Saving At-Risk Audiovisual Materials: Tips and Resources for Rehousing and Reformatting Old Media

By Drewes, Jeanne | American Libraries, March-April 2017 | Go to article overview

Saving At-Risk Audiovisual Materials: Tips and Resources for Rehousing and Reformatting Old Media


Drewes, Jeanne, American Libraries


The living voice is that which sways the soul," wrote Roman author Pliny the Younger in the 1st century CE.

Indeed, the audible voice is an essential component of an interview. Programs such as StoryCorps (storycorps.org) and other oral history programs preserve the voices that convey the memories of participants in important events of earlier times.

Libraries have been collecting audio and video for many years, and audiovisual librarians well know the value of voices and moving images. Within the profession itself, Technical Services Manager A. Arro Smith--author of Capturing Our Stories: An Oral History of Librarianship in Transition (ALA Editions, 2017)--has been chronicling the oral histories of retired librarians on a supplementary website (bit.ly/2iJoYWm). Smith is working with former American Library Association (ALA) President Loriene Roy, in partnership with the University of Texas at Austin School of Information, on this repository.

Many audiovisual collections are considered at risk. Years of data could be lost through deterioration of the original media unless it can be transferred to more durable digital formats. Libraries and other cultural institutions are rediscovering the value of these collections and are taking steps to preserve the sounds and images they contain.

For example, the Preservation and Reformatting Section of the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) completed its inaugural Preservation in Action (PIA) project (ala.org/alcts/pia2016) on June 24 during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference. As part of the project, librarian volunteers worked with the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando, Florida, to rehouse its film collection in archival enclosures. Photo Archivist Whitney Broad-away was the onsite staffer who assisted the working group in organizing the event. The experience gave those at the center a hands-on opportunity to learn about audiovisual preservation while helping to preserve its collections. Siobhan Hagan, a member of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMLA), also assisted by providing onsite training and handouts.

Another PLA service project is scheduled for the 2017 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago (ala.org/alcts/ pia2017). Such service projects allow ALA members to learn from their preservation colleagues while also assisting institutions in the conference city.

Education and advocacy

The need for audiovisual preservation both for our library collections and the communities we serve is becoming an important area for education and advocacy. The Washington, D.C.-based Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) has received a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to assist in this needed action (bit.ly/2hKW0b). The program, in partnership with the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), will fund the digitization of audio and video materials of high scholarly value that are at a high risk of loss. CLIR and NEDCC will run four competitions between January 2017 and September 2018, awarding a total of $2.3 million to successful applicants to cover the direct costs of preserving these materials.

Many other companies also provide high-quality reformatting services. Here are some steps to consider when planning your audiovisual preservation project.

Know what you have. This is an important first step. It often takes time to locate all the small collections that over the years have been sequestered in multiple places within an institution. Several useful tools are available for surveying audiovisual collections. The California State Library's California Preservation Program (calpreservation.org) has developed a needs assessment instrument, CALIPR (bit.ly/2iu07Aw), that is freely available to libraries, even outside California. Another useful tool is the Preservation Self-Assessment Program (bit.ly/2hzPp0f) administered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, which helps collection managers evaluate their options for preservation of everything from paper documents to film and audio materials, as well as ceramic, glass, stone, and metal objects. …

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