Caring for Yale Library’s Audiovisual Collections

Audiovisual Reformatting Technician, Ron Sutfin, assessing the quality of digitized files converted from VHS and other analog media

According to the Heritage Health Index and other studies, the condition of half of the 86 million film reels, videos, cassettes, and other audiovisual objects in U.S. institutions is unknown and undocumented, leaving them in probable jeopardy. Unlike books and paper, these objects are time-based and dependent upon machines. These inherent characteristics of A/V media pose unique preservation challenges, as the content can be rendered inaccessible due to the decay of the storage object combined with a lack of playback equipment.

Surveying Yale Library's Audiovisual Collections

In 2013, the Center for Preservation and Conservation took a major step toward addressing the challenge to preserve the Library’s audiovisual resources by conducting an item-level assessment of unique A/V resources. The assessment included information about format type, labeling details, and item location. For many of the Library’s collections, the survey created a much-needed inventory that can be used to improve intellectual control and aid in prioritizing collections for reformatting.

As a result of the survey, the Library funded a multi-year program to reformat all the media classified as a priority for preservation based on content value and the vulnerability of the media format. The program was added to the Center’s existing book and paper reformatting operation. Over the next five to ten years, the program will convert many of the special collections’ videotapes, audio reels and cassettes, wire recording, CDs, and other A/V formats using a combination of in-house equipment, expertise, and specialized vendors.

Priority 1 A/V Holdings by Collection

Yale Library's Priority by Format

In-House Equipment and Services

Our audiovisual reformatting technician uses a system called SAMMA to convert videotape content to digital files. The system creates a preservation master and an access file. The system also records technical metadata that is essential for the long-term preservation of the new digital versions.

Videotapes in the digitization queue

This workspace houses all of the equipment needed to digitize videotape content.

Projects with Outside Vendors

In 2015, reformatting staff collaborated with music librarians to stabilize 88 silent film reels and 7 audio-image reels from the Benny Goodman Papers. The project also included the digitization of 33 sound objects. A second phase of the project is planned to create digital audio-image composites for increased access.

Conservation re-housed a portion of the Beinecke Library’s cylinder recordings after they were reformatted to prevent them from deteriorating. Proper housings can prolong the life of original audiovisual media.

Still from a Benny Goodman film

Wax cylinders being prepped for housings

Analog to Digital

For many years, the Library’s conservators used color slides to document objects before and after treatment. These slides will need to be digitized to preserve them and meet our ethical duty to maintain conservation documentation records in perpetuity.

An ambitious project is underway to digitize three decades of conservation treatment color slides.

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