Access Qualities

October 16, 2009

The Library of Congress has recently posted a number of silent animations to their YouTube channel. I like how you can “see the strings” so to speak (how the animation was done) on this film based on a comic strip by Pop Mormand… but it was cute, too:

This isn’t a dis on the LOC (you have to work with the source material you get, and these are just access copies), but the quality of the sources and resulting transfers and then compressions to a YouTube level format is variable. There’s flickering, light issues, and just some overall poor image quality. Plus I sat and watched them on my laptop while drinking my morning coffe. All in all it wasn’t exactly the pristine cinematic experience.

But there’s a part of me that says that’s all right. I grew up in small Oregon logging town. There was one library within a 60 mile radius, and if it was closed you were out of luck for doing research. There were a few movie theatres (and even a drive-in!), but the edgiest fare we got was something like a double feature of Big Top PeeWee and Short Circuit 2. And that was the county capitol, so there were people who had even less access to these things.

And access is what it comes down to. One of the things that drove me into the field of archiving and preservation was this strong feeling that all people deserve equal access to information, culture, and education. Impossible? Maybe. Can I do something to increase access just a little bit more? Yes. Maintaining preservation standards and striving for archival ideals are important, but creating access to materials is the parallel mission.

I didn’t experience these animations to their fullest, but now I know they exist and I have the desire to see better versions of them, let other people know they exist, and support their further preservation. I also learned a little something about film history and animation. And, ultimately, they made me smile and laugh. Even at this remove from the originals, they brought a little joy to my morning, and I’m grateful to the Library of Congress for making them available.

— Joshua Ranger