Belinda Reich

Audiovisual Preservation Presentation

Hello, my name is Belinda Reich and, in this presentation, I will introduce you to important elements of preserving audiovisual materials. Audiovisual materials contain visual and/or sound components that are embedded on a carrier and run over time, like film, video, vinyl, CDs.
These are the areas of audiovisual preservation we will be exploring today. There are many different aspects to preserving audiovisual materials and I will briefly touch on these aspects to introduce to you what is involved in this field of work. At the end of the presentation, I will provide you with a list or resources that will help you explore these areas in more depth.
Audiovisual preservation is multifaceted and encompasses the physical object, care and conservation, and ethical issues relating to the objects, and how we optimally transport and store often times fragile and sensitive objects.
Perhaps you might be wondering why we try to preserve these objects? In this time of digital audiovisual abundance, you might be surprised to know how vulnerable all audiovisual materials are. Before the audiovisual digital revolution, which became widespread during the 1990s, audiovisual objects were recording on analogue materials such as film or magnetic tape. Often times these objects contain unique, historical, cultural content that if not preserved are lost forever.
While many countries around the world try to preserve these cultural artefacts, the reality is there is so much analogue material to save and catalogue and at the same time there has been a massive increase in digital audiovisual output that also needs to be considered. So, we are in a race to save both very old material as well as make judgements about what to consider preserving here and now.
You probably all spend a lot of time on the internet? Think about what a huge task it would be to try and preserve the audiovisual content that has been produced for online use. You can google the Wayback Machine and you can see how big and complex that task is.
Relying on the optical allusion within our minds called persistence of vision, methods of creating this allusion using mechanical devices have existed since the 19th century, with zoetrope, lantern slides, and flipbooks. By the end of the century this was followed by silent, black and white film, then moved on to color and audio film, magnetic tape, and to where we are now with digital. Similarly, sound recording went from mechanical phonographs and gramophones to electric vinyl, magnetic tape, and compact disk, to digital.
It’s extraordinary to think that humans have only been able to reproduce their reality onto media and use devices that give a very good recreation of reality for the past 130 years, considering how long we’ve been here! And of course, we are now creating and experiencing gaming, virtual reality, and augmented reality that is a part of this tradition.
For our purposes here today, we aren’t going to touch on digital preservation, which is its own domain. Many times, we will digitize vulnerable, important analogue content for reasons such as ensuring the content survives with a preservation copy, or to create access copies of content that is more robust than the original analogue carrier, and often times to enable online access to these unique items.
But, for analogue, the defining aspect is the carrier, or media, and the playback machine that is unique to that media. You can’t play a vinyl record on a CD player. You can’t watch a 16mm film on a VHS cassette machine. For media such as magnetic video tape, migration to digital is a safer way to preserve the content seeing though the life span for the tape is only 10-30 years. If you have an interest I have included a resource in the handout that deals with digital preservation as an introduction to this area of preservation.
While media like film can have a longer life span, it needs special conditions and a digital preservation copy should be made. In this slide, I’ve provided an analogue example of a Video 8 media and a playback machine. There were apparently specialty machines made for this format but in the 1980s and 1990s most people would have connected the camera used to capture the content to their TV, for playback. This is a consumer product and there are dozens of both consumer and professional industry media and playback machines, with film and projector being the most well-known. Again, you can find much more information about AV materials in the resources.
So, what does preservation actually mean? It can mean different things for different formats as the media are made from different physical materials. And as already mentioned, all media have different lifespans and interventions that can extend or at least not shorten this lifespan. And in an archive, you will receive materials that have lived in all kinds of conditions that effect its lifespan.
Active preservation can mean conducting repairs to the materials, conservation actions, restoration, creating copies, or reformatting. Passive preservation is preventative in nature and designed to prevent or limit material deterioration, and can include storage conditions with environmental controls, educating staff and users about how to handle the materials, and having a disaster plan in case of things like natural disasters, or damage to the building in which the materials are stored.
Some of the ethical issues that audiovisual preservations will need to think about at various stages of their careers are things like:
Accountability, which can include the fact that an archive will likely be a publicly funded archive, following government and curatorial policies, and any commercial imperatives that the archive may have.
Conflict of Interest, which may include your own beliefs about the value of the material you will work on.
Confidentiality is needed especially if there is any commercial or special cultural interests involved, such as technical specifications or sensitive content.
Judgement is needed as there is often no certainty involved with AV preservation. Preservation is constant problem solving and your experience and skills will come to bear on your judgement.
And lastly, Legal and Moral Rights. The legal copyright to AV material is often a complicated area and has a large bearing on how the work is accessed and viewed. And moral rights may include the ethical judgement around the social or artistic value of the material, as well as culturally sensitive or significant material that can safeguard indigenous content.
How and where AV materials are stored is very important and as we saw earlier, is a passive preservation method. Temperature, relative humidity, and air quality are essential factors for the preservation of materials. There are varying standards for the varying types of media and playback machines. The actual building the archive is stored in can face issues such as ventilation, water vapor, mold, rodents and insect infestation. In most cases storage buildings are either purpose built or upgraded to improve resistance to these issues. Storage areas can also have a separate space to decontaminate or inspect new acquisitions for mold or pests that you do not want to get into the storage area to spread. Here we can also inspect for potential hazardous materials such as nitrogen oxide gases emitted from cellulose nitrate film made before the 1950s.
When moving any AV material, the object is at some risk of stress or damage. Taking the object out of its cozy climate-controlled storage shelf may affect it physically through condensation, rapid changes in temperature, being dropped, exposure to pests, lost, or stolen.
Mitigation can include acclimatizing objects to new temperatures and relative humidity, creating enough room for racks and space to maneuver objects through the building with minimal risk, following occupational health and safety standards, using the appropriate loading techniques and equipment, and appropriate packaging methods.\
That is a brief introduction to elements of audiovisual preservation. You may want to dive in a little deeper into these elements and there is a lot of information online for you to do that. I also have a printed handout of a list of resources that you might find helpful, or you can scan the QR code here and it will take you to the online resource list that provides links to more information. Thank you.

