Cinema Studies
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VIDEO AT RISK: Strategies for Preserving Commercial Video Collections in Research Libraries

What happens to circulating VHS collections when they die?

For Research Library collections across the continent, physical degradation of the media housing valuable, unique, and out–of–print video material looms immanent. Across the board, there is a pressing need to reframe principles and practices in situations where risk is defined by scarcity, and reformatting by legal and practical processes is not yet illuminated by common or best practices.

This Mellon Foundation–funded collaborative study brings together New York University's Division of Libraries with the Moving Image Archiving & Preservation program at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, and the circulating media collections of the University of California Berkeley and Loyola University (New Orleans) to collaboratively address these challenges.

Spanning a 2-year period, Video At Risk will involve four closely related elements:

I. Intellectual Property & Copyright Guidelines

Guidance defining libraries' ability to make copies of their commercial video collections, when such material has become out-of-print or unavailable, is critical for maintaining best practices and responsible long term stewardship of research material. The Video At Risk team has developed a set of such clear and easy-to-use guidelines with regards to Section 108(c) of the United States Copyright Act, and is pleased to make them available to the braoder library and archive community.

View/download a copy of the Section 108 Guidelines, here.

II. Scarcity

Building on previous research into circulating moving image collections at NYU Libraries, and working closely with bibliographic data managers from OCLC, Video At Risk is studying a broad spectrum of problematiques regarding prioritization and selection of video content for reformatting. Considering the issue of content scarcity and the limited widespread availability of much of the circulating video material at the project's partner institutions, our team has sifted through circulating titles to identify the scope of obscurity for large numbers of documentaries, independent productions, art films, and other rare educational videos.

III. Replaceability

What kinds of commercially-produced VHS titles have survived the numerous format shifts, at the distribution level--from VHS, to LaserDisc, to DVD, to BluRay, and beyond? More importantly: what kinds of VHS titles have not? Granular research answering these complex, and often times difficult to ascertain, questions is core to both the ability of libraries and archives to preserve such collections under the United States Copyright Act, and to the goals of Video At Risk.

IV. Technical Reformatting

For the vast majoroity of libraries without in-house preservation units, or the corollary technical resources to make copies of and reformat their aging video collections, Video At Risk is currently developing a series of reformatting guidelines. Designed as a technical "roadmap" for librarians, the project's RFP template will standardize video preservation between institutions and third-party vendors by outlining preservation benchmarks, articulating technical guidelines, and guiding both sides through the reformatting process. In November 2012, Video At Risk convened a large contingent of media librarians, preservationists, and media reformatting vendors in New York for a two-day forum to refine these guidelines. For more information on the RFP, and to participate, please contact Kimberly Tarr.

For Additional Information:

  • Walter Forsberg

  • Kimberly Tarr

  • Howard Besser
    • Director, Moving Image Archiving & Preservation Program, NYU
    • howard@nyu.edu / 212-992-9399