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Office of the President, Michael A. McRobbie

President McRobbie speaking at the podium

Orphans Midwest Film Symposium

IU Auditorium
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
September 26, 2013

Introduction

Thank you, Dean Johnson.

On behalf of Indiana University, it is my great pleasure to welcome the many distinguished guests participating in this impressive symposium.

Orphans Midwest offers an unparalleled opportunity to hear from some of the leading archivists, film historians, artists, technical experts, and scholars about their efforts to uncover, research, and preserve orphan films. It also gives us the opportunity to view screenings of a number of rare cinematic gems.

I would like to extend a special welcome to NYU professor Dan Streible, who is the founder of the Orphan Film Symposium of which Orphans Midwest is a part. I would also especially like to commend the lead organizers of this symposium, IU film archivist Rachael Stoeltje and IU Cinema director Jon Vickers, from whom you heard a few moments ago. The Cinema is in its third year of operation and we are immensely proud of it. It is one of the best-equipped university cinemas in the United States, and, we believe, has one of the finest programs as well. We owe much of its success to Jon’s superb leadership.

Film and Media Preservation at IU

Dean Johnson spoke about the more than 70,000 films that constitute the IU Libraries Film Archive. In fact, it is one of the largest university film archives in the country, and it includes many rare and last-remaining copies of important 20th century films.

Over the last four years, faculty, staff, and archivists at IU have meticulously identified well over half-a-million audio, video, and film holdings on the Bloomington campus, many of which are on obsolete formats or suffering degradation—or both. Many of them, of course, are also highly valuable for research. Preserving and making these holdings widely available will, we believe, revolutionize the use of archival media for research and teaching.

In fact, next week at my State of the University address, I intend to announce a major concerted, coordinated, and comprehensive initiative that will result in the successful long-term preservation and digitization of our extensive media holdings. While many institutions and organizations are moving away from preservation initiatives, Indiana University is doing just the opposite, and we are well positioned to assume a national leadership role in the preservation and digitization of critical archival media.

IU has been repeatedly recognized as a leader in the uses and application of Information Technology for nearly two decades now. Our strong IT infrastructure and our expertise in the areas of research storage, high-performance networking, digital libraries, and media streaming will be of enormous benefit as we undertake the preservation of our extensive collection.

By investing in preserving these films and other media holdings, we will we save a century of our shared national history while ensuring that they will be here to be studied and enjoyed for many years to come. It is our goal that the previously “orphaned” films at Indiana University can be adopted and enjoyed by scholars, students, and film supporters worldwide.

The Digital Preservation Network

If I may digress for just a moment: I am a computer scientist with a background in high performance computing and networking, and I served for 10 years, before I became provost, as IU’s vice president for information technology and CIO.

I am chair of the Board of Directors of the newly established Digital Preservation Network, the mission of which will be to develop and implement a systematic strategy aimed at the long-term preservation and curation of digital material and objects, not just for decades, but for centuries.

The preservation of the massive amount of data that this involves—generated through research and scholarly activity in the social and physical sciences, the arts and humanities, by our research libraries—is an enormous challenge. But it is absolutely essential to institutions like IU and to faculty who want their data to be around not just for their graduate students, but for their graduate students’ graduate students, and beyond.

The Digital Preservation Network advocates a twofold approach: first, to ensure that there are multiple copies of major digital-data repositories geographically and politically distributed, ultimately globally, and second, to associate these copies with powerful and prestigious institutions that have the greatest chance of surviving into future centuries—universities.

Lessons from The Preservation of Digital Data

When we talk about the long-term preservation of digital material and objects, the preservation of digital film and video is one of the most important aspects.

Of course, when we consider the preservation of rare films, the first approach advocated by the Digital Preservation Network—replication—is not always possible. In many cases, these films are one-of-a-kind. Of course, we often can make digital copies, which allow rare films to be more widely appreciated, but, as you know, preservation and duplication are not synonymous. It is also vitally important to preserve film. I am sure that all of you appreciate the power and beauty of a good 35mm or 16mm print.

And while, as I have described, universities can play a major role in film preservation, we cannot do it all alone.

That is one of the reasons gatherings like this are so important, as they allow archivists, artists, and historians—who represent not only universities, but a variety of other organizations and interests—to gather, discuss the newest developments in the preservation of orphan films, and to build networks for future collaboration.

Conclusion

So, again, on behalf of Indiana University, let me welcome you and wish you all the best for a very successful symposium.