In A Basement At Yale

If there’s sainted work in the world that’s what Frank’s doing.

I headed to Yale earlier this afternoon. My friend Frank Clifford works there. You’ll never find his office by accident. It’s down hidden stairs then through narrow hallways in the basement of Sterling Library.

It’s worth the trip. If there’s sainted work in the world that’s what Frank’s doing. He is digitizing videos from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies.

The survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust are diminishing in number. Each year their recollections become more important, but each year moves them farther away from the original experience. This gives special urgency to the effort to collect as many testimonies as possible – now.

At one point Frank put a video clip on his computer’s screen. A Belgian woman began to speak. She was attractive, probably in her fifties when the interview had taken place 30 or so years ago. As the camera locked in she told a chilling tale of her childhood.

The Gestapo had come to her town. As a Jew she and her family were their target.

I told Frank to stop the clip as she described the last time she’d seen her father. It was too sad, too emotionally taxing. It was impossible not to be touched deeply.

Frank is transferring analog video cassettes to a variety of digital formats simultaneously. The interviews are being carefully preserved as you’d expect in the research oriented atmosphere that is Yale. It’s all cataloged and documented in excruciating detail. The videos are worthless if their stories can’t later found later.

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy my trips on campus. This was no different. Sterling Library is exactly what you’d expect an Ivy League library to be.

I could explain, but this is one of those things better left to pictures.

7 thoughts on “In A Basement At Yale”

  1. I am sure it was emotionally draining, Geoff. Thank you to Mr. Clifford and to Yale for preserving a very important piece of world history.

  2. It is so important to keep these videos and audio memories. The type of media changes every couple of years to the next best thing. It’s hard to keep up at my house with the ol’ reel to reel tapes I have of family memories. I can imagine what Yale must be going through.

  3. What an incredible job Mr. Clifford has. It must be emotionally draining for him on a daily basis to listen to what the survivors endured but at the same time being a witness to the actual stories of survival, courage and fortitude must be uplifting. It’s a great thing Yale is doing to make sure their stories aren’t lost.

  4. I’ve always been leery of digital “archiving”. Digital formats require a piece of software which knows the 1’s and 0’s. There are already many editor/WP files which are effectively worthless, mostly from the late 70’s and early PC-era 80’s. Archival quality film is a better bet. Video files are even worse. At least with text, plain ASCII (or, if mainframe, EBCDIC) is decipherable even when their charts disappear from human history (they’re simple substitution ciphers).

  5. As the project manager, I too am leery of digital archiving, however, we are trying to make the project accessible, and due to the sheer volume of it (over 14,000 videotapes) we are making 3 different video formats. The “master file” is over 40gb in size. We are also storing metadata and technical data that describes the codec used, the software of the encoder is stored, and we are using several methods of checksums to make sure the digits stay in the correct order and format. The files are being stored on LTO-5 tape, not spinning disc.
    The cost to convert these tapes to film would be astronomical, and the storage would be huge.
    I agree, that we live in an analog world, however, we have consulted with the Library of Congress, as well as many other institutions around the world, looking for the best way to preserve the spoken words and images of the survivors of such horrendous tragedy. We are also, preserving the video tapes and it is amazing to see such clear pictures from videtapes of the 70’s and 80’s.
    Thanks to all for the compliments and words of encouragement. It is an honor to be a part of this project.

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