Audiovisual Preservation

KU Libraries hold a variety of analog and born-digital audiovisual (AV) formats that require specialized methods of care and handling for preservation. Our team of staff and student employees provide archival storage solutions and digital access to the wide variety of audio, film, and video held by our seven libraries.

The first goal of AV preservation is to properly prepare physical items for long-term storage. After being inspected, cleaned, and re-housed, physical AV objects will be stored in a climate-controlled environment to slow down future deterioration.

A second component of our work is to digitize obsolete analog media formats. The digital copy provides access to audiovisual content on a variety of platforms while reducing the need to use original playback equipment that may damage the media. We create high-quality digital preservation master files that will be migrated as new digital archival file types become standard. Reformatting analog AV material requires the use of a variety of format-specific equipment, examples of which are shown in the slideshow.


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Motion Picture Film

Invented in 1923, motion picture film was commonly used until the late 1990s/early 2000s when digital formats became widely available.

Cores, rather than metal reels, are used for long-term archival film storage because they are made from inert plastic that will not chemically react to film. The white, donut-shaped object in the bottom-middle of the image is a core. In addition, plastic ventilated film cans replace metal ones, because the ventilated cans help mitigate film decay by allowing harmful gases to dissipate from the container. The film reel in the blue can at the left of the image illustrates an archival film can. The film reel on the right side of the photograph exemplifies the condition of a film before it is re-housed.


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Audio Formats

We handle several different analog audio formats at the library. This image illustrates which formats are most common and include from right to left:

½” Reel-to-Reel Tape - Reel-to-reel tape was a magnetic audio format that was held on a reel. It was in common use between the 1940s and 1990s.

Microcassette Tape - This audio format was used primarily for interviews and dictation. It was introduced in 1969 and was used until the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Audio Cassette Tape - Released in 1962, cassette tapes were commonly used to listen to music and other recorded materials. Cassettes were widely replaced by compact discs (CDs) during the mid-1990s.


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Archival Audiocassette Housings

On the left of this image is an audiocassette tape. To the right, you will notice a plastic case. These inert polypropylene plastic cases are used by the library to ensure the tapes are housed properly in the archives. The cases clasp together to keep out dust and debris.


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Videocassette Tape Formats

Video Home System (VHS) Tape - The videotape format on the left of this image, commonly known as a VHS tape, was created in 1976 and discontinued in 2008. This format was primarily for consumer use, rather than in a professional broadcast environment.

Betacam Videotape - The large blue videotape in the upper-center of the photo is an analog Betacam tape. Developed in 1982 by Sony, Betacam was a high-quality broadcast production format. In subsequent years, a digital version of this format was created and widely used.

¾” U-Matic Videotape - The red videotape in the bottom-left portion of the picture is a ¾” U-matic tape. This format, created by Sony in 1971, was one of the first high-quality broadcast production tapes used, particularly by broadcast news gathering teams. It was popular throughout the 1970s and 1980s.


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Archival VHS Videocassette Housings

This image illustrates the kind of archival housing we use for a common analog video format here at the library, a VHS videocassette tape. The tape’s original paper-based housing can be seen on the left. On the right is a polypropylene case made specifically for use with VHS cassettes. The archival videotape case is essentially just a larger version of the cases used on audiocassette tapes. The inert plastic case clasps together and creates an airtight seal that keeps any water, dust, and debris away from the magnetic media. If stored with the proper climate controls, the original paper-based sleeve can be placed, with the tape inside of it, within the archival housing.


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Floppy Disc and Compact Disc

Floppy Disc - On the left of the image is a floppy disc. Created as early as the 1960s, floppy discs were widely used from the late 1970s through 1990s. They were eventually replaced by other storage formats such as Zip disks and eventually USB drives.

Optical Disc - On the right of the image is an optical disc. This format includes such items as Compact Discs (CDs), Digital Video Discs (DVDs), Laser Discs, and Blu-Ray discs. CDs were invented in 1982 by Philips and Sony. Initially used for storage, the compact disc became a popular format for music throughout the 1990s and 2000s. By the mid 1990s, the storage capacity of optical discs increased enough to allow for video playback and the birth of the DVD. Digital formats have slowly replaced CDs in the twenty-first century.


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Tools of Film Preservation:

Motion Picture Film Measuring Stick - At the bottom front and center of this image is a motion picture film measuring stick. This tool is used to measure the length of a reel of film. The film reel’s length helps calculate the movie’s duration and helps determine the correct housing size film can needed for a reel.

A-D Strips and Indicator Pencil - Just behind the measuring stick, you can see an A-D strip and indicator pencil. The A-D strip is a small strip of dye-coated paper used to detect and measure the severity of motion picture film decay. When placed inside a closed film can, the strips will change color in the presence of the acidic vapor of decaying film. The pencil is used to measure the amount of color change on the strip.

Loupe- Moving up in the image from the A-D strip and indicator pencil is a film loupe. The loupe is a small magnifying device used to closely analyze individual film frames.

Motion Picture Film Tape Splicer - Just to the right of the loupe is a film splicer. This is a device used to join together lengths of motion picture film with a small piece of specialized tape.

Cotton Gloves - Back and to the left of the film splicer, in the upper-middle portion of the image, is a cotton glove. These are worn when handling audiovisual materials to protect them from oils and particulates that build up on human hands.

Head Cleaner - Immediately to the left of the cotton glove is a bottle of head cleaner. This 99% pure isopropyl alcohol solution is used to clean electromagnetic playback heads in videotape and audiotape decks. Cleaning the decks results in the best quality video and sound in digital capture.

Six-Inch Cotton-Tipped Applicators - On the left of the image and just below the head cleaned is a six-inch cotton-tipped applicator. These swabs are used to clean the surfaces of electromagnetic playback heads on video and audio decks. The length of the swab allows access to small or difficult-to-reach locations in the equipment.