Processing the Cold Spring Harbor Audio Visual Collection was a unique experience due to the volume and scope of the Collection. The Collection overall consists of 4,950 pieces of media, in 11 different formats and takes up about 130 linear feet of shelf space, depending how you count it. It was grouped by format but hadn’t been looked at in years, which meant that old inventory lists, if they existed, were no longer accurate. I had to start over cataloging the media which took about 165 hours. Keeping the Collection grouped by media made sense on one level (as opposed to grouping by subject matter) because much of the media was not readable and the processing often became a game of “Name That Obsolete Format.”
I learned that at the time of recording the formats were considered state of the art. Now we, as an Archive, are unable to read or view what is on the tapes. eBay is full of players and recording devices and there are blogs which lament the demise of the Hi-8 tape. But the lessons ring through loud and clear. We as Archivists prepare Disaster Plans to prevent and manage threats to our collection. Typical threats are leaky pipes, electrical shorts, and poor storage climates.
But isn’t the real threat to our collection the possibility of losing our information? Behold the Type C Helical Film Reel and let us go forth and regularly assess our formats for compatibility and retrieval.