PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A woman who faithfully taped 35 years of TV news with the hope that one day it would prove to be valuable, searchable historical material did not live to see her dream realized.
But the vision of Philadelphia resident Marion Stokes, who died last year at 83, will become a reality now that her 140,000 video cassettes are being archived in an online library.
The trove, which totals about a million hours of newscasts, is expected to arrive Tuesday at the Internet Archive in Richmond, Calif., where it will be digitized and made available to the public, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported (http://bit.ly/1ksefVO).
"We were awestruck by two things," said Roger Macdonald, the virtual library's director of TV archives. "One, the size of the collection. And two, the human story behind it, that one person could create so extensive a collection."
The massive collection, which was first reported last month by Fast Company magazine, include local news shows from Philadelphia between 1986 and 2012, and broadcasts from Boston, where she once lived, from 1977 to 1986. All the while, she also recorded national news and cable channels, leading to her to run several VCRs simultaneously 24 hours a day.
Her son, Michael Metelits, described Stokes as "searingly intelligent" and said her passion was rooted in the belief that a well-informed public was essential to good governance. Shrewd investments funded the project.
"My mother had a keen sense of the uniqueness of her mission," said Metelits, 53. "She would resist, forcefully, anybody who told us this was useless or a waste of time."
The cassettes might include rare material. During the 1960s and '70s, local TV stations routinely wiped clean their tapes and reused them; it cost too much and required too much space to maintain an archive.
Stokes kept her tapes in Boston, Philadelphia and in a storage facility in suburban Warminster, Pa. The Internet Archive, a nonprofit, has begun soliciting donations to pay for digitizing the collection, a process expected to take years and cost at least $2 million.
"She had good instincts," Macdonald said. "She got the public value of people being able to engage in a digital world. The staff has been awestruck, and humbled, that we might have the opportunity to fulfill her dream in a manner that she couldn't anticipate."
Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.inquirer.com