Autumn is quickly sliding into winter, and we at Special Collections and University Archives are hunkering down, already reminiscing about summer days spent in the sunshine. For coping with quarantine, Maryland Public Televison’s (MPT) program On Nature’s Trail is a true delight. University of Maryland (UMD) alumni Jean and Elmer Worthley take viewers on an exploratory trip into the woods. Jean, the author of The Complete Family Nature Guide, studied human development and childhood studies at UMD, and was the host of the beloved MPT children’s show Hodgepodge Lodge. A noted botanist who received his PhD from UMD, Elmer grew plant specimens under the sponsorship of the UMD School of Pharmacy. These two approach nature with a conversational tone reminiscent of a science class field trip. Each one of On Nature’s Trail’s 26 episodes focuses on a specific environment or landscape, from summertime woods to railroad tracks and hedgerows.Continue reading
The Mass Media and Culture unit in Special Collections and University Archives holds a wide range of collections documenting U.S. television and radio broadcasting history, including the Maryland Public Television (MPT) collection. In celebration of the University Libraries’ extended “Year of MPT” celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary, we just published our finding aid for the MPT records! This finding aid is an invaluable resource for our campus community and for the public to learn about this unique and vital collection documenting the history of Maryland’s only state-wide public television broadcaster.
While the library is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, explore the finding aid from home. There is something for everyone in the 3,920 itemized videos (including over 700 with links to digitized content) and the 47 boxes of print records and photographs:
Behind the scenes: What’s in the finding aid?
The finding aid is a guide to the entire Maryland Public Television collection, including print records, photographs, and recordings on open-reel film, Betacam, U-Matic, and VHS tapes. The print records include administrative records, correspondence, memos, program guides, promotional materials, publications, marketing and development plans, newspaper clippings, budgets, and reports. The thousands of videos represented in the MPT finding aid document the breadth and depth of MPT’s broadcast programs, primarily from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s but dating as late as 2013.
This most recent phase of documenting the MPT collection began in January 2019 in anticipation of last fall’s exhibit opening, Made Possible by Viewers Like You: Maryland Public Television Turns 50. Processing Archivist Jen Wachtel spearheaded the inventory and finding aid project. Although previous archivists documented portions of the collection, Jen started from scratch with the audiovisual inventory so that we would have an up-to-date and accurate record. An important milestone for Special Collections in working with large audiovisual collections, the publication of this finding aid also reflects an enormous effort on the part of many other people from MMC including graduate student assistant Emily Moore, past graduate assistant student Liz Holdzkom, and Curator Laura Schnikter.
Of course, documenting thousands of videotapes takes time, as does ensuring the accuracy of the metadata (the detailed information in a library catalog record). Proceeding shelf by shelf throughout 2019, the team updated and refined the inventory. Just as they neared the last few stacks of videotapes in early 2020, the University Libraries shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Working remotely with the pre-pandemic inventory, Jen Wachtel and Archival Metadata Librarian Liz Caringola experimented with workflows for reconciling large amounts of data across multiple inventory spreadsheets and linked digitized videos to the corresponding items on the inventory. In the meantime, Jen Wachtel created descriptions about the print and audiovisual series so that public viewers would be able to navigate all components of the collection. For example, although the physical videotapes and film reels are not necessarily shelved by program title, for the sake of discoverability, each item is arranged alphabetically by MPT program title in the finding aid.
We are so excited to share this public broadcasting collection, made possible by viewers like you!
Jen Wachtel is the Mass Media and Culture and Processing Archivist and Special Collections Engagement Specialist at the University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives. She is also a graduate student in the History and Library Science (HiLS) dual master’s program and Museum Scholarship and Material Culture graduate certificate program at the University of Maryland, concentrating in modern European history and archives and digital curation.
For fans of libraries and archives who harbor a special place in their hearts for Maryland history, Maryland Public Television’s Chesapeake Bay Collectibles is a treasure trove! A Mid-Atlantic version of Antiques Roadshow, Chesapeake Bay Collectibles is a great starting point to explore the best of our region’s history. This 2011 episode features a couple of antiques specific to Baltimore, embodying some colorful parts of its fascinating past.
First up is a relic from the infamous Great Baltimore Fire, which ripped through the city in February of 1904. A stack of melted eyeglasses, grabbed by the owner’s grandfather, bears witness to the destruction of the blaze.
Over the course of two days, the fire, which started in a dry goods store, decimated the downtown areas around Camden and the Inner Harbor. Baltimore’s narrow streets accelerated the spread, resulting in a towering blaze that could be seen as far away as Washington, D.C. Aid from the Capitol proved to be useless as the couplings for the fire trucks did not fit the hydrants in Baltimore. Eventually, firefighters from Philadelphia and Delaware would join the battle. A February 7, 1904 issue of the Sun Metrogravure, the Baltimore Sun’s weekly pictorial magazine, covered the destruction, and can be requested here in our special collections.
