Survey of the State of WYPR’s Collections

So– I originally was going to work with the Menokin Foundation, but they still haven’t emailed me back! I kind of initiated a project with the Your Public Radio station in Baltimore, which is a local branch of NPR.

I’ve submitted it to them, but they still need to get back with comments (the producers and hosts are super busy with the election coming up.) So here is what I have so far!

Executive Summary:

This survey report of digital management practices at WYPR was produced by Maggie McCready, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, following an interview with Tom Hall and Rob Sivak on October 12th, 2018. The results of this survey were based upon the management practices of Senior Producer Rob Sivak of Midday, in addition to information provided by Host Tom Hall.

WYPR’s collections of digital content primarily include digital audio recordings of its broadcasts, as well as production files or “script packs” used to produce those broadcasts.

Current storage methods for these materials include audio stored on CDs which is copied to an external hard drive annually; and “script packs” are typically Microsoft Word documents stored in a series of nested folders organized by date in the station’s shared server, though additional copies are also stored on the external hard drive. All materials are stored at the WYPR station.

While current practices are acceptable, there are several potential risks that threaten the stability and longevity of WYPR’s digital content.

At present, all of WYPR’s materials are physically stored (including the server’s physical location) at the station. Without more geographically diverse storage practices, all of WYPR’s content and files could be lost in the event of a disaster.

Additionally, there is currently no fixity checking or security/access restrictions being performed to ensure the authenticity and integrity of files stored at WYPR. Without regular fixity checks, stored digital content may be lost due to bit rot. (A further explanation of fixity checking is provided below in the Current Management Practices for Digital Holdings and Risks section of this report.)  Without security or access restrictions, files could be accidentally or purposefully deleted or altered.

Current management practices at the station are quite individualized, with no current, standardized policy for preservation that is universally followed. Currently, producers are responsible for managing all the digital content associated with their respective shows, though there have been instances of producers or hosts leaving the station and taking their recordings and work files with them, leaving significant gaps in WYPR’s collections. Implementation of accountability and policy changes could address these issues.

Additional information regarding these topics, including analog media, metadata practices, and file formats, are provided in the report below.

WYPR’s Mission and Work:

“The mission of Your Public Radio is to inform, connect and even challenge the listeners we serve in the metropolitan Baltimore area and the State of Maryland by broadcasting programs of intellectual integrity and cultural merit so as to provide an unbiased perspective of the events of today and to enrich the minds and spirits of our audience.”

As such, WYPR serves as a news and communication resource for the greater Baltimore region and the State of Maryland, and generates several local programs, including Midday, On the Record (Maryland Morning), Gil Sandler’s Baltimore Stories, Out of the Blocks, and others.

These programs serve to document local experiences and concerns of/for residents of the State of Maryland, and could thus be considered records of significant historical, research, or community value.

Scope of WYPR’s Holdings:

Digital:

At present, WYPR maintains digital recordings of each local program it produces, in addition to “script packs”, which include production notes, scripts, and other promotional content used to create these programs.

  • Digital recordings of shows are stored on CD-RW (Compact Disk), and are considered the “Master Files” of the audio, which are created by the producer of the show by exporting 4 uncompressed .WAV files from Cool Aud/Adobe Audition. However, there are also .MP3 versions of these files on the disk. The audio stored on the disk includes the actual show, but also a promotional “billboard” recording. There are recordings dating back to 2006 for shows including Midday stored on these disks, and approximately 6 linear feet of material.
    • It is also worth mentioning that copies of the files exist additionally in multiple formats, including the shared server, as well as a “Mybook” external harddrive. This will be addressed more comprehensively in the following section of this survey regarding WYPR’s management of its records.
  • Script packs for the shows are typically Microsoft Word documents. Again, this content largely includes the “raw material” associated with creating each show, as well as promotional material, dates and titles of each show, written scripts, and billboards. This content is largely “Born Digital”.
  • WYPR also utilizes a number of digital tools in the production of their shows, such as a shared Google Calendar, with lists of dates and titles of shows being produced; “Pleats”, a modified Microsoft Access database that has all information about shows, demographic data about guests, and more. This database is stored on the shared drive/server at the station.

Analog:

While the scope of this project is to address digital preservation issues, it is also prudent to draw attention to the type and scope of WYPR’s analog materials.

