Virtual Writing University Archive Highlights Previously Hidden Material

Virtual Writing University Archive Highlights Previously Hidden Material

SLIS student Ryan Strempke-Durgin’s work with the Virtual Writing University (VWU) digital archive has helped him realize how much is involved in digitizing library materials—particularly audio files.

Strempke-Durgin has a graduate assistantship working to digitize audio material for the Virtual VWU archive, which is a digital collection of readings and interviews from several University of Iowa and Iowa City organizations including the International Writing Program (IWP), the Writers’ Workshop, Nonfiction Now, and Live from Prairie Lights.

“This means more than just dropping a file into a folder,” he said. “It requires creating metadata so the records are accessible and searchable, as well as a good deal of organizing and writing descriptions.”

“Before being added to the library’s digital content, many of the recordings were sitting in boxes decomposing,” he said. “Now anyone can go to the library website find some very interesting interviews with great writers from around the world.”

Strempke-Durgin said the digital collection also brings together several well-known writing projects and helps facilitate interdisciplinary study.

“I’ve learned that putting together a collection like this takes an entire team and a lot of patience,” he said.

Right now, there is a backlog of items dating back to the 1970s. Many of the organizations still produce new material that will be added by UI librarians once the backlog has been uploaded.

Strempke-Durgin started with the Iowa writing community by maintaining the Writing University website over the summer. Now, he adds content to the VWU archive. This includes digitizing old audiocassettes and listening to or watching recordings in order to create metadata to be entered into a content management system.

One of the specific challenges he faces is dealing with author names from many different heritages. Special characters can be added to the system, but a user may not take the time to add a special character in the search. The user will end up with zero results, even if that author has done a reading at Iowa.

Since Fall 2010, Strempke-Durgin has added more than 300 readings to the archive. He said many authors have amazing life stories and anecdotes that often come out in the readings on VWU.

To get a feel for what is in the archive, Strempke-Durgin recommends checking out the Iowa Review reading from 1999. Several faculty members read works from former International Writing Program residents.

Strempke-Durgin also recommends an interview with Josh Raskin, a filmmaker nominated for an Academy Award for his animated film of a young man’s historic interview with John Lennon. Raskin talks about the young man’s story and what goes into making his films.

Strempke-Durgin hopes to work in a liberal arts or community college library after graduation in May. Currently, he is also doing a practicum with Kirkwood Community College’s library in Cedar Rapids. He has also helped in the Preservation Department at the University of Iowa Main Library.

Other SLIS students who are, or have been, involved with the VWU archive include Melody Dworak, Pete Balestrieri and Elizabeth Holdsworth.