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Networking Moving Images
The BFI/BUFVC/JISC Imagination/Universities Network Pilot project
A University of Glasgow consortium led by the Performing Arts Data Service was chosen at the end of last year as one of two pilot sites for an exciting new project to develop the delivery of moving images to academic institutions via networks.
The short-term aim of the project, which was initiated by the British Universities Film & Video Council (BUFVC) in partnership with the British Film Institute (BFI) and the Joint Information Systems Information Committee (JISC) is to test both the technical and pedagogical viability of networked delivery of moving pictures to universities. Over the longer term, it may be the opening activity in a radical new network service for UK higher education.
Now at roughly the half-way stage in the project, at the University of Glasgow we have collections of digitised moving images and related textual resources mounted on servers ready to be accessed by lecturers and students in the forthcoming academic year. These resources will be available to users via a secure web gateway, with moving images streamed to individual workstations, computer labs and lecture rooms in the university. Of particular interest to film and TV studies academics are the collections of resources on Hitchcock's Blackmail (including substantial extracts from both the sound and silent versions of the film for comparison, a BBC documentary and a number of related textual resources) and a collection of archive British TV of the 1950s and '60s.
Fig. 1. British television of the 1960s accessible via the Networked Moving Images Project
The project was initiated by the BUFVC and the BFI in partnership with the JISC. The BUFVC had long been interested in the possibility of establishing a network-delivered service in the UK to provide greater access to moving pictures in all subject disciplines. Similarly, the BFI had been considering how to improve access to its collections; the National Film and Television Archive (NFTVA) of the BFI is the UK's largest national collection, holding more than 300,000 items but with just a few viewing booths in central London. A system for viewing access would be essential in opening up the collection for wider use, and the coming together of the BUFVC, BFI and JISC (as the agency responsible for the development of the UK's academic networking infrastructure), was a logical step.
Last summer, as the first stage in the project, the BUFVC brought together groups of subject specialists from three different academic subject areas (film studies, medicine and social history) to select 10 hours of moving image content relevant to their disciplines mostly sourced from the NFTVA. Towards the end of last year two university pilot sites (The University of Glasgow and the South Wales MAN) were chosen to run the pilot with this content and an overall project manager (Greg Newton-Ingham of the University of East Anglia) was appointed. Pilot sites had to meet some very tough demands to compete for this project in terms of the ability to provide powerful computing resources, excellent networking infrastructure, as well as expertise in the scholarly and pedagogical applications of electronic resources. The PADS/University of Glasgow consortium was well-placed to fulfil these criteria: the University carries out teaching and research in all three discipline areas (and, of course, the PADS has a particular interest in film and TV studies), the consortium has substantial technical expertise and experience in networking and massive data handling, and it has access to an excellent local and remote networking infrastructure.
Some revisions had to be made to the initial content selected by the groups of subject specialists, either because of difficulties over obtaining copyright permission or some concerns about the suitability of materials for use in clinical teaching. The film and TV material has been sourced from the NFTVA, but other sources, including both pilot sites have also contributed to the other areas.
As mentioned above, film studies content has focussed on Hitchcock's Blackmail: we have lengthy excerpts of both the sound and silent versions of the film, a transcription of the dialogue script, a BBC documentary on Hitchcock and, in addition, several text resources including early reviews, interviews with Hitchcock and extracts from monographs. One of the benefits of the digital environment is the opportunity it affords to link and reference a variety of different resources such as text, stills or illustrations alongside the moving pictures, thus creating a potentially very rich multimedia resource.
The content chosen for social history, mainly in the area of 1950s and 1960s British television, is also of direct interest to TV and media studies academics. Here we have materials ranging from current affairs (e.g. coverage of the Suez crisis) to documentaries (e.g. the classic Morning in the Streets), popular drama such as episodes of Emergency Ward 10 and Dixon of Dock Green and light entertainment - two episodes of the quiz show Double Your Money including the very first episode from 1955, and some vintage Steptoe & Son. Again, many of these materials are supported by scripts or text such as chapters from BFI publications on early TV.
