On September 9, 2019, our colleague and friend Frank Clifford died. He had various forms of cancer for several years and maintained an active life, continuing to work as long as he could. His grace and joie de vivre set an example for all who knew him. Frank made enormously important contributions to the digital preservation of cultural heritage materials at Yale. Prior to his work at the Fortunoff Archive, Frank was an engineer at Yale Broadcast where he was first exposed to survivor testimonies, both when he recorded them as the camera person and when he repaired tapes or equipment for Fortunoff. Frank served as Project Manager for a multiyear mass digitization effort at the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies beginning in 2010. Working with Yale Information Technology experts, he helped design an automated workflow that could digitize three streams of video tapes at once. He cleaned and migrated the entire Fortunoff collection consisting of nearly 12,000 hours of video testimonies from several analogue formats and standards to three digital formats for preservation, editing, and use purposes. Operating multiple video transfer decks and sophisticated tape cleaning and digitization equipment simultaneously, Frank fastidiously migrated these unique, at-risk materials tape by tape, year by year.
Frank was dedicated to capturing the highest quality, most authentic representation of the original recordings. Occasionally Frank encountered a tape in such compromised condition that he exposed the tape heads of the obsolete deck and gently held a cleaning medium to the tape heads to prevent the shedding tape binder from clogging the heads, thus preventing the loss of the remainder of the tape. In these cases there was only one chance, one playback, to capture the content. A talented engineer, Frank also cobbled together pieces of machinery to keep the archive’s obsolete Umatic and Betacam decks operational. He made the impossible doable, and the doable easy.
Above and beyond his admirable professionalism and mastery of technology, Frank was greatly impacted by the stories of the survivors and witnesses. He spoke at public functions noting how honored he was to be able to preserve these testimonies. He deeply understood the significance of his role in helping to preserve these testimonies for future generations.
Frank also migrated important video materials at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and Yale University Library Manuscripts and Archives. Prior to his career at Yale, he was a broadcast engineer in radio and television. A talented musician, a warm, caring mensch, Frank’s friends were devoted and innumerable.
We will miss Frank’s friendship, his humor, his talent, and his irreplaceable knowledge and expertise.
Image: Frank in the basement of Sterling Memorial Library, where he digitized materials from the Fortunoff Archive. Photo courtesy of Geoff Fox.