Competency F

Use the basic concepts and principles related to the selection, evaluation, organization, and preservation of physical and digital information items.

Competency Definition

Information takes on many forms, from physical works such as books, archived manuscripts, and audiovisual media, to today’s born-digital equivalents of e-books, images, and video files. Information professionals are tasked to organize such materials in accessible ways for their users, which can involve deliberate decision making processes that manage the lifecycle of these items, in terms of curation, preservation, and conservation (Skinner, 2015). These collections can be part of a library or archives organization, as nearly every subject area or organizational type has its own dedicated library and information professionals who can meet the information needs of that specialized organization’s customers (Dee, Abram, & Hunt, 2015). There is a necessity then for information professionals to preserve content so people today and in the future can access and use it, as the “ability to innovate depends in large part on the ability to remember and build upon what has come before” (Skinner, 2015, p. 335).

Preservation entails interrelated activities that ensure the longevity and accessibility of content:

  • Lifecycle management: the full spectrum of activities, from creation to disposal, of an item or collection;

  • Curation: activities involve in managing content, which include selection, acquisition, cataloging, and, as needed, transformation;

  • Conservation: preservation practices used to repair or slow deterioration as needed (Skinner, 2015, p. 334).

Preservation then can be understood as the actions involved in the lifecycle of an item that promote long-term access and the life of the item, including curation and conservation-related activities. This also involves actions that intentionally change an item or collection as necessary to maintain it (Skinner, 2015). These processes include:

  • Refreshing: transferring content from one container to another in the same format and media;

  • Reformatting: transferring content from one medium to another;

  • Replicating: making copies of content in the same format;

  • Emulating: creating an environment that allows for older content to be rendered in new software without changes to the original content (Skinner, 2015, p. 335).

Preservation also entails access, whether the item in consideration is physical or digital. Older, archival materials need to be organized, preserved, and in some cases, digitized for ease of access for users outside of an organization. Preservation addresses the threats of obsolescence of older, worn down materials and materials that face some level of external threat of potential destruction, as in cases of antiquated books with brittle pages from water damage and archives in high environmental disaster risk areas (Skinner, 2015). This sense of foreboding, though not always apparent, is arguably applicable to today’s born-digital materials, especially an organization’s internal information. Such information may be scattered across an organization’s resources beyond its libraries and collections, residing in unstructured locations on intranets or individual employee workstations, or even online in shared folders and the open Internet (Dee et al., 2015). The Internet is constantly shifting with ever-increasing content creation and consumption, as new programs and file types force older ones into obsolescence (Skinner, 2015). There may be numerous copies of documents in multiple places (and with different versions of changes), or there may only be one copy in a place that can be easily forgotten. The infrastructure is constantly shifting as well, as individuals and companies start new websites and close down old ones – the data linked on those sites gets lost as website domains get taken down. For an organization’s internal information, knowledge management is essential to maintain workflows and other processes related to an organization’s overall functioning and therefore need some form of curation (Dee et al., 2015). Digital preservation practices are therefore necessary to address the ephemeral nature of born-digital content and ensure its long-term access for all users (Skinner, 2015).

I see that preservation activities, especially for physical audiovisual media, require lots of care and attention to detail, to address the slowly approaching threat of media and equipment obsolescence. There are a wide variety of tape formats, which in turn, affect the means and methods by which that content can be preserved and conserved. Such preservation tactics tend to be specific to the media themselves, as different brands and their respective tape models have unique qualities that slow or rapidly progress the content’s deterioration (Skinner, 2015). I explored these implications of audiovisual media preservation first-hand through an internship experience offered through the iSchool.

Discussion of Competency Supporting Evidence

Evidence: INFO 294: Professional Internship Experience Narrative

For this internship experience, I assisted with the daily operations of the preservation department at the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC). Located in San Francisco’s Mission District, close to Potrero Hill and Mission Dolores, it is a community hub and resource center for media makers engaging with visual arts, technology, and education (with facilities such as meeting rooms and computer labs). It has a strong mission to tell the stories of diverse and underserved people and communities “whose stories aren’t being told,” which is relevant for their target population of the Mission District and surrounding San Franciscan neighborhoods and amateur artists and multimedia content generators.

