Tips on preserving your old audio-visual items
When asked about the importance of preserving audio-visual (A/V) items, Cathi Taylor, archivist at ALA National Headquarters, says these materials go beyond the written word. “Being able to watch and hear President Franklin Roosevelt tell the country the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — or Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 — is far better than just reading the words,” said Taylor. “These materials are like time travelers.”
Taylor also points out that future generations won’t be able to see or hear if we don’t preserve. “Preserving isn’t just taking care of these items,” she said. “Preserving includes putting these items in a format so that they can be accessed in the future.”
Taking the first step
The most important part of a preservation effort is often taking the first step, says the American Library Association. They advise to not let the pursuit of perfection be an obstacle to getting started. They even suggest that a simple first step like moving items out of the attic or basement to a climate-controlled part of the home — a bedroom closet — can have a significant impact.
Why you shouldn’t store A/V items in the attic, basement, or garage
The Library of Congress says these spaces are unsuitable for safely storing collections because of poor temperature and relative humidity control. These areas have higher risks of leaks and floods.
“Even though basements are dark and cool, they do tend to hold humidity, and attics are notorious for getting hot,” adds Taylor. “Both places are not known for regulated temperatures and humidity. Damp environments speed up tapes and film to disintegrate.” Taylor also recommends to not store items on the floor, where they might be subject to water damage or bugs or other creatures.
Even if you have your items stored in polyethylene or polypropylene bags or bins to protect against water damage, these storage containers do not offer protection against the deteriorating effects of environmental extremes found in basements, attics, and garages. In addition, the Library of Congress says the combination of a plastic storage container in an area of high humidity increases mold risk.
So, where should I store my home collection?
Taylor advises that all of these items should be stored in dark rooms, such as a closet or an unused room. She recommends stable, low temperatures, low humidity, and protection from flooding, sunlight, UV light, and air pollutants. The ideal temperature is between 55 and 70 degrees, and that humidity should be in the range of 30 to 50 percent. The Library of Congress also advises items to be kept at a distance from radiators and vents, as well as from sources of vibration.
Proper handling and storage
In general, the Library of Congress recommends:
Handling A/V items
- Wash and thoroughly dry hands before handling A/V materials.
- Store and handle materials in a clean environment.
- Keep food and drink away.
- Do not touch playing surface(s).
- Keep playback equipment clean and well maintained.
- Allow materials from cool storage to acclimate to room temperature before playing back.
Storing A/V items
Think about digitization
- Store all formats upright: discs and reels on edge; cassettes on long edge; cylinders standing on end.
- Ensure shelving is sturdy enough to support the heft and weight concentration of these materials (e.g., grooved discs average 35+ pounds per shelf-foot; all formats concentrate weight on the centerline of a shelf, which can cause some shelving to collapse).
- Store 10” reels in boxes with supports for the hub so that the entire weight of the reel is not on the reel edge.
- Store played tapes without rewinding; rewind just before playing.
Playback machines and other technology can become obsolete. Therefore, the Library of Congress says the preservation of personal A/V collections should also include conversion and maintenance to a current/digital format. They point out that an Internet keyword search can reveal a range of providers that can digitize/reformat home A/V collections. Look for a provider that specializes in archival or preservation transfer of the specific original format, and avoid providers that outsource the reformatting work overseas.