Film preservation can seem like an insurmountable project for small libraries—restoring and digitizing nitrate and acetate film stock is an arcane and technically-demanding process, and once it’s digitized, how can it be shared with a wide audience? In an article in Public Services Quarterly, the University of Puget Sound’s Benjamin Tucker identifies tools that bring film preservation within the reach of small libraries—digitization vendors, web streaming services, and, finally, the university’s Digital Commons repository, Sound Ideas.
The university’s video collection included archival videos of campus events from the 1930s through the 1970s that were to be digitized and added to the repository to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the school. Benjamin opened decades-old film canisters to discover decaying (and highly flammable) 16mm nitrate film. Realizing the overhead involved in digitizing the films in-house, the library turned to a local vendor that was able to convert the film to digital files at “a small fraction of the cost of the most basic digitization equipment.” The files were uploaded to Vimeo and finally loaded into an attractive gallery in Sound Ideas, where they are showcased as part of a larger collection of historical UPS material.
The library’s next step is to collaborate with other organizations on campus to increase awareness of the film collection and get background information from alumni. Already, a history professor recognized a current member of the University’s Board of Trustees in one of the 1960s films, who, Benjamin writes, “was delighted to see the old footage” and “was able to give us a rough date of the creation and identify many of the people in the film.” As Benjamin writes, “your library’s lack of facilities or previous experience with motion pictures isn’t an insurmountable obstacle to providing user access to unique films.” We’re glad that Digital Commons can be part of the solution!