Next we’ve got the Betsy Patterson music box, a beautiful piece named after a woman commonly referred to as “The Belle of Baltimore”. The daughter of an Irish immigrant who eventually became the second richest man in Baltimore, Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson was beloved for her grit and risque fashion. Perhaps most famous for her short-lived marriage to the younger brother of Napoleon I, Patterson enjoyed a brief stint in Europe during which she was forbidden from touching French soil. A number of tomes celebrate Patterson as the heroine of Baltimore, including Glorious Betsy, being the romantic story of the Dixie belle who defied Napoleon, by Arline De Haas and Rida Johnson Young, currently available in UMD’s collection in the Maryland Room.
For more on Patterson, check out the Traveler’s Narratives series of the Maryland Manuscripts collection, which includes William Pickney’s account of her Atlantic journey in 1804.
While we at Hornbake Library have finished celebrating MPT’s 50th anniversary, our digital archives of their offerings continue to entertain and educate viewers of all stripes. Chesapeake Bay Collectibles is a great jumping off point for exploring the rest of our digital collections – a treasure hunt that you can do from your couch! Matching items from the show with resources in our collections demonstrates the web-like nature of our holdings: each object speaks to another! From rare books to antique maps, UMD’s special collections build out the context around each object and provide the opportunity for creativity in search. It’s a great reminder that our holdings can be applied for learning in a ton of different ways. Be sure to check out our next installment on MPT, where we check out Wolf Trap, and the amazing cultural events that you can enjoy from home.
Emily Moore is a second-year MLIS student with a background in art and theory. In addition to her role as a student assistant at Special Collections and University Archives, she works as the Archival Assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
What does public television have in common with many libraries and archives? As arenas of discussion, education, and reflection, all three aim to engage with the communities they were ostensibly created to serve. How are communities enriched and strengthened through engagement with collections of manuscripts, text and mass media? What role does this type of engagement play in civic discourse and reflection?
Recognizing the important role of public television in cultural dialogue, Maryland Public Television (MPT) founded, in 1969, the Urban Affairs Advisory Council, a group of 60 men and women from the Baltimore area. Together, this group designed a variety of half hour-long programs that addressed issues specific to Baltimore, including the daytime serial Our Street and the documentary series Afro-American Perspectives, produced as part of MPT’s educational arm, ITV. Episodes of both these programs are available in the University of Maryland Libraries Digital Collections, and in watching them, viewers get access to both the perspectives of the past and commentary on the present.
The 56 episodes of Our Street tell the fictional story of the Robinsons, a Black family from East Baltimore. Syndicated to 20 stations around the country, Our Street introduced Baltimore to communities beyond Maryland, examining challenging themes within the framework of domestic drama.Continue reading
Special Collections in Mass Media & Culture is pleased to announce the exhibit “Made Possible By Viewers Like You: Maryland Public Television Turns 50” is now on display in the Maryland Room Gallery at Hornbake Library through July 2020. It celebrates the milestone anniversary of Maryland’s only statewide TV broadcaster, and highlights the fruitful partnership between MPT and UMD Libraries.
The exhibit includes artifacts and documents from 1969 to the present, including the very first Program Journal from 1969, an original script from the 1977 production “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, a GoPro camera smashed during a Motorweek shoot, a trophy case filled with Emmys® and other prestigious awards, and dozens of videos featuring segments from some of their best-known programs.
Nothing in the exhibit would have survived if MPT hadn’t taken great care to preserve their rich and unique history. Unlike most other TV stations—commercial and noncommercial alike—MPT has dedicated the resources to maintain an archive both at its Owings Mills headquarters and at the University of Maryland. After UMD Libraries established the National Public Broadcasting Archives in 1990, MPT was one of the first organizations to begin depositing print and audiovisual materials. The latter presents particular challenges because simply saving AV materials isn’t enough; due to the obsolescence of playback machines and deterioration of master copies, videotapes must be migrated to modern formats in order to ensure the content remains accessible. This is a timely and expensive process.
Fortunately, efforts to preserve public broadcasting in the U.S. have risen dramatically, thanks in large part to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), which just announced the availability of over 50,000 historic public media programs available in the Online Reading Room (ORR). When the AAPB launched in 2013, MPT immediately answered the call to submit programs for digitization, sending over 1500 tapes during the first phase of the project. Since then, MPT and SCUA have continued to work together to digitize their AV holdings at Hornbake Library, which are comprised of Umatic, betacam, VHS, 1” and ¾” tapes and 16mm film. As of fall 2019, nearly 700 programs have been reformatted and are steadily being uploaded into Digital Collections. The newly-established Maryland Public Television Preservation Fund is designed to support this important work well into the future.
Visit the Maryland Room Gallery and find out how MPT has become a national leader in public television and a treasured resource for the state. Hours vary by semester, check current hours online.
Post by Laura Schnitker | Ethnomusicologist, Audiovisual Archivist, and Curator of Mass Media & Culture in Special Collections and University Archives at University of Maryland Libraries