Access Historic Audio and Video Programs: AAPB Launches Online Reading Room

The following is a guest post by Karen Cariani, AAPB Project Director and Director WGBH Media Library and Archive, Alan Gevinson, AAPB Project Director and Special Assistant to the Packard Campus Chief, and Casey Davis, Project Manager, American Archive of Public Broadcasting, WGBH Educational Foundation.

The American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) Project Team at WGBH and the Library of Congress is pleased to announce the launch of the AAPB Online Reading Room, providing access to nearly 7,000 digitized audio and video programs dating from the late 1940s through the present.


The AAPB, a collaboration between WGBH Educational Foundation and the Library of Congress, seeks to preserve and make accessible significant historical content created by public media, and to coordinate a national effort to save at-risk public media before its content is lost to posterity.

In December 2014, the AAPB completed overseeing the digitization of nearly 40,000 hours of audio and video materials contributed by more than 100 public broadcasting stations and archives across the country. This extraordinary collection includes national, regional, and local news and public affairs programs, productions documenting the heritage of local communities, and programs on education, environmental issues, music, art, literature, dance, poetry, religion, and even local filmmaking. Staff at the Library’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center are currently ingesting files of these programs into the digital archive of the Packard Campus Data Center in Culpeper, VA for permanent preservation.

In April 2015, WGBH and the Library soft-launched the AAPB website at, providing access to 2.5 million inventory records gathered prior to the digitization project. These records document public media materials at 120 stations nationwide. Over the past year, AAPB staff have worked on cataloging and navigating copyright issues to ensure discoverability and access to the collection. Using an approach that the team calls “Minimum Viable Cataloging (MVC),” interns from the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science have been trained to spend 15 minutes per title reviewing credits, writing short descriptions, and adding dates, titles, creators, contributors, genres, topics, and copyright information to records supplied by the stations. Following this model, the entire current AAPB digitized collection will be cataloged in 6 years at most; AAPB staff have calculated that more detailed cataloging could take more than 30 years.

The AAPB project team (l-r): Alan Gevinson, Casey Davis, and Karen Cariani. Credit: Alan Gevinson

The AAPB project team (l-r): Alan Gevinson, Casey Davis, and Karen Cariani. Credit: Alan Gevinson

At the same time, the Project Team has worked closely with legal counsel from WGBH and the Library, as well as representatives from the Cyberlaw Clinic and Fellows community at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society to identify rights-related issues and solutions with the goal of making as much of the collection as accessible as possible for research, educational, and informational purposes.

While users have already begun to access the entire collection on location at WGBH and the Library, this week marks the launch of free online access to thousands of programs in the AAPB Online Reading Room. The initial launch includes access to nearly 7,000 items, and as cataloging continues; this number will steadily increase.

Among the historic recordings available in the collection are:

Screenshot from a rare interview produced for American television audiences with Simone de Beauvoir (WNED, Buffalo).

Screenshot from a rare interview produced for American television audiences with Simone de Beauvoir (WNED, Buffalo).

In addition to the inauguration of the Online Reading Room, the AAPB also has launched three curated exhibitions featuring items of topical and historical significance:

The AAPB plans to continue adding curated exhibitions in the archive to improve access and increase use of the collection by educators and students.

The AAPB is currently expanding its efforts with three exciting, forward-looking projects: the National Educational Television (NET) Collection Catalog Project, funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR); the National Digital Stewardship Residency Project, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS); and Improving Access to Time-Based Media through Crowdsourcing and Machine Learning, also funded by IMLS.

Please feel free to get in touch with us with any questions, suggestions, and comments on your experience using the Online Reading Room and exploring the exhibitions and collection!

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