Tag Archives: Metronet

Northern Lights & Insights: Conversations Come Alive as Videotaped Interviews Go Digital

Obsolescence never meant the end of anything, it’s just the beginning.

The words of Marshall McLuhan, guru of an earlier time, came to mind when I learned that Northern Lights and Insights, a library of videos produced in an earlier time, has been added to Minnesota Reflections, the Minnesota Digital Library collection. http://reflections.mndigital.org/cdm/search/collection/p16022coll38

Conversations with Minnesota writers, political leaders, publishers, athletes, activists and more are now accessible to researchers, readers, students and Minnesotans who just want to know more about their heritage. There are interviews with Bill Holm, Carol Bly, with Evelyn Fairbanks, resident historian of the Rondo neighborhood, and with Genny Zak Kieley, chronicler of all things Northeast Minneapolis. Patrick Coleman chats with Governor Elmer L. Andersen while Freya and Frederick Manfred interview each other. Jon Hassler enjoys a lively exchange with J.F. Powers. Preserved in digital format are conversations with Will Weaver, Kay Sexton, Julie Schumacher, William Kent Krueger, Anne Bancroft and Eugene McCarthy – plus dozens of other Minnesotans of today and yesterday.

The saga of Northern Lights and Insights is long and occasionally bumpy, marked by changes in technology and provenance of the project. Begun by cable advocate and pioneer Dave Carlson, then on staff at Hennepin County Library, NL was originally taped in the well-equipped studios of the HCL; tapes were distributed and cablecast on local systems throughout the County and on the Metro Cable Network, the regional system carried on all metro area cable systems.

When HCL discontinued cable production, NL was adopted by Metronet/Minnesota Center for the Book where Dave Carlson joined the staff and continued to produce episodes into the early 21st Century.   Lacking production facilities, Dave and his equipment went on location, met interviewees in their homes or offices, or found a quiet after-hours interlude to record in the Metronet office. In the late 1990’s the Legislature funded a program to distribute videotapes of selected interviews through the state’s regional public library systems.

Enter the digital age… Video formats were rendered obsolete, production and playback equipment languished, and Northern Lights video interviews were yesterday’s news.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota History Center retained its archival collection of the irreplaceable tapes. Tapes were cataloged, annotated and made accessible to users who still had video equipment in working order… It is the tapes from the Minnesota History Center collection that have now been digitized and made accessible through the Minnesota Digital Library.  

And it is through the diligence and generosity of a committed chain of willing interviewees and interviewers, producers, sponsors, funders and archivists that the taped conversations have stood the test of time.

Thought for a perfect winter afternoon:  Reserve time to browse the collection from the comfort of a favorite armchair, read the annotations, remember the personalities of the interviewers and the interviewees and the accomplishments of both. Slow down to appreciate the legacy captured in the conversations.  Then select one or two of the interviews, sit back, click on the “view” icon, remember, reflect and make a plan to read or  re-read the work of a favorite writer.



Northern Lights Videos Reflect Minnesota’s Literary Landscape

Every day in libraries, bookstores and living rooms throughout the state Minnesotans gather to pore over books by local authors, books about the state’s history, studies of the land itself, idiosyncrasies of Minnesotans and stories of their unique approach to life. Bibliophiles venture forth on lush summer days and blustery wintry evenings for readings and talks by Minnesota writers and illustrators, those who review Minnesota press, publishers and reviewers. In a word, Minnesota is a state of lifelong readers.

What many folks don’t know is that there is a rich heritage of interviews with Minnesotans who have left their words or continue to write for Minnesota readers. Northern Lights and Insights is a little known collection of videotapes that record interviews with well over 500 Minnesotans with ties to the written world. The videos were produced over a period of thirteen years, first by Hennepin County Library and subsequently by the Minnesota Center for the Book which, during the late 1980’s and 1990’s, was housed at Metronet. As Director of Metronet at that time I was and remain inordinately proud of having had a hand in the production.

Production of the series has ceased, though the need has not. Many of the interviewees have achieved great literary success in the intervening years; sadly, many have died. Over time I have developed an absolute compulsion to assure that those incredible interviews are known by Minnesotans who love the books and who may want to the authors, illustrators and publishers.

This post is a preliminary but determined step aimed at preserving and sharing one of the state’s literary treasures through the best means possible.

All of the Northern Lights videos, in a mix of formats including VHS and Beta, are available at the Minnesota Historical Society Library. With funding from the state Legislature we were able to make videos available through interested regional public library systems in 1999-2000. Many schools include Northern Lights videos in their collections. All of the videos are cataloged in elegant detail and posted on the Web. My fervent hope is that some day, if an appropriate agency or collaborative will take responsibility, this video legacy of Minnesota literature may be streamed on the Web.

Because the project was low key and low budget emphasis was on content, matching interviewees with the right interviewer, assuring that local cable, including the Metro Cable Network, carried the half-hour shows as they were produced. The low tech production involved the writer and willing interviewer (who had read the book) sitting down in a working office. Dave Carlson, a producer who could work video magic without a studio, top of the line technology, or fanfare captured the conversation, then edited the tape for distribution on cable.

In some ways this 20th century effort was a precursor of today’s quick and easy on-site video. Promotion of Northern Lights was far from a realistic possibility for our bootstrap system; having no resources for promotion freed us to focus all of our efforts on seizing the moment and preserving it for posterity.

Some samples of the Northern Lights and Insights offers the a taste of the richness of the video collection. To wit: The series includes interviews with Bill Holm, Robert Bly, Meridel LeSuer, Kate DiCamillo, Eugene McCarthy, John Sandford, Gary Paulsen, Patricia Hampl, Elmer L. Andersen, James Shannon, and some 700 others. Program episode lists can be found on the Minnesota Historical Society website and on the online catalogs of participating public, academic and school libraries through MnLINK . (Search “Northern Lights” and look for video recordings – you will find some entries that include the term but refer to books; just move on to the videos.) Many of the videos are available in several libraries around the state – or patrons may request interlibrary loan at any local library.