Tech Reflect: Civilian Conservation Corps cassette tapes

Tech Reflect is a platform for Digital & Web Services technicians to look-back on a particular project and share their experiences, thoughts, and lessons learned.

By: Zachary Johnson, Digital A/V Technician

The Civilian Conservation Corps Project (CCC) was founded in 1933, ending in 1942. It was a government-funded organization originally meant for unemployed, unmarried men between the age of 18 and 25. The age limit was eventually moved up to 28 (although most camps didn’t care if you were 16 or 17). FDR created the CCC as a part of his ‘New Deal’ in order to provide money to families that were in desperate need of cash during the great depression

The jobs done by the CCC enrollees were mostly construction, but that is not all they were known for doing. They were truckers (construction & transportation), medical staff (assistants to doctors, nurses, and dentists), hairdressers, miners in rock quarries (although they were sometimes used to help find artifacts in historically significant dig sites), and cooks (enrollees who made breakfast, lunch, and dinner), or cashiers at concession stands in the rec hall (for extra cash, not as their main/sole job). Each enrollee was paid around $27 a month, but they only received $5 and the rest was sent to their families to help them get through the depression, though the amount paid could vary from year to year. The CCC operated mostly through national parks and was run by the U.S. military, although enrollees did not have quite as many rules and responsibilities as military personnel had. As a for instance, they still had to make their beds in the morning and have them inspected, but they didn’t have to do things like saluting to the flag.

Dr. Ron Brown has approximately 42 cassette tapes of oral interviews conducted in 1991-1993 while he was working on a history of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps in Mesa Verde National Park. The Mesa Verde site is significant because unlike most CCC sites, most of the documents and archives related to CCC remained on site and were not sent to the National Archives. Persons who were members of the CCC in Mesa Verde were interviewed for their recollections. Shortly after he completed the interviews, he became a full-time administrator and did not return to the project until Jan. 1, 2018, when he returned to full-time faculty status. The interviews were collected on cassette tapes of good quality at the time. His interview equipment was better than average quality at the time, and the interview cassettes have not been run since the early 1990s.

The tapes are historically significant documents that are important for his own research and would be of use to the Texas State Archives as well as to the MVNP Research Center in Colorado. The tapes were captured, edited, and given back to Dr. Brown in the months of October and November 2018 by Zachary Johnson. After the digital capture, the physical tapes will be given to the university archiving department at Texas State University library, while the digital copies will be transcribed and given back to Dr.Brown for his project.

How I Created Digital Files from Legacy Technology

  1. Check to make sure all the recording devices work properly
  2. Check the condition of the physical tape
  3. Record the audio on each side of the tape
  4. Edit/clean up the audio
  5. Turn in for Quality Control (QC)

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San Marcos Daily Record Negatives

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Top row: SMDR_1950s-SF-11_May 16 2017_13-38-29, SMDR_1930s-56_027 Bottom row: SMDR_1940s50s-88_001, SMDR_1930s-58_004, SMDR_1930s-26_016

In January of 2016 University Archives received an estimated 800,000 photo negatives, transparent strips of film that depict an image with the colors inverted, from the San Marcos Daily Record. This collection contains images spanning from the 1930s to the 2000s. The negatives consist of a mixture of nitrate and safety film. Nitrate film, a flexible, plastic film base, was created in the late 1800s as a replacement to glass plates and safety film was created as a substitute for nitrate. Nitrate film is the same film used in motion pictures which caused many devastating fires during film screenings in the early 1900s. This film becomes less stable and more likely to auto-ignite as it deteriorates. Safety film, as the name suggests, is much safer to use and store, however, the film still degrades over time.

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History of Spring Lake

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In a previous post I discussed a project to digitize and create an exhibit related to the history of Aquarena Springs. Entitled The “History of Spring Lake”, the online exhibit is now available. Only a portion of the archives’ materials are included in this exhibit.

This “History of Spring Lake” exhibit was initially planned and constructed by Jason Crouch, a Graduate Student in the Public History Program at the Texas State University Center for Texas Public History. Digitization support was provided by Digital Media Specialist, Jeremy Moore. Programming support and customization of the Omeka site was provided by Jason Long. Additional support provided by Todd Peters, Head, Digital & Web Services.

