Circulating Now welcomes guest bloggers Rachel Curtis, Monica Gray, Laura Montgomery, and Miranda Villesvik, along with our own Jeffrey S. Reznick, to share details of their cooperative journey to preserve the landmark 1970’s children’s TV series Vegetable Soup. They will present together on a panel at the Library of Congress free public conference A Century of Broadcasting: Preservation and Renewal, on Thursday, April 27, 2023, 1:15–2:45 PM.
In February 2020, the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), a collaboration between the Library of Congress and Boston television station GBH (previously known as WGBH), announced the preservation and inclusion of the landmark 1970s children’s television series Vegetable Soup in its freely available online collection.
Vegetable Soup was unique, being the first publicly funded series to be broadcast on both public and commercial stations nationwide, and on cable television via Warner–Amex Satellite Entertainment. Moreover, it was unlike any other contemporary or previous children’s television program, as it was based primarily and fundamentally on the understanding that racism and racial differences were social determinants of health in the lives of all children.
Made possible through the support of the New York State Archives (NYSA) and the expertise, collaboration, and dedication of the archivists there and at the AAPB, Library of Congress, and GBH, the online availability of Vegetable Soup brings the series into the digital age, fulfilling its promise as a publicly-funded initiative. The road to this collaborative achievement in our century began in the previous one, when the creators of Vegetable Soup embarked on their creative journey during a time of racial tension in America and substantial public health research focused on the influence of television in the lives of young people.
Jeffrey S. Reznick—Research at the National Library of Medicine and New York State Archive
During the early 1970s, substantial public health research focused on the influence of television in the lives of young people, including Television and Growing Up: The Impact of Televised Violence, Report of the Surgeon General, United States Public Health Service.
Vegetable Soup became the focus of my research in 2016 when I was studying the history of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), the predecessor agency to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS is the current home of the National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine. I recalled HEW having funded many television programs during the 1970s, including Vegetable Soup, which it did through a grant to the New York State Education Department. This recollection led me, in 2017, to the NYSA where Monica Gray and her colleagues oriented me to the depth and breadth of their collections, including substantial written, printed, and visual materials pertaining to the development and reception of the series.
Thanks to this understanding and access to these public records through the expertise of Monica and her colleagues, I was able to complete my writing and, in 2018, publish “A Noble Experiment in Human Values”: The Children’s Television Series Vegetable Soup and its Initiative to Change the Environment for Racism in 1970s America,” in the Journal of Popular Film and Television, as well as the associated video abstract produced by my NLM colleague Donny Bliss; for our collaborative work, Donny and I were privileged to receive the 2020 NLM Board of Regents Award for Scholarship or Technical Achievement for “documenting the history of social determinants of health through the lens of the 1970s public television program Vegetable Soup.”
However, all of this was just the beginning of the journey to bring one of the most interesting television shows of the 20th century fully and freely into the 21st.
Monica Gray and Laura Montgomery—Discovery and Digitization at the New York State Archives
In 2017, with the awareness that Vegetable Soup was a focus of research interest, we revisited our collection of both series of the original recordings of Vegetable Soup on 39 U-matic tapes. After the associated finding aid was created alongside paper records relating to the production, our team not only worked to make them available for research but also to make them part of a larger digitization project to preserve recordings and make them available as well.
The records were selected based on the initial researcher access request in mind, but the opportunity was taken to use this digitization project to build selection and digitization prioritization criteria and to implement an Audiovisual Program to address our audiovisual collection needs. A prioritization rubric was created to identify format, preservation issues from a visual inspection, any legal restrictions that may impede digitization, quantity, and existing level of descriptive control of audiovisual materials per accretion. Based on this rubric, a collection survey was performed to identify the preservation and description needs of 40,000 audiovisual records across 200+ accretions and to ready those materials for a large-scale digitization project.
For the Vegetable Soup U-matic tapes, the entire digitization process from vendor selection, record digitization, quality control, item level metadata description and processing the files through our access and preservation workflows took about a year (2017–2018). Due to age and format related preservation issues, twenty percent of the tapes needed preservation remediation prior to digitization. The records were digitized according to standards agreed upon with our vendor, George Blood LP. We received .MOV format preservation master files and MP4 web accessible versions.
The access copies with Dublin Core metadata were uploaded to our Digital Collections, an open-sourced content management system built on CollectiveAccess and published using PHP scripts. The access copies were also uploaded to the New York State Archives YouTube channel to take advantage of the automated closed captioning functionality for accessibility. The preservation copies were queued for our Preservica ingest workflows which is our digital preservation repository. Through this whole process we were able to learn about the scalable needs of our digital storage.
In addition to the recordings described in this post, the New York State Archives and the New York State Library together hold the largest and most significant collection of archival and printed material pertaining to the development, production, and evaluation of Vegetable Soup.
Poster advertising Vegetable Soup, with the logo of its production house, the Bureau of Mass Communications of the New York State Department of Education. Featuring Woody the Spoon, one of the many characters created for the series by animator Jim Simon.
Cover of An Evaluation Report on Vegetable Soup: The Effects of a Multi-Ethnic Children’s Television Series on Intergroup Attitudes of Children. Dr. Luberta Mays, professor of education at Medgar Evers College, led the evaluations of Vegetable Soup.
Cover of New York State Department of Education’s October 1975 issue of Inside Education announcing the premiere of Vegetable Soup.
