NRPF grant awarded to digitize ISU lectures

Dec 17, 2020

Iowa State University has received $15,000 in grant funding from the National Recording Preservation Foundation (NRPF) to digitize 991 audio recordings of University Lectures.

“We are once again proud to help preserve audio recordings in a broad variety of areas by partnering with the country’s most effective archives, not-for-profit media outlets, libraries and foundations,” says NRPF Executive Director Gerald Seligman. “For this series of grants, we sought to support projects in broadcast, music, journalism and spoken word, all the areas of our concentration.”

The ISU Special Collections and University Archives will utilize the NRPF funds to outsource the digitization of 259 reel-to-reel audiotapes and 732 audiocassettes to Preserve South. The ISU Library will match the funds received to outsource captioning to, create metadata and provide open access to the digitized files. To aid in discoverability and accessibility, copies will be added to the Special Collections and University Archives YouTube channel. Items will be added into the ISU Library’s digital collections platform, as well as Aviary for full-text searching and syncing of captions.

The chosen selection spans the 1970s to the 1990s and nominated for numerous reasons: their high cultural, historical, and aesthetic value; the endangered nature of magnetic media, lack of access options for this medium, high research value and demand for the selection; and the ability to share them freely and publicly.

“We were impressed by the sheer range of speakers and subjects from the series, a veritable cross-section of culture, politics, the arts and sciences,” says NRPF Executive Director, Gerald Seligman. “Just a short list of some key names will give you an idea of the value of preserving the lectures: Robert Hollinger, Salvadore Allende, Judith Crist, N. Scott Momaday, Seymour Hersh, Ntozake Shange, Frances Fox Piven, Ramsey Clark, Denise Levertov, Maynard Jackson, Angela Davis, Benjamin Spock… the list goes on: Virgil Thompson, Czeslaw Milosz, Barbara Ehrenreich, Arthur Miller – and so many more.”

The Lecture Series consists of over 3,000 audiovisual recordings in a multitude of formats dating back to 1958. The Lecture Series has brought to the ISU campus a broad spectrum of talks: political debates; academic forums; and cultural events, including musical performances, art and dance programs, and films. In addition, since 1966, ISU has hosted annual series devoted to national affairs and world affairs. Notable speakers include: Martin Luther King, Jr., Andy Warhol, Arthur Miller, Maya Angelou, Julian Bond, Cesar Chavez, Angela Davis, Judy Chicago, Sally Ride, Nikki Giovanni, Howard Zinn, Barack Obama, Gloria Steinem, Roxanne Gay, and many others.

The focus of the lectures is to appeal to the student population and present topics and issues which may not necessarily be in the mainstream but broaden their awareness. Many of the lectures selected for digitization address topics that our country is grappling with today, namely, race, gender, and sexuality. In selecting the materials, we join calls across the country to center and magnify these voices and movements, and to affirm ISU’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

This collection is a high priority for research and preservation, and staff have begun the process to migrate legacy at-risk formats in the Lectures Series. Thanks to support from the Lennox Foundation, the ISU Library migrated 1000+ optical disc from 2018-19. In addition, 290 audiocassettes and reel-to reel tapes were digitized based on external requests and available funding. Approximately 1,240 recordings have yet to be completed.

As a land grant institution, Iowa State supports the mission to share knowledge beyond the campus borders. Adhering to this mission requires a further commitment to digital accessibility and the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to, digital content by people with disabilities. By providing accurate captions for lectures, including online delivery that syncs searchable captions and audio, we expand access to this content for all online users in accordance with WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility guidelines.

Read the NRPF press release.

Read the Cardinal Tales blog post about the NRPF award.


Daniel Hartwig, University Library Special Collections and University Archives head

Rosie Rowe, University Library AV and Film Preservation Specialist