Occidental College (1985)—Pacifica Archives

Speaking at a Black History Month event at Occidental College, Angela Davis describes the prison system as a tool of enslavement, recounting her own imprisonment (on charges of kidnapping and murder, for which she was later acquitted) as an attempt to suppress her political outspokenness.

Each time black people have won victories, this has meant the extension of rights and liberties for the vast majority of the population in America.”
—activist/scholar Angela Davis, 1985

Explore more archival audio

Four picks to get you fired up for the Fourth!

We’ve cued up an Independence Day playlist for you to savor while you prep for your backyard BBQ.

 America Eats: A Hidden Archive—The Kitchen Sisters
It’s hard to imagine July Fourth without barbecue, burgers, brats, potato salad, slaw, and watermelon. The Kitchen Sisters explore how food gives flavor to our most time-honored traditions and how it is tied to our very notions of place and personhood. In this episode, the Kitchen Sisters continue the legacy of America Eats—a WPA program started in the 1930s to document American foodways—and explore how blue-plate specials and down-home cooking reflect our national fabric.

Mapping America, one dish at a time. share on Twitter

 The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence—Focus 580 (Illinois Public Media)
Red, white, and blue are synonymous with July Fourth, but the color of money was an early motif in the American Revolution. The desire for imported goods, notably teapots, created the tempest that would eventually rally patriots’ cries for independence.

How free-market capitalism motivated colonists’ cries for freedom. share on Twitter

 July 04,1970—From the Vault (Pacifica)
The cultural revolutions of the 1960s changed the discourse surrounding freedom and independence. Archival audio from a July 4, 1970 celebration in Washington, D.C. captures differing views on patriotism and the American legacy following the Civil Rights movement, anti-war efforts, the Stonewall Riots, second-wave feminism, and the rise of Black Power.

What the American Revolution meant in the wake of sixties’ revolutionary movements. share on Twitter

 Tips for a Successful Summer Barbecue—Forum (KQED)
Chefs and food writers share their favorite recipes and pro-tips for delicious July Fourth fare, for meaty grillmasters and vegetarian celebrants alike. This episode is chock full of fresh ideas (smoked fish, Mexican elote and bitter-green salad, to name a few) for those looking to mix up their holiday menu.

Recipes and tips on how to lock down your July 4th spread. share on Twitter

Saving America’s radio heritage

Preserving at-risk archival radio broadcasts


Last week, librarians, archivists, and audio preservation enthusiasts from around the country joined forces in a mission to save America’s radio heritage at the first ever Radio Preservation Task Force (RPTF) Conference.

Josh Shepperd, National Research Director for the RPTF, writes: “It’s safe to anecdotally contend that we’ve certainly already lost over 75% of radio history, and perhaps as high as 90%. Why is this important? The short answer is that radio has held a unique and important position in U.S. cultural history. Radio has been a media industry that developed a mature art form through storytelling and entertainment, while acting as a communications technology that has been utilized for community building and public discourse.”

As historic audio recordings dating back to the beginning of the 20th century rapidly deteriorate, the race to digitize and preserve these recordings grows more urgent every day.  And digitization alone doesn’t ensure preservation: in fact, without proper care, digital recordings can be even more vulnerable to loss than physical formats.

At Pop Up Archive, one of our goals is to make recordings searchable for audiences in perpetuity. Check out some moments from 20th century radio history captured in our public archive.

Continue reading

Voices of Black History: Past and Present

Black history in the making

Beyonce in the music video for "Formation"
Beyonce in the music video for “Formation”

From archival audio holdings to the daily podcasts we index at Audiosear.ch, Pop Up Archive works with some of the most important voices of the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. In honor of Black History Month, we’ve collected audio that traces issues like discrimination, feminism, and education in African American communities throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

Continue reading

Search public broadcasting from 1940 to today

American Archive launches multimedia “Reading Room”


Public media fans, rejoice! The American Archive of Public Broadcasting recently made over 7,000 items from their database available for streaming in an online Reading Room. The Reading Room includes audio and video from more than 120 public media stations and archives, with broadcasts dating from the 1940s to the present day.

Don’t know where to start? AAPB has already done some fantastic work to make the collections discoverable with categories and curated collections. Dive deep into topics like broadcasting history, climate change, and civil rights.

Continue reading

California here I come: Oral histories and tales of arrival in Pop Up Archive

A radio history of California immigration

Listen to firsthand accounts of arrival, detention and otherness. We gather audio from the collections of four great California radio stations — KALW, KCRW, KQED, and KPFA — to hear about the Chinese poems on Angel island detention center walls, the internment of the Japanese, the battle for San Francisco’s International Hotel and the drama of being undocumented.
Continue reading

Celebrating LGBT History Month

The evolution of the LGBT movement in audio

In June, we offered glimpses into pivotal moments of the LGBT movement. Now, for LGBT History Month, we’re juxtaposing those moments with more recent news. Read on to learn about LGBT history, now and then.

FILE - In this June 26, 1978 file photo, then San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk is seen in San Francisco's seventh annual Gay Freedom parade. (AP Photo/File)
FILE – In this June 26, 1978 file photo, then San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk is seen in San Francisco’s seventh annual Gay Freedom parade. (AP Photo/File)

Continue reading

Searching 40,000 hours of broadcasting history

Pop Up Archive and WGBH embark on a landmark project to make the American Archive searchablelogos

On August 31, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded $14.16 million in grant funding to libraries across the United States. We’re thrilled to announce that the WGBH Educational Foundation, together with the American Archive of Public Broadcasting and Pop Up Archive, received one of 276 National Leadership Grants.

The $898,474 grant includes transcribing, analyzing, and building crowdsourcing tools for almost 40,000 hours of digital audio from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting over the next two and half years. This will be the first major media archive of its kind: the new American Archive site will integrate full-text, searchable transcripts and crowdsourced metadata for thousands of hours of audiovisual materials.

Read more about the IMLS grantees announced last week.

Continue reading