IASA-TC 06 video guideline: first edition, first version

This is the first of a series of five blogs on IASA-TC 06 by the guideline's coordinating editor Carl Fleischhauer.

The world's audiovisual archives hold original video recordings in a variety of types, often placed in two broad (and slightly fuzzy) categories.  The first consists of media-dependent, carrier-based recordings, mostly in the form of videotapes and largely (but not exclusively) in analogue formats. The holdings of the former category are extensive but, at this point, relatively fixed in number.  (To be sure, new batches of old tapes do keep turning up in basements and storage rooms.)  The second category consists of computer-file-based digital recordings, and it is growing exponentially.  Some archives face a flood of new file-based acquisitions.

The appropriate preservation treatments for these video recordings reflect the variation of types.  Analogue videotapes (and other media, e.g., laser videodiscs) require action on two fronts: first, proper preparation and storage of the physical media (called conservation in American preservation circles) and, second, digitisation in an appropriate manner.  Meanwhile, digital file-based recordings may require rewrapping into a fresh file "wrapper" or a combination of digital transcoding and rewrapping.  

For a decade or more, the IASA Technical Committee (TC) has recognized the need for a video preservation guideline and joined the chorus of those who have called attention to the profound existential risks to this recorded content.  But the history goes back even further: the year 2001 saw the publication of the seminal survey of the video holdings and preservation status of ten major broadcast archives by BBC staffers Richard Wright (a former TC member) and Adrian Williams, the report that launched the first PRESTO project.  And in 2007, Jim Lindner's SAMMA device for mass transfer of videotapes was put into action at the Library of Congress.

A special meeting at the 2011 annual IASA conference marked the start of the TC project to draft Guidelines for the Preservation of Video Recordings, IASA-TC 06.  The project's volunteer editors and authors planned a comprehensive work to address both categories and recommend appropriate treatments.  In addition, there was a desire to discuss metadata and to provide advice on shooting ethnographic, documentary, and oral history video footage in a manner that maximizes its "preserve-ability".  

Progress with IASA-TC 06 was slow, however, and by 2015 the TC saw that a comprehensive guideline could not be assembled within a reasonable timespan. In response, they developed a plan for two-edition, phased project.  This explains first edition in the title of this blog: the current draft tackles the first category: carrier-based recordings, mostly in the form of videotapes and largely (but not exclusively) in analogue formats.  In addition, the guideline presents some historical and contextualizing information.

The committee also saw that the larger preservation community would be able to provide the TC with added information and help us correct errors: hence, first version.  The version of IASA-TC 06 published at this writing includes an invitation to send us comments and suggestions for improvements: send notes to the chair of the IASA Technical Committee: Lars Gaustad (lars.gaustad@nb.no).  (BTW: we highlight some of issues we struggled with in the four additional blogs in this series.)  From time to time, the guideline's authors will summarize the comments together with their responses either via this IASA blog website or IASA's technical issues forum.

Meanwhile—and here's a bright spot—part of the burden regarding video preservation had been lifted by IASA's 2014 publication of Handling and Storage of Audio and Video Carriers, IASA-TC-05, edited by Dietrich Schüller and Albrecht Häfner, which addresses the most important aspects of physical-media conservation.  

A future expanded edition of IASA-TC 06 will discuss the preservation of digital-file-based video formats and the transfer of digitally encoded recordings in videotape form.  We seek to also entice volunteer authors to draft additional sections that pertain to metadata and the production of new recordings (of the sort an archive itself might sponsor, like oral history interviews) in preservable formats.

We hope that Guidelines for the Preservation of Video Recordings, IASA-TC 06, will have high interest for a wide range of readers.  The TC envisions our archetypal reader as an archive administrator, technically sophisticated but not an engineer, who does some combination of managing a preservation-production operation (in-house activities) and selecting and managing preservation-service contractors (outsourced work).  To serve this archetypal reader and to inform other motivated generalists, most sections of the initial version of IASA-TC 06 have been written at a moderate level of abstraction, with pointers to additional and often more detailed information.  In contrast, however, IASA-TC 06 provides information about specific carriers—videotapes of various types—at a "near-engineering-level."  In this area, the authors felt that they could serve technical specialists in the field by providing relatively complete information about historical carriers.

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