Mellon Foundation Awards GBH $16 Million Grant for American Archive of Public Broadcasting

The grant will help the American Archive of Public Broadcasting digitize and preserve more content produced by public media, including the children’s show ZOOM, which is already available in its archives. (Image credit: GBH)

BOSTON—The Mellon Foundation has awarded GBH $16 million to support the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), a collaboration between GBH and the Library of Congress, that works to digitize, preserve and make accessible historically significant public radio and television programs from producers and stations across the United States. 

This grant will be the largest private philanthropic grant GBH has ever received.

“We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for their support of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. This vast collection of public media programs is American history as seen through local, regional and national lenses, but we are in a race against time to preserve these at-risk treasures now on fragile and obsolete formats,” said GBH president and CEO Susan Goldberg. “The AAPB ensures that critical works of culture, news, arts and more are identified and made accessible to the public for years to come.” 

The AAPB contains nearly 100,000 items online available for the public to stream for free, dating back more than 70 years, with thousands more available for research access. 

Collections and content range from full episodes of groundbreaking public affairs programs like WNET’s Black Journal, unedited interviews recorded for series like Eyes on the Prize, the kid-driven ‘70s series ZOOM, and the entire “gavel-to-gavel” coverage of the Watergate Hearings. Exhibits delve into public media’s coverage of protests in America, Latino empowerment, Indigenous representation and much more. 

The AAPB was initiated by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with a series of pilot projects before granting stewardship to the Library of Congress and GBH in 2013.

The grant builds on previous support from the Mellon Foundation and will enable the AAPB to expand its work by: 

  • Identifying collections suitable for preservation; 
  • Prioritizing digitization and ingestion of collections representing the diversity of American voices currently stored on at-risk, deteriorating media formats; 
  • Supporting the digitization of up to 150,000 items, thereby doubling the current size of the collection; 
  • Participating in the development of open-source digital tools to improve content management;
  • Enhancing the public website and supporting the needs of its growing and evolving user base;
  • Expanding development of special collections and exhibits, outreach to communities of interest, and cultivation of an ethic of preservation throughout the public media community. 

“This grant from the Mellon Foundation is a recognition of the AAPB’s vital work in preserving decades of American history, told through the diverse voices and perspectives of stations across the country and U.S. territories,” said Karen Cariani, the David O. Ives executive director of the GBH Media Library and Archives and GBH project director for the AAPB. “With this funding, the AAPB will be able to better support its contributing stations as well as the growing number of users who rely on our digital archive for education, journalism, scholarship and more.” 

"The preservation of public media is as critical as its creation. Mellon’s commitment to help ensure the longevity of this multivocal cultural and civic heritage will provide future generations opportunities to understand themselves and their communities in more complete ways," said Patricia Hswe, program officer for public knowledge at The Mellon Foundation. "I'm thrilled that GBH, in collaboration with the Library of Congress, will be able to pursue this rescue work on a large scale and make substantial progress in saving this endangered media."

George Winslow

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.