Digital Archives: Preserving the Digital Past – Part 2

In part one of our exploration of digital preservation, we looked at the beginning of Special Collections and Archives’ initiatives to preserve digital media. We will now look at how this project expanded to include audio-visual tape material.

Digital media and audio-visual material are frequently thought of as hand-in-hand by many. However, in archival and preservation practices the two are often handled differently.  While both sets of materials may have audio and video content, the processes to extract the files and interact with the content differ greatly. Thus, when Special Collections and Archives began to look into the process of preserving physical media the focus was on born-digital media stored on CDs, DVDs, 3.5” floppy disks, and similar media. The ease of accessibility and digitization were two considerations for prioritizing born-digital content, because analog material created on audio-visual tape requires access to legacy equipment.

With the expansion of the project, Special Collections and Archives, along with Shane Somerville, an intern from Dominican University’s Library and Information Science program, worked to develop and implement a strategy to locate, inventory, and preserve audio-visual tapes that would complement the previous SAA Jump In 2014 initiative that focused on digital media.

In Shane’s words:

“Coming into this practicum, I needed to break my project up into three goals. These ended up being:  1) create an inventory of the analog media in the archive; 2) assess and prioritize the collections on the inventory for digitization; and 3) develop a plan to implement phased digitization of media for long-term preservation and enhanced user access.”

A vital component of the project was to allow Shane, in consultation with Special Collections and Archives, to design and lead the project as a way to grow his project management skills. This project was an investment in the library and archives profession, as well as in a future professional, and served to assist us in our continued stewardship of the audio-visual materials.

The project began with Shane looking through finding aids for keywords that could signify audio-visual material within archival collections. After identifying collections that might contain this material, Shane conducted hands-on inventories of the contents of these collections. While this inventory has not been completed for all identified collections, the number of materials is already over 1,000 individual AV pieces and will only grow as the project continues.


At this stage, the physical condition of the material is assessed, and archivists most familiar with those collections are consulted so that we can determine priorities for moving forward.  Reformatting and digital preservation are based on a number of factors including vulnerability of the original format, current condition, and predicted researcher use.

This initial work was possible through the dedication of our intern, Shane Somerville, and his ability to grow and adapt alongside the project.  The future of the project is aimed at providing further access to the material via digitization. While it is our policy to retain the original formats when possible, the newly digitized content then joins the stream of born-digital content managed as part of Special Collections and Archives’ digital preservation activities. The process is underway with efforts to digitize a portion of the audio-visual tape material using consistent standards and best practices.


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