Andy Uhrich, Internship at New York Botanic Garden, Fall 2009

For my fall internship I worked at the LuEsther Mertz Library at the New York Botanical Garden under the supervision of archivist Stephen Sinon and library director Susan Fraser. My charge was an inventory of the Library’s small but diverse collection of audiovisual materials dating from the early forties to the mid years of this decade. The collection is a mix of 850 motion picture films, audiotapes, and videos comprising 24 different formats. In inventorying the collection I gathered 28 fields of information in an Excel spreadsheet that mixed descriptive and technical metadata. As no working playback devices were available, any information is based purely on a visual inspection of the items and its case. In terms of determining an item’s condition, for magnetic media I employed the seven-step visual inspection process as outlined by the ISO standard. For film, I was able to look at the first two feet of image, allowing for a good sense of the image quality of the prints. The descriptive metadata included any title information making sure to note variants, copying any notes included with or on the items, and any mention of the item’s creator. I also noted any indication of copyright where possible.

Once the inventory was completed I analyzed the data and wrote up a 60 page report assessing the collection and offering recommendations for needed work. The analysis included breaking the collection down to frequency by format, temporal distribution, copyright holder, and by series of mode and purpose of the items’ production. This analysis allowed for a more precise understanding the scope of the collection and a directed set of recommendations. These recommendations include needed conservation and repair work, best storage practices, and on reformatting valuable titles for the creation of preservation masters and access copies. To make recommendations on reformatting I prioritized the collection by format obsolescence, copyright, and value to the mission of the Garden. I also calculated the digital storage space needed for the creation of new digital preservation and access files. I included a number of appendices including a list of important resources for audiovisual preservation; a list of vendors including equipment supplies and film/video labs; needed supplies for conservation work broken down by vendor and cost; a list of the titles in the collection prioritized into high and medium categories of importance; and a description of the fields in the inventory detailing exactly what the field gathers, how I gathered the information, and mapping it where possible to MARC.

I was also able to borrow 16mm film rewinds from the NYU MIAP preservation lab, which allowed for a more in-depth inspection of the condition of the Library’s most valuable film prints.

My time as an intern at the Mertz Library has offered me a great opportunity to see how cultural institutions that are not moving image specific deal with collections of audiovisual materials. I was also able to refine and expand my ability to inventory a diverse collection, analyze its scope, and to advise for its care and management.


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