Thursday, May 26, 2011

Preserving Antique Videotapes

All across the country, families have unique videotapes of family activities and events that provide a valuable record of their pasts.  These videotapes may look sturdy in their cumbersome plastic cases but the magnetic tape inside them is fairly vulnerable.  So what do you do to preserve your videotapes now that technology has passed them by?  (Put them into storage with your equally unwieldy eight-track tapes?)

Unfortunately, the subject of videotape preservation is inextricably tied into the need for preservation of the playback equipment.  A pristine videotape is of little value without a VCR to play it on.  Above all, you want to ensure that the content of these videotapes remains accessible.

Laura Hortz Stanton, Director of Preservation Services at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, recommends reformatting the video content to a more accessible medium.  Currently this means digitizing the video so the content can be accessed on a DVD.  Then you can simply pop the disc into the DVD player whenever you like (leaving your VCR in eternal storage).

But even though the digitized material is now accessible, the original videotape still has value.  Laura maintains that you should make an effort to preserve the original videotape.  Put them in long-term storage.  And as part of the storage process, she reminds me that you should always remove the record tab from the side of the cassette.  Just snap it off.  This way you or your descendents will never be in danger of accidentally recording over a unique tape.

The original videotape should be stored upright in a plastic (rather than cardboard) video box.  And be careful with temperature and humidity, Laura warns.  High humidity is bad for videotapes;  freezing temperatures are bad, too.  Temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees are best.

Save the original.  Save the copy.  And be ready to save to the next medium when it arrives, rendering DVD or Blu-ray as obsolete as today’s videotapes.

© 2011 Lee Price

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