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Newly Digitized Historic Video Now Available!

By Maggie Schreiner

Posted on August 5, 2019

We are excited to announce that Brooklyn Historical Society has arrived on the Internet Archive!

We will be using this new account to provide access to historic films, movies, and audio recordings from our collections. You can currently explore over 40 newly digitized movies and 6 audio recordings from a variety of our collections, ranging from 1920s home movies to 1970s radio commercials.

Still from video about Brooklyn Historical Society's 1991 exhibition

Still from video about Brooklyn Historical Society's 1991 exhibition "¿Por Qué Brooklyn?"

Our digitization project revealed some lovely surprises! We digitized videos of BHS exhibitions from the late 1980s and early 1990s, including “Not Forgotten: AIDS at the Brooklyn Historical Society,” “Another Side of Brooklyn’s Renaissance: The Community Housing Movement,” and “¿Por Qué Brooklyn?”. These videos allow us to tour these legendary exhibitions, and hear from the curators about their significance and development. We also digitized video from 4 collections, through which we can see Atlantic Ave in the 1980s, learn about the Brownstoner movement’s “Cinderella Project,” hear the Dodgers at Gage and Tollner’s restaurant and listen to a broadcast from the Haitian Coalition on AIDS. And much more!

The digitization project identified and digitized movies and audio recordings on formats that are reaching the point of obsolescence. Older analog recording formats such as VHS and U-Matic have lifespans of about 20 years, after which point the video quality begins to degrade until the content is lost completely. As many videos were recorded in the 1980s and 1990s, when recording technology became more affordable and widely available, many of these tapes are reaching the end of their lifespan. Library and archives professionals refer to this as the “magnetic media crisis,” and the race is on to digitize this content.

The digitization of the majority of these recordings was made possible by the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO), a non-profit organization that supports libraries and archives throughout New York. Brooklyn Historical Society was very excited to be selected for their Studio Internship Program, and hired recent library school graduate Aliki Caloyeras to work on this project.

VHS tape which was digitized during this project, from the 1994

Betacam tape which was digitized during this project, from the 1994 "Crown Heights is Home" exhibition.

The digitization project identified and digitized movies and audio recordings on formats that are reaching the point of obsolescence. Older analog recording formats such as VHS and U-Matic have lifespans of about 20 years, after which point the video quality begins to degrade until the content is lost completely. As many videos were recorded in the 1980s and 1990s, when recording technology became more affordable and widely available, many of these tapes are reaching the end of their lifespan. Library and archives professionals refer to this as the “magnetic media crisis,” and the race is on to digitize this content.

The digitization of the majority of these recordings was made possible by the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO), a non-profit organization that supports libraries and archives throughout New York. Brooklyn Historical Society was very excited to be selected for their Studio Internship Program, and hired recent library school graduate Aliki Caloyeras to work on this project.

Still from video

Still from video "Rebirth of Atlantic Avenue," (circa 1980s) from the Everett and Evelyn Ortner papers and photographs (ARC.306).

After a careful review of our collections, Aliki selected 22 items to be digitized, comprised mainly of video cassettes (including VHS, U-Matic, and Betacam) and a handful of  ¼ inch Open Reel and  audio cassettes. Aliki received training on how to use METRO’s transfer station, and spent 6 days digitizing these items. Creating digital transfers of video and audio happens in real time, so it is slow work! Once complete, the new digital files were uploaded to the Internet Archive, and Aliki added descriptions for each item. She also presented on her project to METRO and BHS staff, and created documentation of the project that will be shared with other institutions.

You can find the following newly digitized items on our Internet Archive account:

Brooklyn Historical Society institutional records (ARC.288)

  • “Alien Staff” by Krzysztof Wodiczko, 1993 (VHS)
  • Another Side of Brooklyn’s Renaissance: The Community Housing Movement, 1989 (Umatic)
  • Celebrating Brooklyn History, “Voices of Brooklyn” Premiere Performance, 1998 (VHS)
  • Crown Heights is Home (Betacam)
  • The Giglio: Brooklyn’s Dancing Tower, 1989 (Umatic)
  • New Neighbors: Sunset Park’s Chinese Community Object Theater, 1990s (VHS)
  • Not Forgotten: AIDS at the Brooklyn Historical Society, 1993-1994 (VHS)
  • Object Theater from Tim Kramer, 1990s (VHS)
  • ¿Por Qué Brooklyn?, 1991 (VHS)
  • “Voices of Brooklyn” (stage play for BCAT), 1999 (VHS)

Junior League of Brooklyn records (ARC.304)

  • 80th Annual Message, 1990 (VHS)
  • BCAC (Brooklyn Child Advocacy Center, 1997 (VHS)
  • Public Service Announcement, 1994 (Umatic)

Everett and Evelyn Ortner papers and photographs (ARC.306)

  • Brooklyn, USA: the Rebirth of an American City, 1970s (VHS)
  • The Brownstones of Brooklyn, 1970s (VHS)
  • Cinderella of Berkeley Place, 1970s (VHS)
  • Downtown Brooklyn, 1980s (VHS)
  • My, My Brooklyn, 1970s (VHS)
  • Partnership in Prospect Heights, 1980s (VHS)
  • Restoration of Bedford Stuyvesant, 1980s (VHS)
  • Rebirth of Atlantic Avenue, 1980s (VHS)

Eastern Parkway Coalition records (2007.016)

  • Haitian Coalition on AIDS, 1988 (audiocassette)

Edward and Gertrude Dewey collection of Gage & Tollner records (2016.034)

  • Brooklyn Dodgers Come Home, 1985 (audiocassette)
  • Gage and Tollner Restaurant, “Information”, 1977 (¼ in. open reel)
  • The McCanns Program: All About Gage and Tollner, 1972 (¼ in. open reel)
  • The McCanns Program: All About GT–Brooklyn, 1972 (¼ in. open reel)

By Aliki Caloyeras and Maggie Schreiner

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