In late 2021, we received a transfer from the City Clerk’s Office of early born-digital video recordings of council meetings, standing committee meetings, and public hearings. The City began streaming video of these meetings in 2004, and until recently, these videos were available on vancouver.ca. We have been working hard over the past few months to preserve them and make them available via our online database. This post discusses work in progress—to date, over 300 videos are available; more will appear each week until they have all been processed.
The video files that have been transferred to the Archives span July 2004 to October 2014, and include:
- Regular and Special Council meetings
- Meetings of Standing Committees on City Finance and Services; City Services and Budgets; Planning and Environment (2004-2011); Transportation and Traffic (2004-2011); and Planning, Transportation and Environment (2012-2014)
- Public hearings
In total, 1,068 video files were received, weighing in at 287 GB. Videos are in the Windows Media (.wmv) format, and are relatively low resolution, especially the earlier ones. We normally use H264-encoded mp4 as our video access format, but in this case, we decided to provide the Windows Media files as received. Some test transcoding to mp4 resulted in much larger files for no improvement in quality.
To prep the files for preservation and access, we first needed to ensure they were playable. Each file was opened, and we discovered that 191 files were corrupt (wouldn’t play at all) or had other problems like missing audio. We’ve set these files aside for now and will return to them once the others have been processed.
We then used exiftool to extract technical metadata from the files, including run time, pixel dimensions, and file size. The extracted metadata was incorporated into the Physical description field of the description for each file.
Some of the file run times are very long—eight hours or more—and sometimes the meeting takes up only part of the run time; cameras were often left on for a healthy buffer before and after the meeting. We are providing the full file as received, but by opening and checking each file, we were able to note when the meeting content starts and ends – you’ll find this information in the Scope and content field of the description.
Once the descriptions were uploaded to our database, the next step was to run the files through our digital preservation system, Archivematica. Among other things, Archivematica uses ffmpeg to normalize the files to our chosen preservation format, ffv1 in Matroska, before sending them to storage. This process is time consuming and resource intensive, so we grouped the files into transfers of roughly 1 GB each in order not to put too much strain on the processing pipeline. However, the human effort required to build the transfers was not insignificant, and we plan to automate this part of the process down the road. Luckily, once the transfers are in the pipeline, Archivematica takes care of the rest.
How to find what you’re looking for
All videos are described under Series 719 – City Council video recordings. To locate a specific type of meeting and/or date range, use the advanced search. The example below shows a search for Regular Council meetings from 2004 to 2006 with a video available:
The above search retrieves 24 results:
Since the date of the meeting is included in each video’s title, it’s also possible to leave the date filter off and incorporate the month and year you’re looking for in your keyword search. The example below shows a search for Regular Council meetings from February 2006 with a video available:
The above search retrieves two results:
To see more information about a video, click on the thumbnail in a search result. The video’s file-level description will appear and you will be able to stream or download the file, whichever you prefer.
New videos will appear every week, but it will take a few months for the project to be complete. In the meantime, if you see a description without a video, wait for it, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can’t find a description for a specific meeting at all, there is a chance that the file for that meeting was corrupt; contact us and we’ll look into it.