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Session 6: Media Collections


Conservation treatment for media collections

1 Principles of Treatment

In Session 3: Caring for Collections - Conservation Treatment, you learned about the conservation principle of minimum intervention and its basic tenets: first, do no harm; secondly, less is better. Let's examine these in the context of media conservation:

  • Do no harm: To know how best to treat an item, the conservator must first understand its composition. Treatment (examination, material testing, cleaning, repairing) must utilize reliable, well-tested materials and methods and be reversible treatments wherever possible. The media conservator is often the advocate for the artifactual value of a media item, facilitating access (playback) through treatment but guarding against irreparable damage from careless handling or short-sighted use.
  • Less is better—Consider the effect that treatment will have on the aesthetic and physical characteristics of the media object. Sometimes limited treatment, or even no treatment, may be the best choice, especially as playback methods become less invasive.

Media conservation is an emerging specialty. The Electronic Media Group (EMG), established in 1998, is the newest AIC specialty group, focusing on the preservation of electronic art, electronic- based cultural materials and tools of its creation. EMG's members are time-based art conservators for museums, audiovisual conservators for libraries and archives, and digital library specialists interested in preservation approaches to managing electronic media.

Ten years later, the National Audiovisual Conservation Center (NAVCC), the Library of Congress's audiovisual archive, opened in 2008. With a focus on digitization of the Library's sound and moving image recordings, the NAVCC generates multiple pedabytes (one million gigabytes) each year. Additionally the NAVCC preserves collections in their original format - wire recordings, wax cylinders, 2" videotape, and nitrate film - storing collections in environments tailored to their specific format needs. Learn more about the work of the NAVCC and listen to recently conserved and digitized recording in the NPR story Saving the Sounds of America.

Today, many research libraries and larger archives are hiring audiovisual conservators or seeking grant funding to bring experts on-site to address the specialized needs of their media collections. Explore the Media Preservation blog, which features several institutional case studies in creating audio-visual conservation roles or starting media preservation initiatives.

2 Professional Conservation Treatment

What does conservation treatment of media collections entail? First, a conservator will identify the media format and its composition. For example, as discussed earlier in this session, and in Session 5: Care and Handling of Photographs, an audiovisual conservator may be able to identify nitrate film based on the presence of edge stamps or characteristic visual clues, but she may also need to perform destructive chemical tests to determine the composition of the film base.

Other media conservation activities include cleaning, re-housing, repairing, and preparing collections for reformatting or digitization. Cleaning may involve the use of specialized equipment such as ultrasonic film cleaners to remove dirt, oil, and grease. Repair of media collections may include removal of old splices and labels, remediating mold or rust, and detaching tape or negatives that are stuck to one another or deformed from years of improper storage.

Some media formats, such as audio cassettes, must be taken apart in order to access the media, perform any necessary cleaning or repairs, and facilitate playback.