Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

02 Oct 2015, 18:01 p.m.

Preserving Your Old Art Or Activist Videotapes

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2015 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

These notes on a panel about digital preservation of fanvids spurred me to note down some links in a comment, and I figured it was worth publicizing further here.

I myself put vids on Critical Commons and have started also putting them on the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is also willing to digitize and post VHS tapes (witness the John Morearty archive), but you may want to take a preservationist approach and pay someone like Bay Area Video Collective to digitize the tape more carefully and in higher fidelity, if it's particularly historic or visually artistic. In my experience that kind of preservation service might cost about USD$135 for a 60-minute VHS tape. BAVC and similar nonprofits often have grants to help with this, e.g., the Preservation Access Program.

You can find vendors for $20/tape but those vendors basically do parallel digitization, with lots of consoles going at once, so there's more risk that a problem will happen with any one tape.

The California Preservation Project's CAVPP (California Audiovisual Preservation Project), which also has a grant to make archival-quality digitizations of historic media, has put together a useful guide to identifying and taking care of various kinds of cassettes, DVDs, etc. Page 9 (Environmental Conditions) has more details on the best temperature and relative humidity for storing these things. Here's a version one can print out. And here are some more resources, including webinars, for people getting into video preservation. I went to a CAVPP workshop this summer, which is how I know their particular resources.

If you or your organization have activist or artistic videorecordings on analog media, now is a really good time to start planning to get those into a digital medium. Magnetic and other media deteriorate, and the clock is ticking.