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New York University Libraries: Looking Forward, Looking Back

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Kimberly Tarr in NYU Libraries’ Film Preservation lab

Last fall, I returned to New York University to take on the role of managing the film, video, and audio preservation program within NYU Libraries. Previously, I had served as a graduate student worker in the preservation media labs while attending the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) Master’s program, so in many ways it felt like coming home. It had been nearly four years, but my familiarity with the institution and the staff made me enthusiastic about the work at hand.

To care for the increasing number of moving image materials within its collections, NYU developed a preservation unit specifically to handle film and video.  A generous donation from philanthropist Barbara Goldsmith funded an expansion of NYU’s preservation program to include non-book and non-paper collections and, in 2003, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided support for the programmatic development of a moving image preservation initiative. Currently, the moving image and sound preservation program at NYU Libraries is one of the more mature and robust programs of its kind situated within an academic library.

Since its inception in 2003, the Media Preservation unit has worked hand-in-hand with the curatorial staff of Fales LibraryThe Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, and the University Archives to identify collections in need of care, provide conservation treatment, and transfer video and audio collection materials to digital preservation masters, both in-house and via specialized vendors. We have the in-house capability to transfer video (U-matic, VHS, S-VHS, Betacam, Betacam SP, Hi-8, DVCAM, miniDV, and Digibeta) and audio (¼-inch open reel, audiocassette, DAT, compact disc, and phonodisc), and we also conduct film-to-film preservation when grant or donor funding is available.[1] We’re supported in our work by the Digital Library Technical Services (DLTS) team, which provides both technical guidance and support to our unit, and manages the digital repository.

 A Hat for Every Day

What I love about my job is the sheer variety of formats and types of materials which we encounter on a daily basis, and the array of hats it allows me to wear. Just last week, we conducted quality control on the artist Larry Rivers’ videos (transferred from ½-inch); digitized an interview with Woody Allen discussing his involvement with the Tamiment Playhouse; and considered funding opportunities for the Sunrise Semester Collection, an NYU collaboration with CBS that commenced in 1957 — and may very well be the first distance learning endeavor. This role allows me to develop grant proposals and budgets, manage our outsourced vendor projects, and oversee production in our film, video, and audio labs. Our two stellar staff members do the lion’s share of the in-house transfer work and student workers (often from the MIAP program) support the day-to-day activities.

More recently, acknowledging the limited lifespan of commercial video (which built off the integral preservation survey conducted by my colleagues Paula De Stefano and Mona Jimenez [2]) we have been collaborating with NYU’s Avery Fisher Center for Music and Media on the Video at Risk project, funded by the Mellon Foundation. Walter Forsberg, the research fellow on the Video at Risk project, outlined some of our work in this realm on this very blog.  For those interested in learning more about the technical guidelines that we have developed to assist organizations in transferring their VHS collections, please stay tuned, as we will be publishing the ‘Request for Proposals’ template later this year.

This fall, NYU Libraries will celebrate our ten-year anniversary in the media preservation game. This natural marker in time encourages reflection on our accomplishments and pushes us to continue to chart our course for the future.

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Abbie Hoffman talks to his doctor about a vasectomy.       Video still used with permission by the Larry Rivers Collection at Fales Library & Special Collections and the Larry Rivers Foundation.

Fresh Eyes, Clear Workflow: Can’t Lose?

We hope to embark on a survey of the film, video, and audio materials library-wide in the coming year. The path laid out by our colleagues at IU and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign will undoubtedly guide and strengthen this endeavor. The data that we collect will help us to outline the work to be accomplished and develop our priorities for the coming years. As my sea legs are still developing, I’m using this perspective to reassess our workflows and consider whether the systems currently in place are effectively and efficiently working for all of the multiple partners involved in the media preservation process. My aim is to also create a project management database to help manage and track production statistics.  There is undoubtedly a lot of work ahead, but having such a great staff and an institution that supports our work and understands the value of preserving the content on these legacy formats is tremendous.

In the last year, I visited a number of the media preservation programs across the country, including many of the institutions featured in recent guest posts. (Thanks again, Mike, for the fabulous tour!) Those site visits were instrumental in my gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the media preservation efforts underway and I am delighted the IU Media Preservation Initiative can continue to foster a dialogue and allow us to stay connected. We’re a small field, but stronger together.

//Kimberly Tarr
Moving Image Preservation Specialist
Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department
New York University Libraries


[1]  In the recent past, the Orphans Film Symposium has aided the preservation of NYU Libraries collections, thanks to Dan Streible’s tenacity and support.

[2] Paula De Stefano and Mona Jimenez, “Commercial Video Collections: A Preservation Survey of the Avery Fisher Center Collection at NYU.”  The Moving Image 7:2 (Fall 2007): 55-82.

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