The brief and easily-to-read booklet Vegetable Soup: The Research Continues, featuring “Woody the Spoon.” In conjunction with An Evaluation Report on Vegetable Soup, this publication helped to establish a concise and clear research case for Vegetable Soup II.
Courtesy of the New York State Archives and the New York State Library
Miranda Villesvik—Access and Curation at the AAPB
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting instituted the AAPB in 2013 to coordinate a national effort to preserve and make accessible significant historical content created by public media. The AAPB is a collaboration between the Library of Congress in Culpeper, Virginia; and GBH in Boston. In the framework of the collaboration, the Library of Congress focuses on the long-term preservation of files, while GBH focuses on facilitating access through the AAPB website. The AAPB’s work on Vegetable Soup is a prime example of its stated mission.
GBH’s responsibilities as part of the AAPB focus around making proxy-level files available on the AAPB website. Proxy files are smaller and lower-quality than the preservation files stored at the Library of Congress, but their smaller size enables them to be hosted online much easier. The first step to creating online records on the site is to ingest the metadata into the archival management system, or AMS2, the staging ground for the AAPB website. During this process we work on making the metadata as rich as possible to best facilitate and anticipate user queries so that folks can find the most relevant information. We then create proxy video/audio files using a script, which are then uploaded into our Sony Ci repository and linked to the files’ corresponding AMS2 record using a Ci ID, a unique alphanumeric string associated with each file added to the Sony Ci. The proxy files are also copied onto off-line storage for long-term retention on spinning hard drive and magnetic LTO tape in order to safeguard backups against risk of corruption or malware attacks. Records are then “pushed”, or added, to the AAPB site, where they can be discovered. However, they are not yet viewable. After records are pushed to the AAPB site, they undergo rights review, during which reviewers check to make sure that records don’t violate copyright and don’t contain anything embarrassing, defamatory, or private. Records that pass rights review are then made available to the public via the AAPB, after which time a special collection might be written to create a landing page for a series to provide richer context on its history or creation.
Understanding the archival principle that lots of copies keep stuff safe and that multiple access points to archival collections help to solve the separate siloes syndrome, the AAPB team collaborated with Jeff Reznick and Monica Gray to acquire digital copies of the programs. Preservation copies of the programs were obtained for long-term preservation at the Library of Congress, while GBH obtained metadata and proxy copies provided by NYSA for online access via the AAPB website.
Rachel Curtis—Preservation at the Library of Congress
The Library of Congress serves as the preservation arm of the AAPB. We maintain high-resolution preservation copies in the Library’s data center at the National Audio Visual Conservation Center (NAVCC) in Culpeper, Virginia and in a second location. The Library routinely validates each file’s checksum, which is essentially a digital fingerprint, and restores the file from a back-up copy if any corruption is detected. Files are also migrated to newer storage media to ensure they are stored in the most up-to-date manner. We work with donors to acquire the best copies of their content. For moving image files, we prefer to receive files in our preservation format, a JPEG 2000, 10-bit lossless .MXF file. This is a standardized, high-quality preservation standard for moving image files. We can also accept other high-resolution files, such as FFV1/MKV, and born-digital files in their native format. We try to maintain files in a standard format to mitigate the dependency on proprietary software.
All files donated to the AAPB go through a workflow to validate existing checksums or generate new ones, if not provided by the donor. They pass through a quality-control (QC) profile in the Library’s QC software to verify their technical specifications and catch any transfer issues. Once the files make it through these steps, they are packaged for ingest into the Library’s archive. The files are linked to a metadata record in the NAVCC’s collection management database, where the GUID generated by GBH is stored so the files can be easily identified. Researchers can view all files available in the AAPB onsite in the Library’s reading rooms.
Vegetable Soup reached a pinnacle of public recognition on September 19, 1975, when Shirley A. Chisholm (D-NY), the first African-American Congresswoman and 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate, took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to introduce the series and urge her colleagues to watch it. Following these remarks, at Chisholm’s request and based squarely on the formal news release prepared by NYSED, a detailed description of Vegetable Soup was included in the Congressional Record.
Yesterday and Today, A Noble Collaboration
In its own day, Vegetable Soup was a remarkable collaborative achievement, hailed by the noted New York clinical psychologist Salvatore Didato as “a noble experiment in human values.” Today, the digital availability and preservation of Vegetable Soup is itself a remarkable collaboration among professionals of multiple organizations, and an important contribution to the historical record as a resource for ameliorating the negative effects of racism and racial isolation on all children.
Involving the co-authors of this post, the panel “Including the 1970s Children’s Television Program Vegetable Soup in the American Archive of Public Broadcasting” will convene at A Century of Broadcasting: Preservation and Renewal, on Thursday, April 27, 2023, 1:15-2:45 PM, in the West Dining Room of the Library of Congress. Come on along and join us! The conference is free and open to the public! Please register to support the organizers with their planning and post-conference reporting.
Rachel Curtis is a digital project specialist at the Library of Congress and a project coordinator for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting.
Monica Gray is Senior Archivist in the Researcher Services unit of the New York State Archives.
Laura Montgomery is an Archivist at the New York State Archives.
Jeffrey S. Reznick, PhD, is Chief of the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.
Miranda Villesvik is a Senior Archivist at GBH, Boston.