Audiovisual Preservation Annotated Bibliography Resources

  1. Oliver, G. & Harvey, R. (2016). Digital Curation: Second Edition. ALA Neal-Schuman.
    This book covers the various stages of the DCC Curation Lifecycle Model and explains a professional workflow for managing digitisation and digitised collections. This updated edition includes new tools, services, and initiatives, such as deployment of cloud computing for data management. The DCC Lifecycle Model maps the underlying principles and activities involved in digital preservation. There are other models that map these principles and activities such as the Open Archival Information Systems (OAIS) Reference Model, but the DCC is one of the more straightforward models, and this book comprehensively considers each step in the lifecycle. These steps include the Sequential Actions of Create or Receive, Appraise and Select, Ingest, Preservation Action, Store, Access, Use, Reuse, and Transform.
  1. The Coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA). (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2022.
    This website provides access to information that focuses on worldwide audiovisual heritage. Their aim is to inform both professionals and society about the importance of this heritage, and how to safeguard it through preservation solutions and awareness. The CCAAA organises events that address different aspects of preservation, including the specialist Joint Technical Symposium (JTS), and the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage on behalf of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
    Credibility is provided to CCAAA by its global network of members, including founding members: International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), International Federation of Television Archives (FIAT/IFTA), International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), International Association of Sound Archives (IASA), International Council on Archives (ICA), all of which provide their own services for their communities.
  1. The Film Foundation. (2022). Retrieved February 28, 2022.
    Martin Scorsese is an active advocate for film preservation, including his own domain of narrative fiction filmmaking. He understands the importance of audiovisual preservation and has partnered in the past with UNESCO to raise awareness of their World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. He also partners with film organizations around the world to provide preservation workshops and international partnerships with public and private organizations to share knowledge and leverage each other’s ability to share that knowledge. As a film preservation devotee, Scorsese understands that aside from preservation there is a need for access and that screenings are a vital goal in the process. Scorsese and his collaborators enable this through his non-profit organization, founded in 1990, The Film Foundation. They provide preservation and education programs accessible through their website.
  1. Eastman Museum. (2022). Retrieved February 28, 2022.
    The George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York, possesses the oldest film collection in the world and is renowned for its film preservation and conservation. The museum is named for the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company who was the world’s leading producer of photographic film products. Many of the audiovisual materials that we now endeavour to preserve are made using Eastman Kodak products, so looking through their website provides a great insight into film preservation, restoration, and cinematic technology. The website enables you to search their collection, view their technology vault via Google Street View, tour it via YouTube (, and view their preserved online collection. This is a great resource for fans of early film and the technology underpinning film creation.
  1. The Journal of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives. (2021). IASA Journal, 51.