In deciding to take on this academic, for-credit, unpaid internship, I reasoned that since I have taken numerous courses in regards to information literacy and designing tools and materials for instruction, I wanted to do something different that can help diversify my experience and skillset. I found the listing on the iSchool internship database the summer prior to the fall semester, and had to apply with a cover letter and resume, leading up to an interview and acceptance of the position with my eventual site supervisor. The internship entailed doing one 8-hour shift per week on site, working with the preservation team digitizing physical audiovisual media and working on other side projects. Since this was an onsite internship, all of my interactions were face to face. Per the iSchool requirements of pursuing an internship for course credit, I generated the following five learning objectives that I hoped to reach by the end of the semester:

  1. Describe various programs and techniques associated with BAVC’s video/audio preservation process, which include:

  2. Identify how these programs and techniques work in relation to BAVC’s preservation services and community goals:

  3. Compare and contrast between the media and tools used in the video/audio preservation process.

  4. Demonstrate proficiency of these programs and techniques in video/audio preservation.

  5. Reflect on how such programs and techniques can be used in preservation and access of instructional content and digital learning objects in libraries and other organizations.

Over the course of the semester, I submitted monthly reports discussing my progress in reaching these listed objectives. I learned about the technical aspects of video preservation in a very hands-on manner. I was involved in many of BAVC’s daily operations, assisting where I could in inventory intake, tape packing, equipment cleaning, and quality control. Their internal inventory intake process involves an inspection of the clients’ materials and logging notes about the make and state of the tape using an internal intake form on SalesForce, and handling and storing the tape carefully in their dedicated temperature controlled storage room. I learned how to clean equipment, cleaning the tape heads and sensors of playback machines with surgical cloth strips, Q-tips, and alcohol. I packed tapes (the process of fast forwarding a tape to the end and rewinding it back to the beginning) to prepare them for 24-hour baking in a special oven (baking tapes in this way helps break down dirt and other particles from the tape for subsequent cleaning in preparation for digital transfer). From my time shadowing the operators when they transferred media, I have a basic understanding behind setting up the time base correctors (TBCs) to maintain visual balancing (black, chroma, hue, luma, H-position) and audio balancing (audio tracking and volume levels).

Here is a picture of the workflow list I find posted in each of the preservation rooms.

I also helped spot artifacts (playback errors) such as audio jitters (sound skipping from sync loss and other factors), audio dropouts (exactly what it sounds like), and crash recording (the moments when the person recording the film suddenly stops and resumes recording over previously recorded media; these artifacts and more are all described on BAVC’s AV Artifact Atlas). For example, while observing one tape, I found a cool looking tape damage error that warped all the colors on screen, causing the visual balancing matrix on the computer to go haywire in this manner (see below).

I also shadowed the in-house technician, who troubleshoots VCRs and other tape decks by opening them up and seeing how they play back test tapes. He has a very interesting critical thinking process, and it informed how I approached the transfer process and quality control that I am observing with the other BAVC operators. I knew that I will not be able to fully grasp all the nuances of these processes, which requires years of experience to understand the quirks of the playback equipment used and the physical media being transferred, as well as having an eye for spotting and naming a wide variety of errors. Yet from these experiences, I gained a unique kind of exposure to the world of preservation and archiving from the perspective of a non-profit organization.

In addition to shadowing and taking part in these daily operations, I also inventoried BAVC’s stock of equipment user manuals on Google Sheets, building upon the work of the previous intern. Having a working inventory of their manuals would help them troubleshoot technical issues with a particular piece of equipment (which happens quite frequently unfortunately). My shadowing of the in-house technician also informed how I cataloged these manuals. I was inspired to add additional fields and clarifications to the spreadsheet that include whether the manual BAVC has is an operating manual (general instructions and troubleshooting tips, written at the consumer level) or a service manual (more detailed troubleshooting and setup instructions, has all the technical engineering schematics, appropriate voltage levels for parts, etc.). I saw that knowing what kind of manual was on file would benefit BAVC’s troubleshooting in the future, as the service manuals provide more information for troubleshooting compared to the operating manuals.

