Meet the Departments: Information Technology Services

Thu, 11/12/2015 - 5:00pm

This is the first story in the “Meet the Departments” series. Each story will focus on a different department at USC Shoah Foundation: outlining its responsibilities, introducing its staff and describing how its work fits into the overall mission of the Institute.











L-R: Top row: Remington Dewan (purple shirt), Michael Russell, Zachary Goode, Shiraz Bhathena, Doug Ballman; Third row: Ryan Fenton-Strauss, Anita Pace, Sam Gustman, Jay Kulsh; Second row: Richard Starr (black shirt), Mills Chang, Sandhya Moodur, Kathy Guyton, Sandra Aguilar; Front row: Andrea Reese, Consolee Uwamariya, Toan Nguyen; Not pictured: Daryn Eller, Linda Swenson, Georgiana Gomez, Hoan Tran

The camera has been turned off, the interviewer has gone home and the survivor has finished telling the story of her life before, during and after genocide. But the life of the testimony is just beginning.

USC Shoah Foundation’s Information Technology Services (ITS) department employs one of the most complex and detailed digitization and archiving systems in the world to incorporate testimony into the Visual History Archive.

Its streamlined process of bringing testimony into the Visual History Archive has become even more important as USC Shoah Foundation begins to integrate large quantities of testimonies collected by other organizations. These collections include Armenian Genocide testimonies through its partnership with the Armenian Film Foundation and with Holocaust institutions around the world through the Preserving the Legacy initiative.

The “life” of each testimony begins when the physical tape is delivered to the ITS office at the University of Southern California. The tapes may actually exist in any one of several different formats, such as VHS, DVD, BetaCam SP, Umatic, P2Card or other digital formats. Each testimony is assigned an identifying barcode that will match it with any other materials that accompany the testimony throughout the integration process, such as biographical information and pre-interview questionnaire. 

As the workflow continues more metadata is attached to the file, both technical and descriptive. ITS staff involved in this workflow process includes Sandra Aguliar, Daryn Eller, Consolee Uwamariya, Zach Goode and Remington Dewan.   The workflow management system program has been developed by Mills Chang, Ryan Fenton- Strauss, Linda Swenson and Richard Starr. 

The tapes are then converted into a variety of digital formats using ITS’s powerful “tape robots.” The robots convert each testimony into JPEG2000 (preservation), MPEG-2 (mezzanine), HTML5 (proxy) formats, which ensures the testimony will be able to be viewed across a range of media and technology. Some testimonies may come to USC Shoah Foundation already digitized; these files are also ingested into the robots and converted into the various formats.  The ITS staff who supports the robots and other systems is Toan Nguyen and Jay Kulsh.

The next step is quality control. ITS staff and student interns review the video files and their metadata and look for any errors. If there are major visual or audio problems in a testimony, it will be restored using cutting-edge restoration techniques. ITS staff who supervises this is process is Shiraz Bhathena.

Testimonies are stored in the local cache and the cloud for global access.  Finally, the digitized testimonies are ready to be indexed and catalogued. Indexing staff, trained in history, languages and library science, watch each testimony and assign keywords to each minute using the ITS USC Shoah Foundation’s indexing software.  ITS staff who developed and maintains the indexing software is Michael Russell.

Once indexing is complete, the testimonies are published to the Visual History Archive, where all visitors can watch and search them using the archive’s thesaurus of 63,386 keywords. ITS staff also maintain an online access website to support access for the family members of the survivors and documentary filmmakers. The ITS staff who have developed and support this system are Georgiana Gomez, Kathy Guyton, Andrea Reese and Sandhya Moodur.

Our websites include the Visual History Archive for full access at 52 universities worldwide, VHA Online public website with 1,500 testimonies and all the metadata, IWitness using 1500 testimonies for middle to high school Education.   ITS staff who support the university access is Doug Ballman.

Support of the entire staff and the testimony workflow process managing day to day is Anita Pace, ITS Director of Technology. The Chief Technology Officer for USC Shoah Foundation is Sam Gustman.  

From delivery to indexing to going live in the Visual History Archive, the process of integration can last several months to a year. But once the testimonies are in the archive, they are guaranteed to be preserved and accessible in perpetuity. Through the personal stories of survivors and witnesses, students, scholars and people all over the world will learn the causes and consequences of genocide and the importance of tolerance.