    The Journal of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA Journal) is a double-blind, peer-reviewed journal that represents the collected research and applied work of the global audiovisual archive community. It is published twice a year and is open access. This journal provides information from researchers and practioners of audiovisual preservation and access from around the world. The audience for this journal is the global audiovisual research and archivists, and students who have specific interests within the field. As an example, in the latest issue (#51) some of the topics include case studies in quality control and preservation within libraries, archives, and museums; Sound archives and musical representation in modern India; Global fan preservation of Duke Ellington music; and the future of small-scale, audiovisual archives in Asia.
  1. National Archives of Australia (NAA). (n.d.). Preserving information. Retrieved February 28, 2022.
    The National Archives of Australia (NAA) provides a wealth of information regarding the preservation of information which includes audiovisual materials and the formats that they are held on. This webpage provides advice on planning, digitisation, storage, born-digital, and standards. There is also specific preservation advice available as downloadable PDFs for motion picture film, microforms, CDs and DVDs, magnetic media, and gramophone disks. Within each of these there is detailed information regarding the physical characteristics, time period, how and why they might deteriorate, health and safety risks, how to preserve and store objects which includes emergencies, and disaster practices.
  1. National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA). (n.d.) Preservation. Retrieved February 28, 2022.
    Australia’s leading audiovisual archive presents a variety of preservation information for the public, researchers, and practitioners. Over several sections users can find direction for how to preserve their audio, film, video and photographs at home; descriptions of the physical properties of film; how and why film degrades; repair and conservation; storage. Finally, an extensive glossary of common audiovisual words and terms.
  1. AP Archives. (2015). A mountainside in Virginia, just outside Washington, is home to a vast collection of movies, TV shows. YouTube. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
    This is an archived Associated Press (AP) news video that features the US Library of Congress Audiovisual Conservation department where they acquire the nation’s audiovisual productions that includes film, television, video, DVD, sound recordings, music, spoken word, and video games. At the time of publication of this video in 2012, there were 6 million items at this campus. The video provides a visual summary of the actions taken to preserve audiovisual materials, such as storage spaces including cold conditions for nitrate film, repair of deteriorating media and the tools used, the various hardware needed for playback, and the importance of access to preserved materials.
  1. Northeast Document Conservation Center. (2015). Session 6: Media collections & Session 7: Reformatting and digitization. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
    The Northeast Document Conservation Center (NDCC) was founded in 1973 and provides conservation and preservation services for a range of media, in Massachusetts, USA. They provide a free, online course called Preservation 101, that introduces the basics of building a preservation program. Session 6 introduces the history and science of magnetic tape, early sound recordings, optical media, and computer media. Session 7 provides important information on duplication, the mechanisms that affect quality of copies, outsourcing, and the importance of standards and guidelines.
  1. Jimenez, M. & Platt, L. (2004). Videotape Identification and Assessment Guide. Materia Media.
    This is a guide for video formats pre-2004. Written by specialist museum audiovisual preservationists in coordination with the Texas Commission on the Arts, this guide was created to help identify video formats and provides helpful physical descriptions and photographs of open reel and cassette tape formats. It is a useful document to see the historical progression of the magnetic tape format. Quick-look information for each format includes format name, analogue or digital, date introduced, dates in use, tape width, common manufacturers/brands, tape players/recorders, primary usage, risks, and condition assessment. The tapes identified are consumer and professional formats.


  • Preservation of Audiovisual Materials

  • April 2022

Presentation created for Preservation of Audiovisual Materials course in Master of Information Studies at Charles Sturt University.