I also gained a theoretical understanding behind the rationale to BAVC’s specific, in-house processes. BAVC mostly handles ½ inch tapes and U-matic tapes, with decent amounts of VHS tapes (what they cannot handle due to the lack of appropriate equipment, they outsource). BAVC has a program called the “Preservation Access Program” (PAP), a Mellon Foundation funded effort that works in conjunction with artists who are not able to pay the full value for preservation services (covering up to 70% of fees; there is a serious application and screening process to be part of each PAP batch). I was told that these funds are available with the stipulation that once the funding period is over, BAVC will have a white paper ready to present to the Mellon Foundation that covers analysis of tape quality and degradation based on format. Preservation is not an exact science, and there seems to be a lot of anecdotes and first-hand experience that dictates how things are done (e.g., it has been observed that Ampex brand U-matic tapes have the worst quality and require the most initial cleaning prior to digitization, while Sony brand U-matics have the best quality; tape baking, as mentioned above, helps with ease of cleaning and playback – I found it surprising that this particular practice is not evidence-based, but a general practice of the preservation field). This is where processes of SalesForce logging helps BAVC with generating quantifiable data to present as evidence to the preservation field’s long-standing claims and anecdotes.

On the computer programming side of their operations, BAVC hosts some open source, maintained in-house tools like QCTools, vRecord, and other programs posted on their GitHub page. They also emphasize the use of open source code in their operations, such as the ffmpeg codec when generating digital derivatives (copies) from original physical media. QCTools, BAVC’s in-house built program that mimics the analog equipment that visualizes the “bars and tones” and “broadcast range” of what shows up on screen, helps with the visual and audio balancing process, ensuring that the black/white, chroma, and hues all line up to match the original as much as possible. In other words, QCTools makes sure that things like skin color does not look too alien (pale or flush red-drunk) and that strong whites and blacks (like dress shirts and black coats) do not lose their depth and show up like a static wall of solid color on-screen. To transfer the videos themselves, BAVC uses BlackMagic Express, a cost-effective program that works like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Creative Cloud software, and vRecord, an in-house made, open source software that does a similar job in video conversion (which works well for some VHS recording situations). BAVC also uses SANs (storage area networks), saving transfers to an onsite shared drive, so anyone can do work at any available capture station across the three rooms that the preservation department has. BAVC also uses RAIDs (redundant array of independent disks, a backup solution system) to keep a backup copy of clients’ files for one year as part of their preservation process. This level of flexibility helps, since the media being converted all have different content lengths, with some tapes having content at the very beginning all the way to the very end, while others have shorter 20-30 minute segments on otherwise hour long tapes; BAVC operators can switch between stations as necessary to fit as much transfer time in as possible within a day.

Here is a picture of one of the equipment rooms dedicated to recording half-inch tapes; it can also be used for Betamax and other formats. Their main room has four capture stations that typically capture U-matic and VHS tapes.

In regards to the content being transferred, I found some indirect social justice involvement in these preservation projects (or at least, some personal critical thinking involved at how what I was seeing get preserved still has relevance in today’s political climate). In one of the batches I observed transferring, I saw amateur footage of interviews conducted at a women’s clinic in what looks like 1970’s New York. There was a conversation in which some of the women interviewed were discussing services and outreach for lesbians, who would be turned down by many doctors and would have to turn to public community clinics such as the one being filmed. I know that it is not an archiver’s position to judge what’s being recorded and saved, just to make sure that the transfer maintains the original quality as much as possible. But since BAVC is a non-profit and not a traditional library or archive which may have a particular focus on a specific topic to preserve and digitize, it was very interesting to see the wide variety of work that BAVC handles.

