Getting Started

Basic Planning Questions

Many people think of preservation simply as the remastering of a given tape to a newer, more stable format. While important, this may not be the place to begin your preservation program. Planning and education will help you to prioritize how your funds and energies should be spent and help you to avoid re-inventing the preservation wheel.

Initial work emphasizes protecting the tapes from damage or deterioration, assessing what you have, and designing a plan with short-term and long-term goals. Of course, if you're in an emergency situation and the tapes are in immediate danger, you should seek professional help immediately; see the sections on Cleaning and Disasters .

All tapes are not equal. If you have a large collection, you probably need to consider priorities. The following questions can help you evaluate your holdings and establish short-term goals. This step helps you gather basic information to create a preservation plan and will help you explain your process to others outside your organization.

  • How, when and why were the works acquired? Were they donated, produced, rescued?
  • What is the value of the tapes? Why are they important to save? Who will use them?
  • Do you have legal rights to the tapes? If not, can you identify the owner? Are rights potentially at question? How can copyright and ownership be addressed? Should these issues affect your actions toward preservation?
  • Are there different collections within the holdings? How are these identified? Are some more valuable, unique, endangered? Do some pose more difficult preservation problems, for example ownership questions?
  • What stage in the production process do the tapes represent? Are they masters, sub-masters, camera or audio originals, viewing copies?
  • Which tapes or collections are unique, representing the only copy or one of only a few surviving copies?
  • What are the finding aids for the holding? Do any tape lists or catalogs exist? What portion of the holdings do they represent?
  • Do you know how the tapes have been stored?
  • What is the overall condition of the tapes? Which tapes are on obsolete or endangered formats? Which are the oldest?
  • Does the mission of your organization include preservation? If not, should it? Should you consider giving your collection to another organization better able to care for the work?
  • What staff and financial resources can you commit to preservation on the short-term? Long-term?
  • What do the above questions tell you about how to proceed?

Evaluate & Improve Your Storage Environment

Moving tapes to a stable environment will prolong their useful shelf life, and may forstall the need for more extensive physical preservation in the long run. Locate a clean, dust-free environment away from major electrical conduits; climate control will prevents severe temperature and humidity fluctuations. Monitor temperature and humidity to get accurate assessment of the environment. Tapes should be shelved upright, using metal shelves if possible. See sections on Storage and Care and Handling for more detail on these issues.

If you don't have a place for proper storage on-site, consider other options. If you can afford off-site climate-controlled storage, it may be a better solution. If not, can you identify another group that would agree to house your collection either temporarily or permanently? Establish a deadline by which you decide either to retain the tapes and take appropriate preservation steps, or to transfer the tapes to another institution.

Catalog Your Holdings

In some cases it makes most sense to catalog the tapes as you shelve them. In other cases, you need to get them out of boxes and upright and should deal with the reorganization later. Before you start shelving, consider an overall strategy:

  • Do you already have a list or numbering system? If so, you can order the tapes on the shelves by this existing method of organization.
  • Are there different discreet collections? If so, keep them together.
  • If you have an advanced cataloging system that includes a shelf location, the most efficient way to store tapes is by format

You will want to do a basic inventory of your tapes on a computer, so you know what you have and can let other know. The initial catalog may only include a limited number of fields.

If you create a computer-based catalog template for your own use, you may cause yourself much unnecessary work. We recommend the standard template that is being used by many media arts groups for the Cataloging Project of Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP). The template uses the software program FileMaker Pro available for both the MacIntosh and PC platforms. For more information on the template and to download it, contact IMAP.

Be aware that playing older tapes can permanently damage them beyond restoration. While cataloging, you may not be able to view the tapes but rather rely on the information on the storage box or reel, even if the information is incomplete.

See section on Cataloging for more information.

Consultants and Colleagues

You may want to consider hiring a consultant to complete a preservation survey. A preservation survey is a written report which documents the condition of your collection, examines the organizational and environmental conditions in which the work exists, and makes recommendations for next steps. The survey is usually performed by an outside consultant - typically a moving image archivist or conservator. For non-profit organizations, this is often the first step to securing public or private funds for preservation. If you are an individual artist, you may consider a partnership with an university archive or other repository to do a preservation survey.

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) has published a pamphlet "Selecting a Conservator" . They also administer a conservation services referral system through the publication FAIC Guide to Conservation Services.

"Using Consultants in Film/Video Archives," by Alan Lewis in Footage 89: North American Film and Video Sources, New York: Prelinger Associates is also helpful.

A number of media arts organizations have undertaken preservation projects and could provide suggestions or guidance.

Collaborative projects and networking with colleagues through such groups as Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP) or the AMIA listserv can also be useful.

Educate Yourself

See the section in "Video Preservation: The Basics" - Learning More About Electronic Media Preservation for on-line and print bibliographic resources, funding information and education.

Other resources of use are:

Boyle, Deirdre. Video Preservation: Securing the Future of the Past, NY: Media Alliance, 1993.

Lindner, Jim. Videotape Restoration--Where Do I Start?  No date.

Murphy, William T. Television and Video Preservation 1997,  Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1997. See the chapter "The Materials and their Preservation Needs" for a discussion on recommended temperature and humidity for tape. You may also order it from the Library of Congress.

Preserve, Inc.  publishes Dance Archives: a practical manual for documenting and preserving the ephemeral art. Chapters on General Preservation and Storage, Videotape and Film, Photographs, Documents on Paper, Oral and Video Histories, a Glossary of Archival Terms, a Bibliography, and a comprehensive list of Resources. Preserve, Inc. is a national, not-for-profit center that serves as national clearinghouse for information about archival documentation and preservation of the performing arts.

Wheeler, Jim. Videotape Preservation  Nov 1994.

Preservation Planning and Management

Scholtz, James C., Developing and Maintaining Video Collections in Libraries,  Santa Barbara, CA CLIR, 1989.