  • In the storage closet by the recording studios, approximately 10-15 linear feet of 12” and 6” open reel magnetic tapes were found, dating to the late 1990s and early 2000s. (However, some of this material appears quite older.) This material was likely produced when the station was WJHU (under Johns Hopkins). Due to unideal storage conditions, this material is classified at high risk for potential loss, and suggestions for this material will be provided in following documents.
  • Additonally, several DAT tapes were identified in the collection. These were labeled with program titles and dates. However, their extent is unknown.
  • There are other as of yet unidentified magnetic tape storage media kept in this closet, however, their extent and content is unknown.

Current Management Practices for Digital Holdings:

At present, the author is primarily aware of the management practices specifically undertaken by Rob Sivak, Senior Producer of Midday at WYPR. Management practices of other producers at WYPR is presently unknown.

However, current digital management practices do meet some of the requirements for the first level of digital preservation as outlined by the National Digital Stewardship Alliance’s (NDSA) Levels of Digital Preservation Model. Specifically, WYPR meets the basic requirements for the first level of the “Storage and Geographic Location” category, the “Metadata” category, and the “File Format” category. Though at present, there are no steps being taken to guarantee “File Fixity and Data Integrity”, or “Information Security”. This will be addressed in greater detail below.

Digital:

 

Storage and Geographic Location Practices:

  • WYPR maintains two copies of each program’s digital audio recordings on two different types of storage media. The audio is initially burned to a Compact Disk(CD), which is then kept in a binder on a shelf at the station. Additionally, these files are uploaded to a desktop, and are later stored on the shared server. Every year, the audio for the program is exported to an external hard drive.
    • Further, the audio associated with WYPR’s shows are also used to produce podcasts, which are hosted on WYPR’s website using AudioStack, a platform for advertising and generating revenue. Older shows can be accessed through this platform. However, there is not much control over the files stored this way.
  • The Script Packs are stored in a series of nested folders on the shared server, organized by date of the show, and additional copies of these files are stored on an external hard drive.
  • The digital tool Google Calendar is not currently backed up or stored physically by WYPR. The “Pleats” database is kept on the shared server, but it is unknown if additional copies exist.

 

  • Potential Risk:

 

    • While WYPR typically keeps two copies of its digital files, they are stored either on a shared server at the station, a CD stored at the station, or an external hard drive located at the station. There are no copies stored in a different geographic location, and in the case of a fire or other disaster at the station, all copies of the digital audio recordings and script packs would be lost.
    • Currently, WYPR does not monitor the condition of their storage media for obsolescence.

File Fixity and Data Integrity:

File fixity refers to the bits of a file. “Fixity information offers evidence that one set of bits is identical to another.” (NDSA, 2014,1.) With fixity information, a user can identify if a file has become corrupted, or altered in an unauthorized way, by checking to see if two copies of the same file are identical. Fixity information serves as the “fingerprint” of a file.

For more information about File Fixity: What is File Fixity, and When Should I Be Checking It?

At present, WYPR does not perform any kind of fixity checking.

 

  • Potential Risk:

 

    • Without monitoring the state of files periodically or during file transfers, there is a risk that files could be degrading over time or the authenticity of files could be at risk.

Information Security:

The majority of digital files, including audio and script packs are stored on the station’s shared server, CDs, or an external hard drive that is kept on a desk. Currently, there are no controls on who has authorization to read, write, edit, or delete files.

 

  • Potential Risk:

 

    • By storing copies of files on a shared server that anyone at the station has access to, there is the potential for overwriting or accidental deletion of records. External hard drive and CDs are easily accessible, and could be either taken or destroyed.

Metadata:

Metadata practices at WYPR are not standardized, with no standard formats for file naming conventions. However, script packs and the associated “raw material” created for each show are well organized, and are kept in nested folders on the shared server arranged by the date of the show. There is considerable descriptive metadata generated for each file, including the title or purpose of a document, which show it was produced for, and the date. CDs have written information on the front regarding the show, date aired, and what segments were a part of that show. It is unknown whether or not there is a complete inventory of all files and their storage locations.

 

  • Potential Risks:

 

    • Current descriptive metadata practices are sound, though without an inventory of files and adequate administrative metadata, it is easy for files to get lost. This is especially a concern if the employee who managed those files left the station and left no written information about what they did with the files.

File Formats:

The majority of files generated at WYPR are either .DOC, .WAV, or .MP3 files, though there are likely Microsoft Excel or .JPG files as well. The usage of these file formats, particularly the .WAV and .MP3 formats for recorded audio, appear to be standardized practice. The use of such limited formats improves the capacity to manage those files.