At the start of the project, the PADS already had some practical experience of using the Dublin Core metadata set for non-text resources and we have been able to broaden this experience through the project. Working in collaboration the PADS, researchers from the NFTVA supplied metadata for the project in Dublin Core-compliant form, sourced from the archive's SIFT database. Using a resource-discovery standard such as the Dublin Core means that these materials could, in future, be located by users via a remote web gateway such as that provided by the Arts and Humanities Data Service. For the purposes of the pilot (due to copyright restrictions on the metadata itself) the metadata is only searchable by licensed users on the PADS web gateway. We have found that the basic Dublin Core fields are adequate to describe these resources, but some of the fields have been extended. For example, our Dublin Core 'Creator' field includes the kind of detailed cast and credits listings that film cataloguers would recognise. The 'Source' field includes information about the original resource such as its SIFT catalogue reference, the original medium (for example, '16 mm combined positive print, black & white') and the medium from which the digitised version was made.
Once cleared for copyright, the moving image material is transferred onto Beta SP for digitisation by the Manchester Visualisation Centre at the University of Manchester. From there it is forwarded to the client sites (in MPEG1 format to Glasgow and AVI format to the South Wales MAN). The two sites have contrasting technical set-ups and delivery aims: the South Wales MAN site is using Intel-based servers with Microsoft NetTheatre and NetShow software and is concentrating on delivery to a number of remote institutions on the MAN. The University of Glasgow is focussing on campus-wide delivery, but comparing two methods of storing and managing data: from the PADS SGI servers (using MediaBase and HyperWave) and from the Revelation project's SUN servers.
We have tried to design the web interface to make access to the materials as easy as possible for users. After logging into the PADS Hyperwave Information Server with a secure password, users can search or browse the various collections, then simply click on a hyperlink to play the moving image resource of their choice which streams from the MediaBase media server.
HyperWave, the PADS information gateway system, enables users to employ a number of searching strategies (from simple searches on full text content or specific metadata attributes to more specialised filters) and to have results displayed in different ways, including graphical representations of the structure of the information. Users simply click on hyperlinks in the search results to play the movies via the MediaBase player. If browsing (and we imagine that most new users will want to browse the material first), again there are a number of choices. Titles have been classified into 5 main collections (including a Hitchcock collection, TV of the 1950s, light entertainment of the 1950s and '60s etc.) and in addition a full alphabetical list by title is available. In browsing mode, users are given a subset of the Dublin Core metadata attributes to help them make their choice (including a brief description, date and link to related resources). They can also choose to access the full descriptive metadata for each item.
So far, demonstrations of the materials have resulted in some very favourable comments, for example at the July Screen Studies conference and the recent Digital Resources in the Humanities conference in Glasgow. The real test, of course, is when materials are used in earnest in teaching situations and we are looking forward to feedback from teachers and students during this academic year. The project's final report will be available early in 1999; until then further information about the Glasgow pilot site is available from the author or from the PADS web site (http://www.pads.ahds.ac.uk/padsR&DCollection) and about the project as a whole from the Project manager, Greg Newton-Ingham (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Performing Arts Data Service, http://www.pads.ahds.ac.uk, or http://www.pads.ahds.ac.uk/padsR&DCollection for specific information about this project.
British Universities Film & Video Council, http://www.bufvc.ac.uk.
British Film Institute, http://www.bfi.org.uk.
Joint Information Systems Information Committee, http://www.jisc.ac.uk.
Arts and Humanities Data Service, http://www.ahds.ac.uk.
Revelation Project, http://www.revelation.gla.ac.uk.
[Table of Contents] [Letter to the Editor]
Computers & Texts 16/17 (1998). Not to be republished in any
form without the author's permission.
HTML Author: Michael Fraser
Document Created: 22 December 1998
Document Modified: 11 April 1999
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