Elmo, Big Bird, and friends are being digitized as part of an initiative to preserve and make accessible more than 2,000 videocassettes housed in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s collections. The “Sesame Street” tapes are from the archive of Tony Geiss, a longtime staff writer and songwriter for the classic children’s program.
“I love this material,” says Molly Wheeler, an archivist at the Beinecke and coordinator of the digitization project. “People tend to be more comfortable with manuscripts and printed books. This material and playback technology alienates them. This project will introduce our patrons to material that to this point has been misunderstood and largely undiscovered.”
The project is a collaborative effort within the Yale University Library involving staff from Yale Library IT, Manuscripts & Archives, and the Beinecke. The digitization equipment was inherited from the recently completed effort to digitize the 4,400 taped interviews that comprise Yale’s Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies.
The collections with the largest number of videocassettes include the Geiss papers, poet Ira Cohen’s papers, the archive of Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky, the records of The Living Theatre, and the papers of Lloyd Richards, a Tony-winning director and former dean of the Yale School of Drama.
“Part of this process is learning what we have,” says Wheeler. “Nearly all of the tapes have never been viewed or described since arriving at the library.”
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