 

  • Potential Risks:

 

    • These file formats are relatively common and do not face substantial risk of becoming obsolete or inaccessible. Though an inventory of file formats used at the station would confirm if there are any risks.

Analog:

Presently, all CDs containing digital audio from shows are kept in CD binders on a shelf in an office at the station. Older analog materials, such as 12” and 6” open reel magnetic tapes are stored in a closet outside the recording studios on the first floor of the station. Some of the open reel tapes are not stored properly in a case, often with the tapes unraveled and hanging. The DAT tapes are stored in boxes on the shelves in this same closet.

 

  • Potential Risks:

 

    • There is extreme risk of loss of the 12” and 6” open reel magnetic tapes due to inadequate storage conditions. Action needs to be taken to preserve this material. The CDs are in relatively stable conditions, though the quality of their storage containers are questionable. The DAT tapes are susceptible to abrasive dust in their current environment.

Staff Perceptions of the State of Digital Content:

Upon speaking to Midday host, Tom Hall and senior producer Rob Sivak, current management practices are acceptable and actually exceed initial expectations of the author when compared to the practices of other, similarly sized cultural institutions.

 

However, both Hall and Sivak expressed desire to improve practices and indicated that practices at the station are not standardized, but left to the individual discretion of the producers for each show. There is guidance for how to record and store audio from shows from an outdated version of a “Producer’s Guide”, however this is not sufficient alone to instruct new people or interns on how to preserve audio, often verbal instruction is additionally required.

The main purpose for preserving digital content at WYPR is for legal and rebroadcast purposes. For accountability and legal purposes, WYPR must maintain recordings of all broadcasts in the event that a complaint is filed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against WYPR. Additionally, at the end of each calendar year, WYPR chooses 5 shows to rebroadcast, and ease of accessibility to this information would help increase efficiency.

Gaps in WYPR’s Collection and Potential Collection Interests:

Both Sivak and Hall expressed that current collection practices are sufficient, with no desire to begin collecting or saving additional material. This is outside of the scope of WYPR’s mission.

However, there were concerns regarding gaps in recordings from previous hosts of the Midday radio program, that is missing from WYPR. This is not a particularly pressing concern, but could potentially be addressed.

Additionally, Sivak indicated that many of the shows at the WYPR station are preserved or stored differently and in disparate places. There is interest in perhaps developing a more universal or standardized method for storing production files and audio recordings, particularly if this could lessen the workload or take less time for the already busy producers at WYPR.

WYPR Staff Resources and Abilities:

With regard to the staff and WYPR’s ability to dedicate its efforts to sustaining their digital content, both Hall and Sivak indicated that time and funds are an issue. Many of the shows at the station are considered understaffed, (WYPR’s Midday has 2 full time producers, compared to 9 producers that worked on the Diane Rehm Show hosted by WAMU in DC.) Meaning that time is tight, and staff at WYPR could not reasonably commit additional work hours to digital preservation. However, WYPR also takes on a few interns throughout the year, and some of this work could be assigned in addition to their regular duties.

Funding is a concern as a community radio station, however moderate changes in spending to improve WYPR’s management of digital content are possible. Sivak considered the possibility of investing in a cloud-based storage service to help diversify geographic locations of file storage and mitigate the impact of disaster related loss. Additionally, Sivak and Hall considered the possibility of collaborating with other local branches of NPR to store additional copies of digital files (diversifying geographic risk.)

With regard to the analog materials described in this survey report, it is completely out of scope of WYPR’s mission to serve as a repository or to dedicate time to preservation of these materials. Considering that the majority of the open reel magnetic tapes were originally created by WJHU prior to WYPR’s founding in 2002, donation of these materials to a proper repository (Johns Hopkins Special Collections, or University of Maryland Special Collections) was discussed as a possibility.

Despite financial and time barriers, minor shifts in current practices and investments in better storage options seem to be actionable responses.

One Reply to “Survey of the State of WYPR’s Collections”

  1. Your report made for a great read. You have a solid set of information to make suggestions for next steps. Of potential interest, here is an interview from a while back related to WNYC’s data https://blogs.loc.gov/thesignal/2014/02/getting-public-radios-legacy-off-ageing-rewritable-cds-an-interview-with-wnycs-john-passmore/ and the Radio Preservation Taskforce may also have some relevant and useful resources for this work https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-recording-preservation-plan/publications-and-reports/

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