A Year in the Life of Audiovisual/Media Preservation in Illinois: Collection Assessment

Miriam Centeno, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Why do you need to conduct a collection assessment?

Thus far in the year-long project on the preservation of audiovisual (AV) materials, the CARLI Preservation Committee has concentrated on the need for getting to know an institution’s AV holdings, by taking inventory and identifying formats. Much like the principle that “Form follows function,” the collecting priorities of an institution, the nature of the holdings, and their physical condition will greatly influence the creation of a preservation plan.

Conducting an assessment survey gathers all of the information together in one place, so that the next steps can be prioritized.  The survey can be as simple or as complex as a collection needs, the important thing is that the tool used to gather, store, and process the information is adequate to the scale of the holdings. This allows the surveyor to avoid building a huge survey that takes a very long time to complete and yields little useful information. For very small collections, a single spreadsheet that can be sorted by selected categories can suffice. For larger institutions, a tool that can grow as needs change will work better such as adding new locations and new collections to the general survey.

The Illinois Campus Media Censusis an example of a very large scale campus-wide and self-designed assessment project. It was conducted by Joshua Harris, Media Preservation specialist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and funded by an NEH Challenge Grant. Harris describes the process as very time and labor intensive project that required 1 FTE for the 1 month of survey design and the 11 months of data gathering, with an additional 6 months for analysis and report writing.  The survey was designed from scratch, without the use of outside tools and it was conducted by specialists who were experts in the field. The conclusions of the census data, led the University of Illinois Library’s Preservation department to design new media care, conservation, and reformatting laboratory spaces for Library collections.

In contrast collection managers looking for a smaller investment of time and labor can look at some online tools that have been developed to help with this work. The Library of Congress has a webpagelisting assessment tools that were developed by university research institutions:

This article will explore the most recent tool, the Preservation Self-Assessment Program (PSAP)3, which was created by the University of Illinois Library with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The PSAP expands on the work of the AvSAP assessment of media collections, and is an online tool that helps to identify and assess the textual, photographic, as well as audiovisual collections materials. The program was presented4 by lead investigator by Jennifer Hain Teper at the Book and Paper Group Session, AIC’s Annual Meeting on May 2015 and officially launched online on August 2015.

The PSAP About US webpage states that the program:

  • Supports targeted preservation assessments of paper documents, books and bound items, photographic and image materials, and audiovisual media.
  • Performs item- and collection-level assessments.
  • Provides textual and image-based educational resources to aid in the identification of different types of materials and their preservation challenges (see the Format ID Guide).
  • Addresses factors of both storage and display, applicable from open exhibitions to closed archives.

Whether the user is newly learning or is already experienced in the preservation field, the PSAP provides resources such as the Format ID Guide, the Glossary and the extensive Bibliography to help the user better understand the needs of the collection. In this way a user can learn to “define project scopes, or to justify funding for basic preservation efforts.”  It is not intended to replace professional conservators but to help the collection manager plan for future preservation activity.

There are three separate assessment levels in which the user is asked questions of the institution, location, and the individual resource/item. Each level tackles different questions that start from the general infrastructure of the institution, to the environmental conditions of its current location, to the physical condition of the individual item itself. The results are tallied by a Score Generator on an ascending scale of 0 to 100, taking into account that about 60% of the score relates to institutional and environmental conditions that can be controlled, and that the remaining 40% of the score is based on factors that cannot be controlled such as the inherent attributes of the items (i.e. whether the items is composed of stable or unstable materials.  Finally, there is a report function that allows the user to select by institution, location or item so the information can be shared with others.

The PSAP also provides for “Next Steps Resources” section. Once all of the information is entered, the user will be looking for ways to select priorities, acquire needed staff and supplies or identify vendors to care for the AV materials.

Case Study- Collection Assessment Using the PSAP

Institution Name Donnelley and Lee Library, Lake Forest College

 Reporting agent

Anne Thomason, College Archivist and Librarian for Special Collection at Lake Forest College

Type of Institution

Small liberal arts college (1600 undergraduate students)

How time/labor intensive do you estimate the process will be to set your assessment for your institution?

I think we could do an assessment with my institution in a reasonable amount of time. The most challenging part would be asking facilities management to answer questions and work with me to do it. Like most projects, it probably would take longer than I think; however, my initial impression is that the time and labor involved is acceptable and moderate. 

Can you conduct the assessment with your current staffing levels, or would you need the help of workers, students/interns or volunteers?

I think with current staffing levels. I might need my director to assign one or two other professional staff to help.         

Is this a tool that allows you to scale its use up or down according with the size of your collection?

Based on what I saw I think it scales depending on size of collection…

Where you able to navigate and find all of the resources?


I found quite a few resources, including the Format ID guide and the glossary. Looking over the Format ID guide, it was very helpful. I looked through the user guide too. I probably missed some resources, resources I assume I would find if we were to implement the tool here at the College.

Which resources appear most helpful for your collection and why?

I found the Format ID guide very useful—it’s been a while since I have studies different formats, and reviewing different types of paper or photographs in particular was useful. I could see using this guide a great deal. I saw there was a bibliography which could come in handy. I admit though if I am looking up research on a particular topic I might not visit this bibliography first. 

I did an assessment of my overall collection using the assessment tool. I’m not sure if completed the entire thing, but found it useful. I think it might be most useful in showing my director and other colleagues where we are falling short and where we are succeeding in a quick way. I know where we are falling short, but having a professional resource telling us what we need to work on would legitimize my concerns. 


  1. University of Illinois Library, Illinois Campus Media Census.
  2. Library of Congress Preservation & Assessment Tool.
  3. University of Illinois Library, Preservation Self-Assessment Program (PSAP).
  4. Hain Teper, Jennifer, “The Preservation Self-Assessment Program: A Tool to Aid in Preservation and Conservation Prioritization”, Presented at the Book and Paper Group Session, AIC’s 43rd Annual Meeting, May 13–16, 2015, Miami, Florida.

Continue to the next article: Care & Storage

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