The backup tape

On December 15, 2008, a Monday, someone affiliated with Miami University’s Oral History Project had a report to write. The weather was a little wonky that day—unseasonably warm in the wee hours, some light precipitation mid-morning, with a steady decline in temps in the p.m. I can imagine the author seated at his or her computer, all settled in with a steaming cup of jo, in full-on “no brag, just fact” mode. 

But make no mistake: this report was written to impress. To gloat a little. To describe for the powers-that-be—the highest muckety-mucks the university had to offer—the significance of all that the author and his or her colleagues had accomplished over the preceding three years. This was, after all, the university’s bicentennial celebration. By this point, 25 one-on-one interviews and 66 group interviews, called story circles, had been completed—with some of Miami’s most renowned names as well as others who were less known but who also had interesting stories to tell. 

Most interviews had been posted to the bicentennial website by then. Additional interviews would be conducted throughout the winter, spring, and summer. In two short months, the festivities would officially kick off with a Charter Day Ball. And five months and a handful of days after this report was written, someone affiliated with the Oral History Project would be sitting down with several of Miami’s legendary hockey coaches and chatting it up on camera. So gloat on, dear author, because you and your coworkers have done some amazingly impressive work. I really, truly mean that. The Oral History Project folks did an outstanding job.

When you have five free minutes, I encourage you to read the one-page report, from beginning to end. And if you have an extra minute to spare, you may want to read the second-to-last paragraph one more time, with sentence number 3 being my favorite.

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Now, after reading all of the author’s glowing words, what do you think he or she would say if we told them about all we’ve been going through lately? Like: what would they say if we told them how long we’ve been waiting to obtain copies of the recordings that, for whatever reason, hadn’t been posted to the bicentennial website? 

Also, what would they think if they knew that I needed to obtain legal representation in hopes of obtaining copies of the unposted recordings?

And finally, what would this person say if I told them that, after all of these months, and after all of the legal proceedings, I’m still waiting on one of the recordings to turn up? As luck would have it, the missing recording happens to be the one with the Miami hockey coaches, which couldn’t have been an easy one to coordinate, what with the stature of the people involved and their jam-packed schedules.

The report’s author would probably ask: “What about the DVDs that were made from each videotape?” 

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Then, they’d ask, “Well, what about the Southwest Ohio Regional Depository? Surely they should have received a copy.”

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But then they’d say, “Well, thank goodness for the audio backup. They should at least have that.”

Of course. The audio backup, as mentioned in sentence 3 of the second-to-last paragraph. If the two hockey tapes we’re waiting on should turn up empty, University Archives should have an audio recording of the Miami Hockey Coaches interview as backup. And can you imagine if the digital videotape of those hockey coaches had been damaged or destroyed to the point where it couldn’t be posted to the website or used to create DVD copies? They would have guarded that audio recording with their lives.


Update 9/27/2022: Based on a 2005 funding request and other Oral History Project records, the backup audio wasn’t a “tape” per se. Audio was recorded using a digital audio recorder and converted to CD-ROM.

5 thoughts on “The backup tape

  1. I submitted this public records request today to Miami’s Office of General Counsel:

    Dear Office of General Counsel,

    This is a new public records request. I am seeking the audio backup recording that was made of the Miami Hockey Coaches interview for the Oral History Project on May 19, 2009.

    According to the attached three documents, every interview was recorded using a digital video recorder as well as a digital audio recorder as backup. The attached three documents are:

    1) minutes from a meeting held 10/31/05 in which John Millard describes the need for digital audio backup (item 3, par. 1)
    2) page 4 of funding request from 11/21/05 seeking money for digital audio recorder, lavalier microphones, and flash memory card
    3) report from 12/15/08 which, in paragraph 6, states: “Miami Stories uses digital video recording as well as audio backup for interviews.”

    In Ms. Smart’s recent email to me, she said the following about the two video recordings that I’m waiting on regarding the Miami Hockey Coaches: “The entire collection will be catalogued, digitized, and added to the oral history project once we receive the repaired tape.”

    If, as the university is implying, the videotape of hockey coaches was never converted to DVD because of a damaged digital videotape (DVT), then the backup digital audio recording surely must still exist. As you and others have stated, University Archives never destroys any of its records, and, if the DVT version was damaged beyond usefulness, they would have treated the audio version of the hockey coaches interview with special care.

    Therefore, as I await the videos of the hockey coach interview, I would like a copy of the audio backup from 5/19/09.

    Jennifer Wenger

  2. In addition to your important point, the letter left me uncomfortable and wondering what they were really trying to say. Defensive? Why did they write it this way? We gave everyone an opportunity to speak openly. It’s not our fault no one spoke about the elephant in the room. We certainly wouldn’t lose any important history.

    1. Hi Marilyn! You make a very interesting point. In my theory, the interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary would have been on the same day as the one they credit to the Miami Hockey Coaches, so it wouldn’t have happened yet. But that’s not necessarily a given. It could have been conducted several months earlier and they were still grappling with how to handle it. Still conjecture at this point, but something I need to consider as a possibility. Thank you!

    1. Really!? 😆 I totally missed that! I’ve been struggling with wanting to edit the last sentence too much. I think we need a different word than “lack” there…absence? Dearth? Deficiency? Need?

      Totally agree that it’s all very odd. In case you can’t tell, I’m getting impatient.

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