Media Archive Advocacy

The importance of planning and the role of a Media Archive Producer. 

Submitted by Ron McCoy

Ron McCoy, Producer

As a seasoned video producer, I often find myself dealing with a “shoot first ask question later” client who confuses overall video program development with the singular task of video recording. 
Similarly, in media archive projects, there is a pre-production process involving; Preservation, Archive and Storage, which should be completed before the video transfer process gets started. One of MNMA's more valuable resources on this topic is BVAC, (Bay Area Video Collaborative) who has a great summary at  to help you better prep and pre-produce your media archive projects. These simple but important steps will help make your archive project run smoother by implementing a proven strategy of preservation and transfer tactics. 

Archiving Media Steps or Process.

Upfront, what are your archive project’s goals and objectives? Are you interested in developing a comprehensive archive structure with content descriptions and meta-data for each asset or are you just trying to swap a box of tapes for a hard drive file folder with data files?  Are you considering multiple digitizing standards for both a master archive preservation format and a smaller file size for a more compressed resolution distribution format? Is your ability to complete the meta-data steps dependent upon reviewing the asset after the content is digitized?

 Here are six suggested steps...

1- Identification: What media types and formats are included in the archive collection? Is there existing visible damage or deterioration? Is the media playable? Can you easily separate early generation masters from their distribution copies?

2- Description and Cataloging: Do you know the media asset's information; title, contents, location, production dates and significance of the content? Can you provide a contextualized description from the label or program notes? Once you complete the inventory process, you can then start to develop your “preservation plan”. The plan forms the foundation for our next steps.

3- Storage: The two steps of preservation involve safe storage of original analogue content and transferring or digitizing to a new digital format with again storage in mind. A safe storage environment is critical for both steps. Digital conversion allows for multiple copies or back-ups, with options including Hard Disk Drives, The Cloud, (someone else’s hard drives) and Linear Tape (LTO) cartridges, (Hardware dependent). Storage concerns should continue beyond the transfer process. Will you trash the original media or continue storing it safely? How and where will the new media files be stored?   

4- Reformatting and Digitation: Essentially this means that you are moving your content from the obsolete tape formats to a new digital medium where you’ll have the best future playback success. Most projects require a dual format process; a Master File and separate Access File will be created with different resolutions, files sizes and storage requirements. MN Media Arts has website links to better inform you regarding preferred digital formats, codecs and meta-data standards elsewhere on this website (see below) 

5- Checking your media over time: It’s highly recommended to inspect and play your media both immediately upon transfer for quality control purposes as well as over time, to insure stable storage.

6- Media Distribution beyond archive. Once again, as part of your project goals, are you considering sharing or distributing your content to others? This is where your distribution vs archive format comes into focus. This also gets into content ownership and copyright issues. Do you own or have the rights to distribute this content, even on a no fee basis? We’ll address those concerns in a future post.  (Copyright ownership documentation may even impact a producer's ability to get tapes professionally transferred. Duplication and Transfer facilities want to protect themselves, so they often require proof of content ownership before the transfer process with a blanket statement that they will not transfer copyrighted materials.)    

Tips & Suggestions

  • Watch out for mold and fungus! Some of the earlier open reel formats were especially effected. If necessary, wear gloves and goggles, wash hands. watch for cross contamination between tapes and work surfaces. There are limited remedies for mold recovery on your videotapes.
  • Be sure to carefully review and manage the existing labeling, on both the case exterior and tape reel or cassette/cartridge. Consider establishing a new numbering system to keep the right tape in the right box and as part of your new online meta-data spreadsheet and new file labeling or naming process 
  • Maintain proper storage during the archive-transfer process, heat and humidity, dust and magnetic interference should be monitored. This includes seasonal weather transportation and shipping.
  • Often with open reel formats you can improve their playback performance stability by baking or heating the tape to improve cohesion and reduce binder & oxide flaking that causes VTR head damage, transport sticking and belt wear. An informed transfer facility will know this process will extend the life of their fragile legacy VTRs.
  • Consider the projects overall goals and objectives. Including the purpose of your "master archive format" in determining audio channel configuration, cropping or image modification. Should some of these adjustments or variables be assigned to the next step creating the viewing or access format files?  Will you be locked into a decision based on today's technology potentially compromising a future opportunity? 

     Resources & Links

MnMA's general Links Section features numerous links to help you better understand the Media Archive Process. 


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