Digitization of Video Tapes
By Kathleen Watkin, MAS Advisor
Many museums have video tapes in their collections. Whether they contain images of the community’s 1987 Santa Claus parade or the private home videos of a local celebrity, these videos contain a wealth of knowledge and memories for the community. However, with changing technologies, these videos are no longer accessible. Preservation of the information on the video tapes is important and thus migration of the information into a newer more accessible format is key. The best option for preservation of video tapes is to digitally migrate to data files. This is because data files have greater flexibility and can be stored and played on a variety of media sources.
Outsourcing the Digitization
While you can digitize the media yourself, lack of appropriate equipment and knowledge is problematic. It is recommended that museums use professionals to transfer the video tapes from its traditional to digitalized form. Professional services have the high-end equipment and software for high quality and/or highly valuable recordings. They are also better equipped to deal with problems associated with the age and wear and tear of the video tapes from multiple showings over the years.
What to look for when Outsourcing:
When outsourcing, there are certain questions that need to be asked and details that need to be sorted in order to ensure that the digitization goals of your museum are met. These include:
- Ask for references from outsourcing companies and ask other institutions for recommendations and their past experiences with vendors they have used.
- Look at the credentials of the organization under consideration; qualification of staff and experiences; how long they have been completing transfers; what analog formats do they specialize in (not only VHS)
- Talk with the people doing the work and do not hesitate to ask about specific challenges if you think your tapes are suffering from deterioration or damage.
- Discuss the shipping procedures, for example, how will the tapes be packed and what temperatures and humidity environment will they be exposed to, and costs involved in shipping the originals and masters to and from the outsourcing organization.
- Verify whether the outsourcing company has insurance to cover loss of the materials during shipping and when the tapes is being used.
- Determined how the original will be stored and handled while with the outsourcing organization.
- Discuss the available options for the quality of the digitalization, the file format and the delivery of the digitalized content (i.e. on which types(s) of media).
- Verify whether metadata will be provided/embedded in the digitized video files and how the files will be named.
- Established up front what the added costs would be for cleaning the tapes if necessary and especially for remedial procedures to make the tape playable, because dealing with these tapes can raise the cost of outsourcing significantly.
- Ensure that a priority list is established; begin with the most valuable materials and proceed to other materials if funds remain or become available in the future.
It is a good idea to do some trials with the outsource organization to test for quality and for satisfaction with the end product before committing to a larger scale project.
Selection of Material to be Digitized
First check to make sure that the material has not been previously digitized or an acceptable digital copy does not already exist. Based on your institution’s mandate, you need to decide what videos are valuable and should be preserved. Digitalization is not a minor effort and thus this is an excellent time to review your collection and remove materials that are no longer needed. Gone are the days where collecting and preserving everything is acceptable.
Prioritizing for Digitization
Once the decisions have been made on what is to be digitized, the next step is to prioritization. Prioritization is important because funds are likely limited. Prioritizing what should be digitalized first can be difficult. The Canadian Conservation Institution has the following table to help you prioritize digitalization.
What follows is a list of digitalization companies used by Saskatchewan Museums to digitalize their video tape collections:
Don’s Photos: https://donsphoto.com/video-transfers.html
JW Digital Archiving: https://digitalarchiving.ca
Out of Province:
JEET Video Productions (Edmonton, AB): http://jeetvideo.ca
Hamilton Media Solutions: (Hamilton, ON): http://hamiltonmediasolutions.com/transfersandediting.html
For More Information, See:
- Iraci, Joe. “The Digitalization of VHS Video Tapes.” Technical Bulletin No. 31. Canadian Conservation Institution. 2017. Website: https://www.canada.ca/en/conservation-institute/services/conservation-preservation-publications/technical-bulletins/digitization-vhs-video-tapes.html#a2b
- Linder, J. “Video Restoration-Where Do I Start?” Abbey Newsletter 18.6. 1994. Website: http://cool.conservation-us.org/byorg/abbey/an/an18/an18-6/an18-612.html
- McDonough, J.P. “Preservation-Worthy Digital Video or How to Drive Your Library into Chapter 11.” Talk presented at the Electric Media Group Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation or Historical and Artistic Works in Portland, Oregon, June 13, 2004. Website: http://cool.conservation-us.org/coolaic/sg/emg/library/pdf/mcdonough/McDonough-EMG2004.pdf
- US National Archives and Records Administration. “Video Maxim Manual Capture.” THE US National Archives Record Administration. Website: www.archives.gov/preservation/products/products/vid-p1.html
- Vogt-O’Connor, Diane. “Care of Archival Digital and Magnetic Media.” Conserve O Gram 19/20. National Park Services. September 1996. Website: https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/19-20.pdf
- Wheeler, Jim. “Video Tape Preservation Handbook.” Association of Moving Image Archivist (AMIA). 2002. Website: https://amianet.org/wp-content/uploads/Resources-Guide-Video-Handbook-Wheeler-2002.pdf