Digitized films open door to discovery for IU Media School doctoral student

Aysehan Jülide Etem, a Ph.D. candidate in The Media School at Indiana University Bloomington, discusses the concept of documentary diplomacy with the earnest zeal of a doctoral candidate deeply engaged in discovery.

A media scholar, Etem is using films to write media histories, focusing on how documentaries can be used as diplomatic relationship-building tools between countries. For her dissertation, she narrowed that focus to her home country of Turkey. With more than 120,000 items, IU Libraries Moving Image Archive had much to offer, including 24 films Etem screened in their original formats with help from IU Libraries film archivists.

Her start at IU led to more cinematic searching, including the National Archives and archives in Turkey, as well as consulting with Norwegian historians.

To her surprise, she uncovered three purposely different versions of a film she first viewed at IU. Suspecting she had a case of documentary diplomacy in action, Etem needed to make comparisons of the differently dated films to confirm. No longer in Bloomington, she turned to her IU research resources.

"The library basically provided all of these possibilities," Etem said. "First, they preserved the film and had facilities for me to watch it in its original format. When I needed it again, they requested digitization and sent it to me electronically. Then, when I wanted to talk about it at a conference, the library projected it in their wonderful screening room."

To help Etem's research go even more smoothly, IU Libraries was able to request digitization "in house," so to speak. Since its announcement by IU President Michael A. McRobbie in 2013, IU's Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative has been working to provide digital access to all significant audio, video and film recordings by the 2020 IU Bicentennial. As of January 2019, the initiative had preserved 312,876 items digitally.

"Obviously, the preservation of knowledge in the 21st century is much more than written text; it's also audio, visual and cultural artifacts," said Dennis Cromwell, Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative executive director. "Etem's doctoral research is a good example to show that by investing in MDPI, IU is creating value in scholarship, sometimes in unique and transformative ways."

Andy Uhrich, film archivist and assistant librarian in the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive, sees the long-term benefits of this kind of cooperation.

"There's this cool feedback loop between libraries and scholars. We work to make the objects in our collections discoverable," he said. "This inspires a researcher to check these objects out, which spurs them on to do other research and analysis. Then we can integrate that new knowledge into our collection descriptions, which then inspires new research, and on and on."

Michelle Crowe is director of communications for IU Libraries.