All these BAVC experiences prompted some personal and professional reflection on what I learned about generating instructional content in other courses. Thinking back to INFO 254: Information Literacy and Learning and INFO 250: Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals, I learned about the need for generating and delivering instructional content in ways that will be easily accessible to others. This impacts in how effective that instruction can be in the long-term. I see video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo that have strong user bases host quality instructional content, yet the quality of some of the videos themselves, especially amateur ones made by librarians in some cases, is quite lacking. I see a parallel here to the physical tapes that I am handling at BAVC. As the output quality of today’s technology gets sharper, older videos will start to look degraded. In the digital environment, this may also be the case for videos recorded and uploaded in the past few years. The ways and formats in which instructors record instructional content should have longevity, maintaining high content, presentation, and picture quality for the long term. This relates to considerations regarding the equipment being used. Equipment obsolesce is a serious concern in preservation. Not just at BAVC, where it is already hard enough to get appropriate funding for “new” (i.e., old, refurbished) playback decks and getting equipment repaired; the equipment itself can also very hard to find, especially replacement parts. For example, the rubber rollers in VCRs and the drums that read off the data from the tapes, crack from long, repeated use. I learned from talking to the in-house technician that these rollers, among other parts, are becoming scarcer over time. He said that only two people exist that have the equipment and expertise to build new rollers, but even then, they would need the originals to work with, and the end product will not be the version meant for a particular playback deck. The choice of one’s recording tools, in terms of apps and computer hardware, matters when generating instructional content. Information professionals then should ensure that they are recording with the best settings as possible, working within the known limits of their equipment, and make sure that they are creating files that are playable across all situations.

From this internship experience, I feel that I have some proficiency in doing the basic steps of BAVC’s processes, namely equipment cleaning, adjusting the time based correctors (TBCs) to set audio and visual levels, and spotting some basic errors (all with guidance by the trained technicians of course). The key thing in all these processes is to ensure that the equipment is well-maintained, the client’s tapes are handled properly, and that the transfer process does not change the processes too much. I knew that I would not be able to understand and do everything, in what requires years of experience that BAVC operators and technicians have in going through all these processes and troubleshooting (which, again, happens way too often when working with older technology). Nevertheless, as I discuss in the following elevator pitch video, these experiences give me the potential to develop these skills further in future archiving contexts.

Elevator Pitch Summary of Skills Video transcript:

Hello! At BAVC, the Bay Area Video Coalition, I gained experience in video conversion of older video formats. I can maintain playback equipment and handle client's tapes (such as tape packing happening right now in the background); document conversion progress on SalesForce; work with time based correctors to set audiovisual levels to maintain original video quality, and spot errors during quality control. Though I do not have the years of experience to troubleshoot all errors, I have the potential to develop these skills in future archiving contexts.

Future Directions

Preservation involves a sense of urgency, working against the eventual obsolescence of older, physical media. Yet it also entails a spirit of creativity and hope, in how there will be a need for preservationists of all kinds across all types of information organizations (Skinner, 2015), which in turn could lead to interesting ways to solve issues related to obsolescence and physical to digital content transfers. In my BAVC internship, I engaged in processes related to reformatting audiovisual media, from physical to digital. I saw the quality degradation of older tapes across brands and models, as well as the efforts by the BAVC operators to maintain the original quality as much as possible (though it is difficult when the tape being transferred is also a replication of the original, which greatly affects how content gets transferred).

In reflecting on the evidence to this competency, I see that there are two different kinds of information that needs preservation: the physical audiovisual media and the knowledge of processes used to preserve them. I find it somewhat unfortunate that preservation workflows, at least from my limited understanding from this one internship experience, are not well documented throughout the field (or at least, the manuals that do exist are probably in need of updates and revisions). Aside from these issues of documentation, there is the serious, practical problem that there are arguably more tapes than there are working playback decks. This means that some decision processes are required to determine what to save and how to save it; such decisions will vary across contexts, but they need to be addressed as they arise Information professionals then are also arguably in a strong position to becoming “knowledge managers of tacit knowledge” (Dee et al., 2015), especially in regards to preservation-related activities.

