UW-La Crosse preserves campus history

Staff will digitize historical footage

Staff members at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse are doing away with a piece of technology many of us stopped using years ago–VCR’s in classrooms. However, it’s not as easy as you may think.

The university has tens of thousands of hours of historical footage stored in its Tape Library on campus. Some of it hasn’t been looked at in years. In fact, many don’t even realize how much history sits on the shelves. The IT department at UW-La Crosse is trying to make that historical footage much more accessible by digitizing all of the tapes.

“It’s truly the archives, it’s not quite the Library of Congress,” said Jim Jorstad, with the Academic Technology Services at UW-La Crosse.

As you step into the Tape Library at UW- La Crosse, you see open reels, laser disks and of course, rows and rows of three-quarter inch tape.

“This looks like about two-and-a-half VHS tapes in one cartridge,” said Jorstad.

With so many different formats, it’s hard to maintain and preserve all the history stacked on the shelves so staff members have developed a plan.

“We are taking a bunch of tapes and converting them to DVD, or put them on a drive file to preserve history,” said Avery Velo, a production assistant at UW-La Crosse.

But what do you keep and what do you get rid of?

“Is it important historically? Yes, it’s pretty significant,” said Jorstad.

So where do you start?

“You are going to see something that hasn’t been played since 1986,” said Jorstad. “The people on here were part of the Kennedy Administration.”

It’s a time-consuming process.

“You can’t just fast forward the whole tape; you really have to watch it,” said Velo.

Plus you have to make sure you follow copyright regulation

“We search every video to make sure it’s original footage,” said Velo.

In the future, there may be new technology to speed up the process, but for now just knowing how important the historical footage is, he said that’s enough to keep going.

“When you see these rows and rows of history, I think it’s a challenge to do the process, but it’s the right thing to do, to preserve our history so we can learn from it in the future,” said Jorstad.

The IT department at UW-La Crosse knows it’s going to take a long time to digitize thousands of tapes so they are doing it in a cost-efficient way. Old computers and monitors that would otherwise be thrown away are being transformed and used for digitizing. Plus, they have enlisted students to help out with the process.