May 20, 2022

Artificial Intelligence Meets WGBH’s Archives

From Brandeis University:

WGBH Boston is one of the nation’s most celebrated public television and radio stations, a top producer of blockbuster programming. Over the decades, its prodigious output has created an equally sizable problem. How to keep track of the roughly 400,000 audio, video and film recordings in its archives?

Programs go back more than half a century and include iconic ones like “American Experience,” “Frontline,” and “NOVA,” and more obscure ones, like “Gallimaufry,” “Hot Nights” and a 1961 lecture by Harvard philosophy professor Gabriel Marcel on “The Existential Backgrounds of Human Dignity.”


The station’s archival vault contains row after row of storage shelves, all piled high with audio and video recordings. Last spring, computer scientist Kelley Lynch, MS’17, visited the vault with a WGBH archivist who retrieved a heavy metal box. “Beef bourguignon” was scrawled on masking tape affixed to the box.

There was no way to know the box held a recording of one of television’s most historic programs — the 1963 debut episode of Julia Child’s first television show, “The French Chef.”

Thousands of other films, videos and audiotapes in the vault, many of them also landmark moments in television history, bear similarly slim identifying information. WGBH hoped to identify all the tapes’ content.

But “having a librarian sit down and catalog every single item would have been insane,” said Karen Cariani, the David O. Ives Executive Director of WGBH’s Media Library and Archives. “We needed something faster.”

Lynch, James Pustejovsky, the TJX Feldberg Professor of Computer Science, and several of his other students proposed to bring order to the chaos. Pustejovsky and his students volunteered to program computers to analyze the material and provide identifying information using AI algorithms.

Direct to the Complete Article

Direct to American Archive of Public Broadcasting

Direct to WGBH Open Vault

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.