My BAVC internship worked well with my natural curiosity regarding technology, and viewing the experience from an LIS perspective, I was able to engage in reflection that will help me consider the preservation-related considerations and implications in whatever I do next in relation to information literacy and instruction. Whenever I was at BAVC, I always felt like I was working with living history, as the physical tapes and the equipment used to transfer them are still playable now, but are slowly moving towards their eventual obsolescence. I believe that my BAVC experiences will translate well in helping me make a case in a future work context for thinking about long-term strategies in proper recording and storage of instructional content so it can last for a relatively long time and still look relatively fresh years later on video sharing sites and as files saved to hard drives. When generating instructional content, information professionals should ensure that they are recording with the best settings as possible, and make sure that they are creating files for longevity and accessibility in mind, playable across all situations and for audiences years into the future.

I also see connections here to the issue of open access (OA), which refers to materials that are made “digital, [available] online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions” (Suber, 2012, p. 4). The traditional “toll access” (TA) model of academic journal article publishing has created “pay walls” and access “barriers” to work that was funded by private grants and government monies, and conducted freely by institutional researchers. These artificial barriers create a for-profit mindset that runs contrary to the academic spirit of inquiry, which also operates on priorities of impact and intellectual prestige instead of the business-like manner of demanding royalties for one’s work (Suber, 2012, p. 13). If a researcher cannot access a particular article easily due to such barriers, it is very likely that information will not be used, no matter how relevant the material is to that researcher’s needs. And as the volume of published research continues to grow while the TA system of publishing shrinks the accessible percentage to that research, researchers will continue to be affected by the limited access to information that will impact the quality and effectiveness of their work (Suber, 2012, p. 42).

Yet making work OA means that it needs to be stored somewhere, whether it is in an OA journal system (such as Digital Commons by bepress) or in an institutional repository. The LOCKSS system (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe, a Stanford University Libraries initiative) system is one way to maintain access to digital academic content, yet there is always more room for innovation. There are additional issues that need to be addressed in order for OA to work as a way to store and retrieve materials (such as OA misunderstandings, which I highlight in a video here). I would like to explore such OA issues in the future, as I have already engaged in OA practices by publishing my work OA [See Competency L and Competency M for recently co-authored published OA articles.] and being a content editor for the iSchool’s student-run, double blind peer reviewed, OA journal. [See Competency B and Conclusion.]

In the process of writing up one of my monthly internship reports, I happened to find an article about the archives division of the New York Public Library talking about the experiences of archives and the MPLP (More Product, Less Process) perspective of archiving in layman’s terms. The article’s concluding quote is striking, in that Thomas Lannon, the assistant director for manuscripts and the acting Charles J. Liebman curator of manuscripts, talked about the “social production” of knowledge, made by scholars who work and interact with each other across time through rooms full of archives. I feel the same about the video files that BAVC is generating for its clients. There may be some interesting products such as documentaries or movies that could come from splicing the footage that is being digitized; if nothing else, at least the recordings get a new lease on life, as a product for another generation to unearth, consume, and appreciate. In a related sense, the information professional working in an information organization “is” the product, in being able to engage in a wide variety of activities to provide information and targeted services to a particular user group (Dee et al., 2015) – and across time, especially in curation and preservation activities that have long-term value and impact for present and future generations of users.


Dee, C. R., Abram, S., & Hunt, D. (2015). Information centers. In S. Hirsh (Ed.), Information services today: An introduction [Kindle version] (pp. 82-93). Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Skinner, K. (2015). Analog and digital curation and preservation. In S. Hirsh (Ed.), Information services today: An introduction [Kindle version] (pp. 334-344). Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Suber, P. (2012). Open access. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. Retrieved from