Northwestern and Indiana University Libraries expand audiovisual repository service with $1 million federal grant

June 7th 2017
Avalon Logo

A $967,000 federal grant will allow Northwestern University Libraries and Indiana University Libraries to enhance their jointly developed audiovisual repository system, further improving the ability of archival institutions to manage and make accessible large digital collections of video and audio.

The National Leadership Grant, LG-70-17-0042-17,  from the Institute of Museum and Library Services focuses on the functionality and sustainability of this open source tool, called the Avalon Media System. Avalon is designed to help institutions manage and deliver audio/video materials to faculty, students, and researchers.

“This grant signals that more and more institutions and agencies share our concern that better tools for management, use, and preservation of AV materials are a key component of the digital library,” said Evviva Weinraub, Associate University Librarian for Digital Strategies at Northwestern University Libraries, and principal lead of the grant project. “The need for solutions for AV materials is growing, and our industry needs efficient, sustainable digital tools to keep up with the demand.”

Even though technological advancements (such as declining costs of storage and bandwidth) are making the digitization and online delivery of audio and moving image materials more feasible for research and instruction, AV items represent a small fraction of the content of online library collections, said Jon Dunn, Assistant Dean for Library Technologies at IU Libraries.

“When we launched the Avalon project in 2011, we were providing the cultural heritage community something that existing commercial platforms did not: an affordable, community-driven, preservation-ready AV delivery system,” Dunn said. “This grant from the IMLS will help us increase the adoption of Avalon, increase sustainability, and increase content interoperability. For institutions large and small, the ability to provide access to and preserve AV materials will be more feasible thanks to the IMLS grant.”

Avalon was planned, designed, and built with support from prior grants from IMLS and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Northwestern and Indiana University jointly provide the primary software development of this free-to-use tool, while a diverse array of institutions — from major universities to WGBH Boston — participate in testing and advisory roles to ensure the system meets the needs of the research, teaching and cultural heritage communities. Northwestern Libraries implemented Avalon two-and-a-half years ago as an AV Repository holding digital collections from fragile media that might otherwise be lost to time. At present, Avalon is fully implemented at five institutions — Northwestern University, Indiana University, University of Virginia, Washington University, University of Alberta, and Calvin College —with a number of other institutions in various stages of implementation. Avalon now delivers digital material from sources as diverse as 16mm World War II propaganda films and reel-to-reel tapes of clarinet master classes.

The two-year project funded by the grant focuses on four areas:

• Integration of Avalon into the Samvera (Hydra) codebase. Samvera, until recently known as Hydra, is a large open source project focused on digital repositories; Avalon is based upon the Samvera code and is already an application in use within the community. Because Avalon, as it currently exists, is “monolithic” — meaning it is independent of other software applications — better integration fosters better support and development from the wider community of Samvera participants. 

Over the last few years, and in this most recent round of grants from the IMLS, a number of awards were granted to projects related to the Samvera community, which is significant because, as Weinraub explained, “it shows how libraries are committed to community-developed, open-source software.”

• A cloud-based version of Avalon. Making the Avalon platform easy to install and run in cloud-based infrastructure will make it easier for vendors to offer Avalon as a service, and for institutions of all sizes to make easier use of the tool. For example, a public library without a dedicated IT staff might not be able to implement Avalon in its current form. A cloud version would be easier to implement, as it would allow institutions to use Avalon much like a traditional off-the-shelf solution.

• Improved media preservation. Though Avalon is a repository meant for long-term storage of digital files, it does not yet act as a digital preservation system. Such storage requires more robust safeguards for the storage of data over time, including “fixity checking,” which regularly scans for corrupt or missing data. The grant will allow developers to address these challenges, ensuring digital files will remain available for generations.

• Achieving a standardized delivery format. For diverse digital platforms to interact with one another, they require a standardized ability to communicate. The Avalon technical team will take a leadership role with the organization tasked with ensuring that ability. The team will contribute to the creation of an AV interoperability specification through the International Image Interoperability Framework and provide a “demonstration implementation” that establishes the way forward.

Combined, achieving these four goals will make Avalon the most robust solution for accessing AV materials, ensuring that archival institutions large and small can contribute to the preservation and study of cultural heritage.

“The real key to sustainability for Avalon Media System is to create something so valued that people insist on sustaining it,” Weinraub said. “We feel this grant gets us closer than ever to delivering that value.”


Northwestern University Libraries serve the Evanston, Chicago, and Qatar campuses by providing access to more than 6 million books; 3.5 linear miles of manuscripts, archives and unique materials; and tens of thousands of journals, databases, and periodicals. Their distinctive holdings include the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, which houses more than 250,000 rare materials; the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, the largest collection of materials relating to Africa in the world; and the Music Library, which is recognized internationally for its commitment to 20th and 21st century classical music.

Founded in 1820, Indiana University is one of the United States’ top public universities. Withmore than 114,000 students and 9,200 faculty on eight campuses, IU is also one of the largest institutions of higher education in the United States.  At IU Libraries, our people, collections, and spaces work toward one purpose: using knowledge to inspire great work. As one of the nation’s largest academic libraries, our legacy is the strength of our world-class collections:  IU Libraries is ranked number 14 by the Association of Research Libraries for public academic research libraries and holds 9.9 million research-level print volumes in nearly 450 languages, plus 1.9 million e-book and 60,000 electronic journals.   IU Libraries has a long history of innovation, and its digital libraries and digital preservation work dates back to the mid-1990s development of the Victorian Women Writers Project and the groundbreaking Variations digital music library.

The Avalon Media System is an open source system for managing and providing access to large collections of digital audio and video. The freely available software enables libraries and archives to easily curate, distribute and provide online access to their collections for purposes of teaching, learning and research. The project is led by the libraries of Indiana University Bloomington and Northwestern University and is funded in part by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and approximately 35,000 museums. Its mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Its grant for this project is number LG-70-17-0042-17.


For more information, contact:

Evviva Weinraub, Associate University Librarian for Digital Strategies at Northwestern University Libraries, at (847) 467 6178, or evviva.weinraub@northwestern.edu.

Jon Dunn, Assistant Dean for Library Technologies at Indiana University Libraries, at (812) 855-0953 or jwd@iu.edu.

Contact Info

(812) 855-3403
(812) 855-2576 (Fax)
Helene O'Leary
Helene O'Leary - Assistant Dean for Advancement
(812) 855-4182