When digitized and stowed away on disks, musical data isn’t terribly different from most business documents. But peeling back the layers to be able to find and use musical data calls for knowledge of the potential musical connections, attributes and metadata with each file that “may not necessarily be immediate to someone who had not come from a music background,” says Adam Wead, systems and digital collections librarian for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Library and Archives division.

Mixing that IT background with an academic background in every musical style under the sun is what separates the data storage and archivists for the rock hall from some of their data management contemporaries. While developing the software to manage the Hall’s digital archives over the last two years, Wead has also been honing his academic chops by finishing a doctorate in music. And his counterpart, Jennie Thomas, head archivist for the Hall’s library division, backs up her library sciences degree (with a specialty in information management) with her own bachelor’s in music.  

“On some levels, for me, it comes down to data that has to be moved around and stored, and from that point it’s not all that exciting, until you starting thinking about the content,” Wead says. “I like to think of my job in the sense that if civilization is no longer many years from now, and aliens discover our archives, there’ll be these videos of Elvis and the Beastie Boys.”

The Library and Archives division is the result of an effort by the Cleveland-based rock museum to dig into the unstructured and varied data sources that have “quickly overrun” Hall offices and resources over the last three decades. After a 10-year, $12 million capital campaign, the Hall established an archival wing at nearby Cuyahoga Community College. For the past three years, archivists have started to digitize hundreds of videos, more than 1,400 audio recordings and oral histories, 3,500 books and thousands of other items ranging from oral histories to album covers. Only in the last year has this information been stored and presented in a manner in which both internal Hall employees as well as the general public can consume as they visit the archival wing at the college and access the rock history footage and relics.

Thomas leads a team of five through archiving and processing aspects of the museum archives, primarily using Archivists’ Toolkit, an open source archiving data management system. Primarily, Thomas’s team has been digitizing the most at-risk materials, mainly the deteriorating magnetic video formats, with some audio held by the museum. This includes challenging obsolete and decaying physical museum materials, and Thomas and her department are determining their next steps with the archival toolkit system they use, which may mean creating something in-house or adapting with expected changes in its forthcoming releases.

“It’s designed to do some of the work we do, but we have different requirements because we’re a museum and [because of] the type of museum we are,” Thomas says, noting museum standards that require increased archival information and copies. “Right now that means tweaking some aspects of [the system] and ironing out the metadata.” On the back end in pure data terms, the Library and Archiving division uses IBM SAN disk arrays and a tape system with Tivoli for hierarchical storage management, as well as offsite storage as required under archival standards through Iron Mountain. The data volume adds up quickly, with about 10 terabytes of video each month since November. Induction ceremony video content alone is expected to take up more than 600 terabytes of video data. Wead acknowledged that the disk and duplicate storage process can be vexing, though he said on-demand or outsourced data storage would cost millions of dollars more than their current system without the assured availability.

And more video and content is expected to come their way this week, as the loudest museum on Earth cranks up the attention and events on its 27th annual induction ceremonies beginning Thursday and running to April 14. This year’s inductees include Guns N’ Roses, Beastie Boys, Donovan and The Miracles. It’s the first induction where the Library and Archives division will have a full staff and asset management system in place to take on new video or other projects approved by the Hall. It’s also a process that carries the hard data side of two distinctly American establishments – the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the musical genre itself.

“It’s exciting. We’re an institution that’s part of the preservation and solidification of some of the most important cultural aspects in human history,” Wead says.