My IMLS-funded fellowship at the University of Virginia Library began in September 2009, and recently terminated. However, I am still working with the Preservation Services department here on an ad-hoc basis—there have been collective efforts within the Library between Preservation, Special Collections, and the Robertson Media Center to create a permanent position doing the same audiovisual preservation and access work that I have focused on in my time here.
The overarching goal of these fellowships is to highlight areas in which audiovisual preservation specialists could most be of use. With this in mind, I made attempts to get involved with as many different library departments as possible, and also to participate in a manageable number of diverse projects. Although nominally within in the Preservation department, I worked in close collaboration with Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, staff supervising circulating collections the Robertson Media Center, and the Digital Media Lab (a student/faculty production and access point).
Nearly all of the legacy media materials I worked with came from Special Collections here at the University. Special Collections do not have any audiovisual playback equipment in their reading room, so they are unable to provide on-site access to any of their audio, video, or film holdings. Before my arrival, the librarian in charge of patron requests would try to get a Digital Media Lab staff member to digitize materials in order to make them accessible for individual researcher requests. This was neither ideal for staffing reasons, nor for the quality and care of the transfers being created—any digitization work was creating an access copy, as opposed to a digital preservation master, and transfers were being carried out by non-specialist staff. One major improvement I have overseen has been the construction of an audio preservation lab for creating digital preservation masters of 1/4" tape, audiocassette, and most grooved disc materials. One very serious issue to consider, however, is who will carry out transfers using this equipment if the Library is unable to create a new, full-time audiovisual archivist position.
One major service I have been able to offer is to allow researchers to access 16mm film materials held in Special Collections. One researcher actually inquired about a loosely described, though unprocessed collection of 16mm home movies. This collection clearly pointed to one bottleneck created by the lack of an a archival specialist. A very basic catalog record had been created for it (using descriptive information written on the outside of the film boxes), but the films were all still in their original (moldy) boxes and had yet to be inspected, cleaned, or rehoused. When I processed this collection of roughly 45 films, I found that all but one were Kodachrome, with the earliest films dating to 1938. Several films contained extremely unique footage of the town of Charlottesville, VA (the currently pedestrianized Main Street area in 1939, as well as a film featuring aerial footage of the town shot from a small plane) and the University of Virginia's historic grounds. We have actually just secured funding to carry out film-to-film preservation of these two films, and will hope to exhibit the newly created 16mm prints.