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Thursday, May 28 • 5:30pm - 6:00pm
Burt Porter Collection Digitization Project

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Burt Porter was an Ampex Tape Recorder dealer in the Pacific Northwest in mid-20th century. In addition to selling recording devices and media, his enthusiasm for jazz led him to make live tapes of Seattle-area musicians. Through his relationships and dedication, he amassed a collection of original recordings that chronicle a moment in the history of jazz in Seattle.
The Burt Porter Collection was received by the University of Washington Libraries in 2012. The collection contains unique reel-to-reel recordings made in the 1950’s. Key recordings are performances by Seattle Jazz Artists, such as Ernestine Anderson and The Cecil Young Quartet. 

Our work on the Porter Collection has two goals: To digitize and preserve the audio recordings and to ensure that the recordings are available for study and enjoyment. This has led to a multi-layered project where the typical special collections library work of digitization and cataloging is just the first phase. Through media sharing, library guides, social media, and other digital projects, we are not just making the collection available, but making interested parties aware of its existence and relevance.

Making this collection available means making it accessible through digitization. We face a number of hurdles including physical separation of the collection, some reels were removed from the onsite (at UW) collection as they were affected by sticky shed syndrome. This condition not only impacts the condition of the tape and audio, but also can damage the playback machine. As reels are found with sticky shed, some have been baked, in attempt to reverse the condition. In this project, we are using a variety of seasoned playback machines, including an Ampex ATR-100 and ReVox 700a, both of which have required extensive technical servicing.

To better understand the collection, we are researching the performers, songs, venues, and culture that we encounter in the recordings. Burt Porter is clearly the jumping off point for this research. His unique position as an audience member with inside access has lead us to emphasize relationships in order to understand the collection and the music it chronicles. To this end, we are also conducting interviews with others related to the collection.

Through this process, we are having to consider potential copyrights issues. We have discovered that some of the recordings are actually copies of commercially released albums, and so separating these from original recordings is vital. Our goal is to develop best practice for due diligence while working efficiently through the collection.

This project reveals the changing nature of special collections and humanities research through its collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach. We are working with experts at the UW Libraries to understand the technical requirements of digitization. We are drawing on our library science training to create metadata and cataloging schemas. We are using humanities research techniques to situate the collection culturally. Finally, we must apply our understanding of information behavior to the task of reaching (and possibly creating) our audience. The digital tools that help preserve the audio in these recordings also hold the key to making this local, cultural heritage available to the public.

avatar for Susie Cummings

Susie Cummings

Odegaard Library Program Assistant, University of Washington
Raised in the Pacific Northwest, returned to Seattle to work on my LIS in the Information School at UW. In my grad school adventures, I have been most enamored by the performing arts in alternative spaces and audio preservation. I currently work in the undergraduate library at UW... Read More →
avatar for Becky Ramsey

Becky Ramsey

Library Science Student, University of Washington
I am a Master of Library and Information Science candidate at the University of Washington. I'm fascinated by the digital humanities and how the libraries can foster scholarly communication and collaboration.

Thursday May 28, 2015 5:30pm - 6:00pm EDT
Lincoln Room Kellogg Center

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