A Year in the Life of Audiovisual/Media Preservation in Illinois: New Prints & Digitization

Mary Burns, Northern Illinois University

While much has been written about the digital preservation of book and paper materials and more recently attention has turned to the critical need to preserve audiovisual materials of artifactual value in special collections, there is little available to inform the digitization process for access or reference copies.

NIU AV Stacks image
Northern Illinois University AV Stacks

Why do libraries and institutions make copies of audiovisual materials that are newly purchased and not considered to be of artifactual value?

New audiovisual materials may be considered valuable and candidates for digitization just by virtue of their purchase price or the difficulty of acquiring them from a small vendor.  Using a digital access copy of a newly published or produced audiovisual resource helps protect the original by allowing it to be stored in a secure place under the appropriate environmental conditions.  This ensures that the original is not damaged, lost or stolen and can be used to make additional access copies as needed.  It may be more convenient for some patrons, distance learners for instance, to use an audiovisual object in digital form.  Also, playback equipment may not always be available for patron use in some settings, such as a classroom, which would make digital access necessary.

How does the digitization process of a newly published or produced audiovisual resource compare to the process for creating a preservation digital copy of an audiovisual resource with artifactual value?         

When one begins to consider the implications of creating a digital access or reference copy some of the same questions that one must consider with the preservation digital copies arise.  Does your library have the equipment and personnel with the skills to make the digital copy?  Is there a policy in place to guide the process of making the access digital copy?  Does the library have the funds to support the creation of access digital copies?  Once you create the digital copy of the audiovisual resource you have to consider how you are going to preserve it.  Since you are keeping the original audiovisual resource, do you have space to store the access copies as well?  Just like having the proper equipment to playback the original object is a concern when the equipment is out of date and no longer commercially available, the digital access copy’s carrier will also eventually wear out.  The file may become corrupt or it may become inaccessible as technology and file formats change.

The quality of the digital access copy is a major factor just as it is for a preservation digital copy.  Digital files have to be compressed to make them easily available for online access.  Compression takes away from the quality of both sound recordings and visual images.  Higher quality files imply higher costs.  For resources being used for studies in art and music the quality standards should remain high.  Compression of any kind makes it imperative that you retain the original audiovisual resource because once the files are compressed and sound or image quality is lost you can never get it back again.  Finally, like a preservation digital copy, you should probably consider what kinds of metadata you need to manage, the reference or access digital copy.

What are some of the additional issues that may need to be addressed when creating a digital copy of an audiovisual resource without artifactual value?

Other complicated issues may arise on a more regular basis with digital access copies made from new prints than with preservation digital access copies.  Copyright laws and license agreements with vendors could pose greater challenges.  Institutions do have the legal right to digitize materials under copyright for preservation purposes but the digital copy can only be accessed on the institution’s premises (https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/6.-reformatting/6.6-preservation-and-selection-for-digitization).  The United States Government Copyright Office website has a page which outlines the four factors considered when determining fair use under Section 107 of the Copyright Act for nonprofit educational purposes (http://copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html).  How a digital access copy may be used, or if it can lawfully be made, may also be determined by the vendor and the license agreements signed at the time of purchase.  If a digital access copy is intended for multi-use, as it would be in a classroom setting, or it multiple students were going to be viewing it at different times, it may need to be stipulated in the initial agreement.

Case Study

As part of the Preservation Committee’s yearlong look at two libraries, Anne Thomason (Donnelley and Lee Library at Lake Forest College Library) and Patrick Brown (Morris Library at the Southern Illinois University - Carbondale) discuss their new prints and digitization practices.

Institution Name Donnelley and Lee Library, Lake Forest College

 Reporting agent

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

Are digital copies of new audiovisual resources treated differently from digital audiovisual resource copies created for preservation purposes? Anne: “At the moment, no. This is a tough one, because most new resources are videos of campus events. Some might go into Digital Commons, our institutional repository and home for faculty and student publications.  Others might be posted on YouTube, or another College website. Some of these events are not necessarily items we will keep forever. I would say that preservation copies are not necessarily going into Digital Commons and are being kept on a shared drive as well as a hard drive.” 
Are there policies in place at your institutions to help guide the process of making access copies? Anne: “Not yet! It’s a fly by night operation. I have made access copies for researchers and because our policies have yet to be finalized, those also function as the preservation copy.”


Works Consulted

Against the Grain. 27.4 (2015).

  • Contains various articles on audiovisual preservation.

Mariner, Matthew C.  Managing Digital Audiovisual Resources: a Practical Guide for Librarians.  Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. Practical Guides for Librarians 3. Print.

Additional Online Resources

Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts (CCAHA). "Glossary of Selected Audiovisual Preservation Terminology.”

Gertz, Janet. "Preservation and Selection for Digitization.” 

Greene, Steve. “Chasing Technology: the Challenge of Preserving Audiovisual Records.” 

Jones, Jimi. "The Basics of Audiovisual Preservation on a Shoestring Budget.”

Kesse. Erich.  "Archival Copies of Video Tapes.” 

National DIET Library.  "Frequently Asked Questions.

Schüller, Dietrich.  "Audiovisual Research Collections and Their Preservation.” 

Schüller, Dietrich. "Socio-Technical and Socio-Cultural Challenges of Audio and Video Preservation.” 

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