This exhibit was edited and revised to feature a variety of primary source materials from the University Archives. The purpose of this exhibit is to provide a brief history of Spring Lake; it is not meant to be an exhaustive history of the people, places, or details.

The University Archives would like to thank Anna Huff and John Fletcher for providing content representing The Meadows Center, as well as the local repositories and local collections that allowed us to feature their materials in this exhibit.

Then and Now

Several websites that feature juxtaposed historic and recent images have appeared over the last year. It is a fun way to showcase historic images in an archive. The Knight Lab at Northwestern University has created an easy tool to create photo juxtapositions. The software allows a user to move a slider to swipe between the two versions of an image.

We decided to use the JuxtaposeJS software to create a few test images to learn more about the process. We took a couple of prints of historic photos of Old Main we had recently digitized, and tried to find the locations from where they were shot.  For this pilot project, we did not use the high resolution PhaseOne digital camera. We wanted to keep the amount of equipment we needed to carry to a minimum on our first attempt, so Jeremy used a smaller Olympus OM-D E-M5II capable of stitching together 40mb images from several shots, and a tripod.

The resulting images were scaled and visual reference points lined up in Adobe Photoshop. The JuxtaposeJS  website automatically creates the HTML embed code to insert into a website.

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Click to view juxtaposed Then and Now images of Old Main.

 

Old School Work Study

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During the early part of the University’s history, “work study” apparently meant something different than it does today. While listening to  a digitized 1974 oral history, I stumbled upon an amusing recollection from Biology professor Thacher R. Gary and his wife Nawona (both also 1940 graduates of Southwest Texas State Teachers College.)

 

 

 

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Jessie and Claude Kellam, 1923

 

 

They recalled the hardships on students in the 1920s and 1930s and that most students worked and many could only afford one meal a day. In recalling that some would do anything to stay in school, they recount that several students had kept cows on campus in the early years, including J. C.  Kellam and his brother, and they would sell the milk to other students to help earn money.

 

 

Library Exhibit

Digital & Web Services Exhibit

Digital & Web Services Exhibit

The Digital & Web Services Department has mounted a physical exhibit in the Alkek Library to showcase digitization at the Library. It is scheduled to be displayed from September through December 18, 2015. Located on the 1st floor of the Alkek Library and entitled From Paper to Pixels: Digitization at the Alkek Library, it uses samples from recent projects to provide a look at some of the equipment and procedures used for digitization.

Front page of the 1929 San Marcos Record

 

Included are over-sized prints including the Taffola Manuscript, the restored Sallie Beretta Painting and older issues of the school newspaper.

 

 

 

The exhibit also features a step by step photo breakdown of the dis-binding process used in preparation for scanning the Pedagogs, the student yearbook.

interferenceAlthough the title of the exhibit only mentions paper, it also features work on digitizing audio and video. Physical examples of open reel, cassette, Betacam and Hi-8 tapes are on display and screens-shots demonstrating the capture of audio are shown.

Selected photographs printed from the unlabeled negative project are also on display including a large print of Dana Jean Smith and Gloria Odoms, taken on the day Southwest Texas State College was officially integrated in February 1963.

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Past Wimberley floods recalled

The University Archives holds nearly 200 oral histories on open reel and cassette tape, dating from the 1970s through the early 2000s. Graduate student Virginia Pickel has begun digitizing these materials.

A recent open reel tape digitized contains an interesting section in light of the devastating floods which hit the Wimberley and San Marcos areas in May 2015.
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In 1974, longtime Wimberley residents Mr. & Mrs. Emmet Cowan participated in a recorded interview for an oral history project.  This excerpt contains a short portion of the recording where the interviewer asked if they had ever seen any floods of the Blanco river. They recall a major Blanco flood  in May 1929 that forced them to move to higher ground and minor flooding in 1900 and 1957-58.

Reddit Effect

The Digital & Web Services department began uploading digitized versions of the university yearbook, the Pedagog, in March 2015. Promotion for the site has included a featured link on the main library website, the University Archives Facebook page, and the Alumni newsletter. The site can also be found through Google.

During a nineteen hour period during the second week of June the site experienced an unusual amount of traffic. Logs revealed that it had been generated through a post on Reddit, a social media platform of online communities. Since Reddit has become so popular and posts can direct so much traffic to a site, servers can be overwhelmed and slow to a crawl. This has been dubbed, “the Reddit Effect.”

