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Fundamentals of AV Preservation - Chapter 2

 1.1 What to Document | 1.2 Inventory Tools   

Section 1: inventory

1.1 What to Document

A basic item-level inventory is vital to the successful stewardship of audiovisual assets. At a minimum, a unique identifier and a format-type must be identified and recorded for each asset in order to responsibly track items throughout their lives. However, gathering as much data as possible in one pass will provide a baseline set of information that will support selection, prioritization, and initial discovery, as well as minimize the number of times the assets need to be referenced and handled.

Establishing a minimal set of required fields will help to streamline the process and manage expectations. Minimal sets are meant to be used for basic identification, selection, prioritization, and digitization planning. Information beyond the required fields should only be recorded if it is easily discoverable by simply examining the physical asset or consulting an existing record. Further descriptive and technical information can be recorded post-digitization at your organization’s discretion.

As archivists, we want to provide our users with as much information regarding our collection as possible; however, richer descriptions do not play a part in the inventory process. At this point, we want to record as much information as can be quickly and easily gleaned from the asset itself. There will be a time for more detailed description at a later point, should you and your institution decide that it is necessary. At this beginning stage, however, time is of the essence.

What follows is a list of suggested fields to capture in your inventory, along with a rationale for their capture. These fields are divided between ones that are so important as to be considered “required” and those that are optional but helpful. Ultimately, the decision of what fields to record lies with you and what is needed for your organization to be able to adequately plan for preservation.


Unique ID

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Media type

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Optional But Helpful

Collection Name

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Commercial or Unique/Rare

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 film cartridge

A film exhibits signs of spoking.

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How do you best capture this item level information? Determine whether your institution has any internal tools or catalog systems and if they will work for your audiovisual materials. If the answer is no on either count, here are some free, open source options that may work for you.


AVCC is an abbreviation for AudioVisual Collaborative Cataloging, which is a free, open source web application developed by AVPreserve and funded by Library of Congress, METRO, and AVPreserve. AVCC was developed to enable collaborative, efficient item-level cataloging of audiovisual collections. The application incorporates built-in reporting on collection statistics, digital storage calculations, shipping manifests, and other data critical to prioritizing and planning preservation work with audiovisual materials.

AVCC establishes a minimal set of required and recommended fields that provide basic intellectual control enabling quantification, planning, and management of collections. The focus of AVCC is two-fold: to uncover hidden collections via record creation and to support preservation reformatting in order to enable access to the content itself. For more information, visit


The Preservation Self-Assessment Program, or PSAP, is a free online tool developed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. PSAP was developed to help collection managers prioritize efforts to improve the conditions of their collections. Meant for institutions with few-to-no preservation or conservation staff, PSAP is designed to be simple and easy to use for those with little preservation training.

PSAP aims to:

  • Support targeted preservation assessments of paper documents, books and bound items, photographic and image materials, audiovisual materials, and non-composite museum objects made of ceramic, glass, stone, or metal.

  • Perform item- and collection-level assessments.

  • Provide textual and image-based educational resources to aid in the identification of different types of materials and their preservation challenges.

  • Address factors of storage and display, applicable to situations from open exhibitions to closed archives.

For more information, visit

AV Compass

AV Compass is a free, online suite of tools developed by the Bay Area Video Coalition with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Intended for use by individuals and organizations alike, AV Compass features step-by-step educational videos, PDF guides, and a tool for creating inventories.

AV Compass includes: 

  • Instructional guides and eleven short videos that walk a user through the assessment.

  • Overview of preservation concepts.

  • Directions on how create and implement a preservation plan.

  • A free tool to create an inventory of your collection, which you can export and send to collecting archives and preservationists.

 For more information, visit:                                                    


Spreadsheets are a perfectly adequate option for creating an item-level inventory for some institutions. They are familiar to most staff and easy to use. Simply add whichever fields you plan to populate during your inventory and get started. Be sure to create and use controlled vocabularies where applicable--consistency is key.


Section 2: Selection for Digitization ›