November 29, 2020

At Library of Congress, “Rescuers Rush to Preserve TV Shows Shot on Fragile Videotape”

From The Washington Post:

At a Library of Congress facility in Culpeper [VA], an effort is underway to convert old videotapes into digital files, ensuring the long-term survival of a host of 1950s-through-1970s TV shows, including the “CBS Evening News” with Walter Cronkite and “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”

Preserving these shows turns out to be a challenging and time-consuming task. But unless the videotapes are transformed, experts say, future generations will have a diminished appreciation of the era of JFK, flower power and Watergate.

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The videotapes have delicate coatings — essentially “polyurethane paint with magnetic particles inside it,” says Jim Lindner of Media Matters, which specializes in transferring videotaped material to more stable formats. Over time, these coatings absorb moisture, grow sticky and sometimes separate from their backing. With every fleck that peels away, Lindner says, “a bit of recorded history does, too.”

At the Packard Campus of the Library of Congress’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, technicians often “bake the tape” in a 130-degree oven for days to resolidify these loose coatings. That is just one of the difficult steps in the tape-to-digital conversion.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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