Our site is hosted on a Virtual Machine that has been allocated CPU and memory resources adequate for the relatively small amount of regular traffic currently drawn to the site. Within hours of the Reddit post, incoming traffic began to overwhelm the capacity of the server.  The increase lasted for about 6 hours until it began a steady decline. Another media site, Cosmo, posted a story re-blogging the link 13 hours after the original Reddit post. Although there was not another spike in traffic, it may have lengthened the plateau until traffic fell to usual levels.

Reddit directed over 4,400 additional visitors to our site over a 19 hour period.

reddit-effect

New Projects and Formats

Aqua_C33974 2When A.B. Rogers purchased the land at the head of the San Marcos River in 1926, the area had long been a favorite scenic spot for recreation and picnics. Within two years, Rogers began constructing a hotel that overlooked Spring Lake.Aqua_11356 2
Twenty years later his son, Paul Rogers, created a new attraction for hotel guests and other visitors when he launched the first glass bottom boat in 1946; the crystal-clear water in Spring Lake allowed for stunning views of the underwater springs and wildlife.

 

Rogers then proceeded to build what became a wildly popular theme park known as Aquarena Springs. By the 1970s, as many as 350,000 people would visit annually to see the underwater mermaid show and star attraction, Ralph the swimming pig.

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Times changed, along with the public’s taste in entertainment, and the theme park eventually gave way to a heightened interest in endangered species, conservation, and education about the importance of our water resources. Texas State University acquired the 90-acre property in 1994; in 2002 the Aquarena hotel became the home of The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, a multidisciplinary center which focuses on water-related research and education.

The University Archives holds a number of materials related to the history of the Aquarena Springs. The Digital & Web Services Department began a new partnership with the Texas State University Public History Program and welcomed our first graduate student intern this semester, Jason Crouch. He is working closely with the University Archives and the Digital Media Specialist to begin processing and digitizing some of the Aquarena Springs material. An online exhibit is planned for the end of the Spring 2015 semester.

The Aquarena Springs collection contains a variety of audio/visual formats including material on VHS, Betacam, Hi8, miniDV, cassette, and open reel tape. A note of special thanks goes to staff at Texas Parks and Wildlife Television who, through a bit of good timing, helped us arrange the transfer of surplus analog video equipment from their television program to Texas State University. Included was a Sony BVW-70 Betacam SP recorder/player and Sony DSR-PD150 miniDV Digital Camcorder, both of which will be used to digitize items in the collection.

The following video is a sneak preview of what is in the collection. This is a 30 second television spot from 1994 advertising Aquarena Springs originally recorded on BetacamSP tape.

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LBJ audio digitization

Alumni House LBJ & LadyBird 3x3The most famous alumnus of Texas State University is former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, although the institution was known as Southwest Texas State Teachers College when he graduated in 1930. Materials relating to President Johnson are housed in the University Archives and many have already been digitized. Two library guides about Johnson are available: one includes information and resources about LBJ as a student, and one is dedicated to the Higher Education Act of 1965 that he signed in Strahan Gymnasium (now the Music Building).

Football Program 1971Nov13 Page9In the decades following his graduation, Johnson made quite a few trips back to campus to participate in events. In November 1971, the Alumni House hosted an exhibit created by Harry Middleton and Gary Yarrington, Director and Curator of the LBJ Library in Austin. The exhibit, titled “Lyndon Baines Johnson at San Marcos,” featured memorabilia relating to President Johnson, including the desk he sat at when he signed the Higher Education Act of 1965. Johnson himself attended the exhibit opening and delivered a speech on the occasion.

 

The audio recording of President Johnson’s speech was made on an open reel, a technology that has long been surpassed by other media formats. Fortunately, the original recording was saved and eventually became part of the University Archives. More than 40 years later, Digital and Web Services has brought this recording back to “life” and made it accessible for the first time in decades.

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The Alkek Library recently constructed a new Audio and Visual media digitization area to help rescue the content of outdated media formats. This 1971 recording of LBJ at San Marcos Exhibit was the first reel-to-reel tape to be digitized and added to the Digital Collections. The ability to reformat historical recordings is a huge step in the process of reclaiming the history of the University; audio reels from other collections can now be scheduled for digitization and then made available to researchers.

 

LBJ Speaking at Southwest Texas State University, November 1971

(LBJ begins at 09:30)