I want to preserve audiovisual content. How do I get started?

The basic steps for planning, funding, and carrying out a preservation project  are:

  • make a map of the collection, and sort contents into groups according to type and condition;
  • arrange the groups in priority order according to the urgency of their preservation needsd (triage);
  • work out what needs to be done for each group: a preservation strategy; and
  • state exactly how the work will be done: who does it and by when: a preservation plan.

These steps are explained in short PrestoCentre Tutorials, beginning with Mapping your AV Collection on mapping and triage. The map need not be complicated. The tutorial shows the BBC archive’s collection of film in a simple table of five rows (one for each group) and five columns (for type, age, storage history, genre or value and finally condition).

The tutorials also cover a strategy for the whole collection: what it’s for, who it serves, what it could become if digitised. Why? It’s because of the need for funding, and the need to justify funding. It’s also because mapping and triage shouldn’t be just about physical condition. The value of items in the collection is significant, and a useful map also shows (again, in broad groups, not individual items) differences in value — which contribute to the value dimension of the triage.

The tutorial Making a preservation strategy is a guide to considering an overall collection strategy and using it to make a straightforward preservation strategy. This is again just a table, and for BBC archive film it is again 5 by 5: the five groups from the map, with columns for type, condition, action needed, timescale and whether the work will be done in-house or outsourced. A presevation strategy is firmly based on preserving — and extending — what the collection does, not just based on preserving the media. Preserving value (and creating access) are far more important than ‘copying tapes’, with a much better chance of attracting funding.

Finally, from the preservation strategy a detailed roadmap of work can be set out, costed, funded and carried out: the preservation plan. A preservation strategy should be relatively permanent, but plans can be short term. If longer commitments cannot be obtained, preservation plans may be annual — though there are definite economies of scale in funding blocks of work that may take several years to carry out.  The tutorial Planning your preservation project covers this final stage, with again an example from the BBC film collection. This time the plan is a 5 by 6 table, with headings for Type of material, Preservation Action, Service Provider, Batching, Outcome and Quality Control. Batching is the amount of work that will be undertaken at one time — in this case monthly shipments to the three external contractors. The outcome could also be called outputs or deliverables: the tangible products of the work. Quality control is only summarised in the table — the final project will need a detailed quality specification which could run to several pages.

There are two  areas that are outside the scope of a digitisation project but are vital to the overall preservation of a collection:

  • Conservation: everything that happens (over years and decades) between preservation actions such as tape format migrations, or before digitsation. Tutorial: Conservation of analogue AV content
  • Restoration: changing what an archive holds to reduce the effects of damage and deterioration. Most techniques are now digital, so most restoration activity is now an optional process following digitisation. Tutorial: Restoration of AV material

Finally, if the definitions of preservation, digitisation, conservation and restoration are all overlapping and fuzzy, there is a tutorial which sets out clear definitions and differences: Tutorial: Introduction to Preservation

You have now reached the end of the one-page answer to How do I get started? Each of the answers is just a page, and each gives references to further information. So get started!

Further Reading

For more reading on planning a digitisation project, go to the Preservation Guide page.