A Year in the Life of Audiovisual/Media Preservation in Illinois: Disaster Planning

Jamie Nelson, DePaul University

Readers of this installment of the Preservation Committee’s yearlong look at audiovisual/media preservation will likely recognize that the information presented in this piece isn’t new, but that the application specific to AV materials may leave some room for revision and improvement at our own institutions.  Lucky for all of us, we have two motivating factors going in our favor; the peer pressure of other Illinois institutions considering these AV issues together this year, and the upcoming MayDay call to focus on disaster planning and “take personal and professional responsibility for doing something simple … but that can have a significant impact on an individual’s or a repository’s ability to respond.”

The first step of disaster planning for AV materials is to have a disaster plan in general.  There are several good resources available, including those listed in the Preservation Committee’s webliography of preservation resources under Disaster Planning and Response.  Resources include links to background readings, format-specific advice, video tutorials, and templates that prompt institutions to fill-in-the-blanks to create basic disaster response plans.  For an overview of disaster planning and emergency response, read the Northeast Document Conservation Center’s Leaflet 3.3.  NEDCC categorizes the steps for disaster planning as:           

  • Identifying risks
  • Decreasing risks
  • Cooperative plan
  • Identifying resources
  • Setting priorities
  • Writing the plan
  • Maintaining the plan

dPlan, “The Online Disaster-Planning Tool for Cultural and Civic Institutions,” expands upon the steps and contents in Leaflet 3.3.  Non-profit institutions can create an account for free, or review resources and the process through the “demo” account. dPlan includes a template that, if printed, is 129 pages long; all the information prompted on the template sheets is entered into the online template to eventually produce a disaster plan tailored to your institution. This plan can be updated online, and revised sections, or the entire plan, can be exported again, so that you can keep your plan up to date.

Wherever your institution is in terms of disaster planning, chances are the plan could use some review, revision, or format-specific improvements.

For institutions without documented disaster plans, it’s important to take those first steps.  Getting started with broad, repository-wide, collection-level planning will benefit your AV materials by preventing or mitigating disasters for all your materials.  If you know the location and format of AV materials, and especially if they are within collections that are in your priority list to salvage, note these in your plans.  If you are establishing contacts with commercial vendors (full service, transportation, freeze-dry, secure drying space, etc.), inquire about their abilities to handle the types of AV materials found in your high priority collections. (For an example of a contract, see http://www.loc.gov/flicc/pdf/disaster.pdf). If they can’t accommodate these materials, don’t let this sidetrack the completion of a basic plan; note that you still need to find specific vendors and resources for these materials and make it a point to revisit your plan soon to make these enhancements.  Many institutions, including our case study colleague Anne Thomason of Donnelley and Lee Library at Lake Forest College, are still in the starting stages of disaster planning.

For institutions with documented disaster plans, but the plans don’t explicitly include AV materials, add AV materials to the to-do list for your periodic review and update of your plan.  If you’ve already completed an inventory or have collection descriptions with detailed locations and format notes for AV materials, then you’re in an even better position.   You may want to prioritize specific AV items and collections to salvage and treat in case of disaster, and note some materials that could be triaged at a lower priority level, either because the content has already been duplicated and isn’t at risk (such as geographically distributed digital files) or the recovery rate is low due to the nature of the disaster or the time before treatment.  This statement from the dPlan section on Salvage Priorities is a good reminder:

“[C]ertain formats (e.g., original microfilm, photographs, videos, CDs, CD-ROMs, LPs) may merit a high salvage priority because they are particularly vulnerable to damage. Salvage of these materials will be more feasible if they are rescued quickly. Conversely, if action cannot be taken quickly to save these types of materials, they may have to be written off.”  

What’s the comfort level in your own institution for 1) prioritizing AV salvage over paper, or 2) recognizing that some AV materials will be lost if not prioritized?  Knowing that some AV materials will be damaged by freezing (http://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/21-05.pdf), think about making a special mark on boxes with AV materials, for easier routing to the appropriate salvage vendor or station if you’re dealing with a water disaster.  Update the color-coding on your floor plan maps to highlight AV materials.  Consider reviewing your preferred vendors or contracts to see if/how they handle AV media, and what they would do if they encountered AV within boxes of paper-based materials they were treating.  When you review your emergency response supplies, consider including distilled water, deonized water, and Kodak Professional Photo-Flo solution, especially if you plan to stabilize or wash AV materials on site, or in preparation for further salvage work (see pp. 31-36 for format specific recommendations, http://calpreservation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/CPTF_disaster_plan_2003.pdf ).

For institutions with documented disaster plans that explicitly include AV materials, you can pat yourself on the back, but not rest on your laurels.  Make sure to periodically review and update your plan, as well as refresh your supplies. If your institution is programmatically digitizing AV content, consider updating salvage priorities to keep AV materials of high artifactual value, or those not yet digitized, higher on the salvage priority list than those with digital copies.  Our case study colleague Patrick Brown of the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has a disaster plan that explicitly considers AV formats, but the plan is due for updating and revision. And, those readers from institutions with such detailed plans – and I suspect this is rarified company - please feel free to share further tips and resources with the CARLI Preservation Committee by emailing support@carli.illinois.edu so that we can all learn from your experience.

Case Study

Questions Anne Thomason from Donnelley and Lee Library, Lake Forest College

Patrick Brown from Morris Library, Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Do you have a written/fully documented disaster plan for your repository?  When was it last updated?


We do not have a written or fully documented disaster plan for the library, and nothing for the archives either.

We do have a disaster plan. It was last fully revised in 2008, but I’ve been trying to update it recently.

Are A/V materials handled any differently in your plan than other materials? 



Thus, our AV materials have no special consideration as there is no plan.

Our disaster plan is divided by media with special considerations about how the material is handled during a water event-- special handling concerns, drying directions, etc. (for example Motion Picture Film and Microfilm must be kept wet until it can be rewashed by a professional).

Does your plan have provisions for specialized formats, or is it focused more on repository-level or collection-level?



I will say that if we do have a disaster plan, I would not expect the first iteration to include a special section for AV materials. I could see it being noted that they exist but I’m not sure we would have the resources to do anything special with them (mostly DVDs/audio cassettes/video cassettes).

Our plan is generally focused on media type.

If you have a priority rescue list, are there A/V materials on this short list list?




There are some A/V materials, but they are within a larger collection.

If you have contracts/arrangements made with any disaster recovery vendors, do you have special provisions/arrangements for A/V materials?



I need to look into this!

What suggestions about A/V disaster planning do you have for someone who hasn’t yet written/developed a disaster plan for their institution?



We would welcome suggestions.

Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Look at generic plans and plans from similar sized institutions.


California Preservation Program. “Library Disaster Plan.”

dPlan. “Data Collection Forms.” 

Library of Congress. “Disaster Recovery Contract.” 

National Park Service. “Conserve-O-Gram 21/5: Salvage At A Glance, Part II: Non-Paper Based Archival Collections.“ 

Northeast Document Conservation Center. “3.3 Disaster Planning.”

Northeast Document Conservation Center. “24 / 7 Collections Emergency Phone Assistance.” 

Society of American Archivists.  “MayDay: Saving Our Archives.” 

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