History : Digital Milestones

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Jack Bradbury recording in the field

The new millennium brought significant changes to the entire Cornell Lab of Ornithology, including the Macaulay Library (formerly the Library of Natural Sounds), as the Lab and ML embraced the digital age and developing new technologies. These recent changes have included the following:

  • A new building. In 2003 the Lab of Ornithology moved into its new home at Sapsucker Woods: the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity. This new facility includes generous space for the Macaulay Library, with state-of-the-art studios, advanced fiber-optic connectivity, spacious offices, and an atmospherically controlled deep archive for the sound collection.
  • A new name. Linda and William (Bill) Macaulay donated a significant campaign contribution to fund the new Library facility, and Linda herself has become one of the more productive and talented contributors to the sound collection. In honor of their many contributions, the Library of Natural Sounds was renamed as the Linda and William Macaulay Library, and the sound recording unit became the Linda and William Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds. Linda’s efforts to raise public awareness about birds and ornithology were further recognized in 2010, when she was presented with the prestigious Arthur A. Allen Award for Outstanding Service.
  • A new director. In 1999, Dr. Jack Bradbury, widely regarded as an expert in animal communication, was named the new Director of the Macaulay Library and also the first Robert G. Engel Professor of Ornithology. Bradbury presided over a significant expansion of the Macaulay Library’s philosophy and mission to meet the challenges and opportunities of the digital era. In 2009 Bradbury retired, and Dr. Mike Webster became the new Director of the Macaulay Library to build on the foundation laid down by his predecessors.
  • A new philosophy. A critical change ushered in by Bradbury, with the help of Budney and Grotke, was to go digital. This involved moving the entire sound archive, all search and retrieval functions, and any client distribution processes, into a digital environment. Original analog recordings were digitized and archived at the high-resolution standard of 96 kHz, 24 bits, and lower-resolution versions of the recordings were made freely available over the Internet.
  • An expanded mission. A second significant initiative, begun in 2001, was expansion of the Macaulay Library’s mission to include video recordings of animal behavior. This expansion of the archive to include video will allow the Macaulay Library to provide even more useful materials to researchers, educators, conservationists, and others. In a way, this addition of a video archive returns the Macaulay Library to its historical roots, when both visual and audio components were documented on movie film.

The Digital Era

The Lab of Ornithology had embarked during 1990-2000 in a very successful effort to enlist endowments for senior staff. In 1997, Lab Director John Fitzpatrick announced an endowment for the director of the Macaulay Library that honored the late Robert G. Engel, a long-time supporter of the Library and member of the Lab's Board of Trustees. Dr. Jack Bradbury, then a faculty member and Associate Dean of Natural Sciences at the University of California, San Diego, was selected in 1999 as the first occupant of this post. Bradbury had extensive research experience with the communication signals of birds, bats, and other mammals, and had co-authored a textbook on animal communication with wife and fellow scientist Dr. Sandra Vehrencamp.

Since the advent of compact disc audio, Budney and Grotke had resisted converting the archive to CD, feeling that the 44.1 kHz 16-bit standard was insufficient for the archival of many wildlife sounds. Prior to arrival, Bradbury conferred with Budney and Grotke and all agreed that it was time to move the entire sound archive, all search and retrieval functions, and any client distribution processes into a digital environment. They thus sought and obtained a sizeable NSF grant to purchase the equipment necessary for the analog-to-digital conversion of the archive. The deep archive storage format would use a new technology, DVD's, on which all sound recordings would be stored after sampling the analog originals at 96 kHz and 24 bits. Multiple copies would be generated and stored both on and off site, and down-sampled versions would be made available over the Internet through a giant hard-disk farm. The NSF major equipment grant was complemented by a parallel award from the Andrew Mellon Foundation to cover the salaries of the LNS staff required for digitization, and by a generous gift by the EMC Corporation of an enterprise storage system for Internet distribution. The digital conversion program began early in 2000.

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Linda and William Macaulay

Also in 2000, the Lab of Ornithology launched an ambitious campaign to raise $34 million for a new building. This included generous space for the Library of Natural Sounds including custom-built studios, advanced fiber-optic connectivity, spacious offices, and an atmospherically controlled deep archive for the sound collection. Linda and William (Bill) Macaulay donated a significant campaign contribution to fund the new LNS facility. Encouraged by Ted Parker and Budney, Linda had taken the Sound Recording Course some years earlier before going on to become one of the more productive and talented contributors to the sound collection. In honor of their many contributions to the Library, the overall archival facility was named the Linda and William Macaulay Library, and the sound recording unit became the Linda and William Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds. The new building was completed and occupied early in 2003.

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Diane Tessaglia-Hymes

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology view from the pond in 2010

Upon moving into its splendid new facility, the Macaulay Library (ML) began a rapid phase of expansion. Several grants from the Office of Naval Research funded the hiring of additional staff, studio equipment, and archival storage to begin digital archival of the thousands of marine recordings acquired over the last three decades.

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The Macaulay Library video editing rack

A second significant initiative begun in 2001 was the expansion of the archive to include video recordings of animal behavior. Many displays of birds consist of both sound and visual components, and the current sound collection documents only the audio modality. In a way, the addition of a video archive returns the Macaulay Library to its historical roots when both visual and audio components were documented on movie film. The video expansion has been funded by grants from the Office of Naval Research (particularly the NOPP program), generous individual gifts from members of the Lab's Board of Trustees, and by corporate partnerships with Sony, Canon, Apple Computer, Exabyte, EMC, and Videobank. Marc Dantzker was appointed the first ML Curator of Visual Media, and brought to his job a graduate education in animal behavior, extensive experience as a nature photographer (both stills and video), and advanced expertise in software and interface programming. In a very short period, Dantzker assembled a highly qualified team of technicians, engineers, and video archivists, recruiting high quality videos from several of the best nature videographers in the country, establishing crucial industry partnerships, and overseeing a series of video productions.

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The Macaulay Library storage area network

The digitization of the sound and video archives constitutes only one piece of the larger task of making the Macaulay Library digitally accessible. Software tools for searching and finding items in the collection had to be created. Mechanisms for Internet browsing and the retrieval of archive specimens were also required, and these interfaces had to meet the needs of the many different users of the archive, ranging from young students and their teachers to advanced research scientists and commercial media producers.

During his tenure, former director Gulledge had significantly increased the scope of metadata recorded when each sound recording was archived. These metadata had been stored in a flat database could not meet the search and retrieval demands of the modern Internet user. With funds from the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation, ML has now built a new relational data model into which the older data can be easily ported, but that is more compatible with Internet retrieval and an overall model being developed and pooled across all units at the Lab of Ornithology. A grant submitted by ML director Bradbury and Binghamton University faculty Anne Clark allowed the Lab to host two consecutive international meetings to develop a consensus international metadata standard for the field of animal behavior. And a substantial award from NSF supports the building of interfaces for students and teachers that will allow ML to become a part of the National Science Digital Library.

In 2010, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology further recognized the outstanding contributions of Linda Macaulay by presenting her with the prestigious Arthur A. Allen Award for Outstanding Service to Ornithology to Linda Macaulay. Early in her career, Linda had been attracted to sound recording by Ted Parker and Greg Budney, and by 2010 had contributed 5,974 recordings of 2,668 species from 50 countries to the library that now bears her name. The Allen Award is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s highest honor, and is presented to recognize those who have helped raise public awareness about birds and ornithology. Linda’s passion for birds and ornithology, tireless work in the field, and dedication to building an unparalleled audio archive, all combined to make her an ideal recipient for the award.

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