25.07.17

Back me up: Protecting digital records

close up of vintage audio tape cassette isolated

With AV records estimated to have a shelf-life of 15 to 20 years, Pedro Gonzalez-Fernandez, program associate, Recordings at Risk, Council on Library and Information Resources outlines how these materials are being protected.

I can give a broad overview of audiovisual reformatting initiatives. This isn’t really a new issue, but people have become much more aware of how “at risk” audiovisual materials are. There are estimates of about 15-20 years before obsolescence and degradation remove any hope of us accessing the unique information held on audiovisual carriers. 

Many of these audiovisual recordings fall under the stewardship of professionals who lack specialized training regarding their description, storage, and maintenance needs, as well as knowledge regarding the digital transfer process. 

The most straightforward method that is employed by institutions is outsourcing with an audiovisual digitization vendor. Of course, once you have created digital surrogates of your audiovisual recordings the job isn’t complete! Now you need to preserve and provide access to the digital files.

There are other low-cost, DIY and community-based methods that institutions have developed in order to get around these hurdles. For instance, DC Public Library’s Memory Lab is an in-house digitization studio that is used by community members. (Not all “at risk” recordings are held by institutions.)

So that’s a very broad description of the world of AV digital reformatting. Recordings at Risk tries to help out by awarding grants for digital reformatting projects and we aim to assist a variety of institutions so that we can help develop practical strategies for getting more of this work accomplished.

In a series of articles on AV tech and libraries we also found out how one library has invested in VR tech to offer new and engaging services. You can read more here.