Audiovisual Archivist Joins UH Special Collections

Emily Vinson joins the team as the new audiovisual archivist.

Emily Vinson joins the team as the new audiovisual archivist.

University of Houston Special Collections recently welcomed Emily Vinson, audiovisual archivist, to the team. She will shepherd the audiovisual collection on its journey through acquisition, preservation and digitization.

Vinson’s primary focus is the digitization of select materials from the KUHT Collection, including securing intellectual control and prioritizing items for accessibility.

View KUHT Highlights, a digital collection of images and video of the nation’s first public television station.

The KUHT Collection presents a unique set of opportunities. It contains, in part, nearly 1200 film reels and 600 boxes of videotapes, the specific contents of which are unknown. “As is often the case with archival audiovisual collections, labeling is minimal, if present at all, so there are going to be many mysteries in the collection,” Vinson said. “There’s no finding aid yet, so we’re going to have a lot of questions in how to move forward with those pieces of the collection.”

Vinson will cross-reference each film and videotape with available titles, and query physical records in the collection to determine which programs hold lasting value and as such, rise in priority for digitization.

Even for highly-skilled archivists like Vinson, evaluating old films is a tricky process. Many may have become too fragile, and there may be only one opportunity for a successful transfer.

The process begins with an inspection of the films and tapes to determine its condition. Cleaning may be necessary. The films are then sent to film transfer experts for digitization, with care taken to preserve the original, which is then returned to Special Collections.

Vinson notes that public broadcasting audiovisual archives offer a uniquely intimate view of a community, unmatched in other media. “I think people engage with AV materials in a way that they don’t necessarily engage with paper materials,” Vinson said. “The insights you get into a city and community via the public broadcasting world is really unique. You see aspects of the city’s history that don’t come through in other ways. It’s a really exciting way to learn about a place, and to understand what was important to people then.”

Vinson was inspired to pursue library school after a particular event. She had just graduated from Tulane University before Hurricane Katrina hit. She evacuated and when she returned to the art gallery on campus where she worked, she saw that the university library had flooded. In the midst of widespread catastrophe, water was being pumped out and library staff were planning to elevate materials to try and salvage as much as possible.

“People saw value in the collection and found the means to preserve it,” Vinson said. “I thought that was the most amazing thing I had ever heard of. I had spent so many hours in this library, so that’s when I decided I should go to library school.”

Vinson attended UT Austin and earned a Master of Science in Information Studies with advanced study in conservation of library and archival materials. She held a fellowship in preservation and administration at New York Public Library, and later, had a two-year grant-funded position at WNYC, working on digitizing public radio archives. Most recently, she was an archivist at Rice University’s Baker Institute.

Beyond audiovisual preservation, Vinson is an avid reader (Agatha Christie novels are her favorites) and viewer of Netflix. She also plays tennis and sews. And she is enjoying UH culture. “I’ve had a really fantastic impression of the University so far,” she said. “I love that it’s a diverse campus and it’s really active and thriving.”

Posted on March 26th, 2015 by Esmeralda Fisher and filed under Announcements | Comments Off on Audiovisual Archivist Joins UH Special Collections