Going Digital: An Interview with NYAM's Paul Theerman and NYPR's Andy Lanset

by Davis Erin Anderson, Community Engagement Manager, METRO

METRO's Digitization Grant program has helped dozens of METRO members create digital collections containing the treasures held in their libraries and archives. While we are gearing up for the 2015/16 cycle of METRO grants with a pair of workshops with Tom Clareson from LYRASIS, we thought we'd chat with previous recipients to learn more about how their projects came to be.

Up first: Paul Theerman from the New York Academy of Medicine and Andy Lanset from New York Public Radio. Together, these two spearheaded a collaborative project called The NYAM Lectures: Medical Talks by Eminent Speakers. They went on to present their project at METRO's 2015 conference; their slides can be found on the conference site.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with our readers! Your project is a collaborative effort between the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) and New York Public Radio (NYPR). Can you tell us how your partnership came to be?

Paul Theerman, NYAM: I was (and I still am) relatively new to New York, having joined the New York Academy of Medicine’s Center for History/Library in May 2013. One of my challenges was to revitalize the digitization efforts here at NYAM, and I heard from my colleagues here about the lectures and the donation of the discs to the NYPR.

I had also learned about the METRO Digitization Grants, as many of my colleagues in historical medical archives had successfully applied in the past, as had NYAM. NYPR contacted NYAM about this program, and given the content, the technical needs, and the grant size, it seemed a good fit to do a joint project.

20150226_NYAMNYPR_Mead.jpgPlease share a little bit about the process of transferring audio files from the original original lacquer discs to a digital medium. What tools and workflows did you employ?

Andy Lanset, NYPR: We start with a little cleaning. The disc is placed on an old transcription turntable platter for initial cleaning with a commercial solution made by a chemist in Missouri especially for lacquer discs with stearic and palmetic acid deposits. While we do that, we assess the recording itself. There is usually more than one per program since each 16” lacquer transcription disc has approximately 14 to 15 minutes per full side.

Then disc is then placed on transcription turntable and the engineer goes about selecting the right size stylus and then selects a playback equalization (the balance between high and low frequencies) curve that is as close to the original curve as possible. The disc side is transferred/played with the turntable output feeding the turntable pre-amp with the selected equalization curve. The output is fed to an analog-to-digital converter which in turn goes into a computer sound card to the chosen software where the WAV file is produced.

Each disc side produces a file that then needs to be properly time sequenced and made into a single BWF (Broadcast Wave File). A separate BWF is moved into a conversion folder in the digital asset system so that an MP3 is generated and sent to web site’s content management system for the web presentation.

The original lacquer discs are then placed in a properly labeled clean acid-free paper sleeves and sent back to the temperature/humidity-controlled storage room.

Looking through your collection of digitized audio recordings, I see that you've preserved a few gems. When working with these files, did any lecture in particular strike you as a must-listen?

Andy: The must-listen items for me are Norbert Wiener and the symposium on communist brainwashing.

Paul: For me, Margaret Mead was a voice that I wanted to hear. Leona Baumgartner was a force for public health in New York. Also, more directed to my position and professional background, some of these speakers are significant founders of the history of medicine and central in the history of NYAM. It’s fascinating to hear voices of people you’ve read and read about! The names that come to mind are Lynn Thorndike, Owsei Temkin, and Iago Galdston.

If you're interested in applying for one of METRO's Digitization Grants, we recommend checking out a pair of events led by LYRASIS's Tom Clareson: Grant Writing for Digital Projects on Monday, March 23, 2015 and Evaluating Digital Projects on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

More information about our 2015/16 Digitization Grants will be announced in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!


The photo of Margaret Mead above comes courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection via Wikimedia Commons.