Posted by: Through the Eyes of Women | December 20, 2010

December 20th 2010 Host Corinne Frugoni interviews Community Media Specialist Nan Rubin

Nan Rubin has been a radio producer for thirty years. Her expertise is in operations and station planning for public radio and T.V. stations. During college, she became interested in “guerilla” radio and later developed community and minority owned radio stations. She likes the ‘quick and dirty’ aspect of radio broadcasting – the relatively low cost of radio equipment enables broad public access to both listening to and producing for the medium.

Nan started community radio stations in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Denver, Colorado (bilingual). She worked for the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, an organization involved with grassroots radio stations. She currently works at Channel 13 in New York as the Project Director of Preserving Digital Public Television, a project to design a long-term preservation repository for digital television, funded by the Library of Congress.

Digital Preservation Pioneer: Nan Rubin

Since its start in 2005, the NDIIPP Preserving Digital Public Television Project has made significant progress in building infrastructure, creating standards and obtaining resources, and much of the credit goes to its project director, Nan Rubin.

Rubin has a warm smile and a straight-shooting New Yorker demeanor. She has been a social activist since her teenage years and is accustomed to fighting for causes, especially empowering under-represented people through broadcast media. “I’ve really focused on trying to expand people’s voices using the media that’s been available,” Rubin said. She started community radio stations in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Denver, Colo., and has been a radio producer for 30 years.

Her work eventually led her to public television station Thirteen/WNET New York. A project to move the station’s 60,000 videotapes resulted in creating an archive for the station, which was a revelation for Rubin. “I realized how important it was to community groups to save their legacy and put it online and make it available to people in new ways,” she said. Her passion for preservation extends to other projects in addition to her full-time work with Thirteen: she is also helping a large network of bilingual public radio stations in California develop an archive project to make 20 years of news programs available on-line.

Rubin is a driving force in working with the Library of Congress to preserve public television digital program content. Her NDIIPP project focuses on creating a consistent approach to digital curation among stations that produce national programming for PBS. In addition to Thirteen, there are three other partners in the project: PBS; WGBH in Boston; and New York University.

Rubin says that this collaboration has resulted in important benefits. NYU, for example, has provided critical digital-preservation expertise. “They have a graduate program in moving-image preservation that Howard Besser started,” she said. “So not only do they have a technical side for building a digital repository, expertise that doesn’t exist within public television, but they also have the resource of students and research assistants that we’d never have on our own.”

The project has produced new tools and improved practices. “We’ve chosen a set of metadata schema that includes four elements: PBCore (a standard developed by and for public media organizations), METS rights, MODS and PREMIS.” Rubin has also facilitated several successful data transfer tests with the Library, and is working to develop transfer tools.

The success of the project is also being watched closely in Europe, where they see the NDIIPP repository as a valuable model for approaching preservation of digital video. “We didn’t expect to be at the leading edge of solving these problems,” she said, “but we’re glad to share our experience with and learn from colleagues abroad. Digital sustainability is way too big a task for any single organization to take on alone.”

In addition to the NDIIPP project, Rubin is involved with efforts to send copies of nationally distributed programs to the Library for copyright deposit purposes and long-term storage.

In the Library’s 2005 interview with Rubin and her 2006 Library Web cast, she recounted the history of the relationship between PBS and the Library. She also has impressive knowledge about the evolution of video formats and metadata requirements for storing and retrieving program content.

The goal is ultimately for PBS and other national content to arrive in digital form at the Library’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, a bunker turned state-of-the-art repository embedded into a lush Virginia hilltop overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. There the content will be preserved on servers and data tapes. This goal is a key element of the American Archive, a new national initiative which will support digital archiving and access for public television and radio programs nationwide.

Rubin has high hopes for the American Archive but she is concerned about getting equal representation for all public broadcasters. “WGBH and Thirteen create 60 percent of the national programming seen on public television, but the American Archive has to include small stations as well as independent and minority producers in both television and radio,” she said. “I consider it a really important to represent those community producers. And they’re not going to be brought to the table unless they have advocates. It’s not just Great Performances and Nova that need to be preserved; it includes these all these other parts of public broadcasting – local stations, independent and small producers, who represent the heart of our rich collective program sources. All of these need to be part of the planning for preservation.”

Many stations are still unsure about what to do with their programs for the long term and Rubin promotes the American Archive as a solution. She is frank about the many challenges that must be addressed, and knows that it will take time and effort to bring about change. But Rubin also has faith that the public-broadcasting world will recognize the achievements of the NDIIPP Preserving Digital Public Television Project and will elevate digital preservation as a priority. “We need to demonstrate how it’s really important to production, to be able to get your stuff later, and that it can be integrated without being overly burdensome or unmanageably expensive,” Rubin said. “We’re working on that now.”

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