Tag Archives: Oral History of Music in Pittsburgh

Deus ex Machina

I’d like to tell you a little story about data migration. No – wait a minute! Don’t roll your eyes and go away! It’s short, I promise.

A customer once asked me what we librarians do all day. I told him that, among other things, librarians organize and collect information that the public finds useful, keep collections up to date and accessible, and help customers navigate those collections. You can help me fill in the list of the abundance of other things that make our role in society invaluable. The following is an example of the things I just listed.

The Music Department houses a special collection that we call the Oral History of Music in Pittsburgh (OHMP). The OHMP contains over 300 interviews with Pittsburghers involved in all types of musical activities, from all types of genres: Pittsburgh Symphony instrumentalists, music educators, jazz musicians, music reporters, historians, folk musicians, DJs, you name it. The interviewer in all but a few sessions is a gentleman by the name of Maurice Levy – a dedicated volunteer, Friend of the Music Library, and retired math teacher.

Maurice initially recorded the interviews on cassette tape and made a list of the topics that were covered. Starting in the late 1990s, we burned CDs from each tape (first instance of data migration!).  We put all interview information, including topics, into a database at a “stand-alone” computer (a computer not hooked up to a network) so customers could search for specific interviews (data migration again!). In 2005 (or thereabouts) I asked my boss if the info on the stand-alone had ever been backed up. The answer was that it had not. I used a floppy disc (remember those?) to back it up. Less than a week later, the computer completely died (see where the deus ex machina comes into my little story?). I converted the data from the floppy, which was organized with software called “File Maker Pro” into a Microsoft Excel file (YES! DATA MIGRATION!). Then I copied and converted the information into a HTML marked up version (you guessed it!) and put it on the internet.

We are now looking into putting all of the interviews online, so customers can listen to them streaming. This will enable the interviews to be saved to our server as well. We will also copy them onto an external hard drive.

This is what I do all day.



Filed under Uncategorized