Finding unprocessed material is like finding a hidden treasure. This is especially true when it comes to “old school” 5 inch and 7 inch audio reel tapes.
Currently, Special Collections does not have in house players that can work with these reel formats. This is problematic for many reasons — the most important being that the contents of these tapes cannot be confirmed. I’d like to think of this as a sort of treasure hunt: we do not know what the prize is going to be, but we know that we definitely are interested in getting the prize. Thinking about all of the possible content in the world, we may be sitting on the greatest treasure ever to housed in archives.
And, of course, there is always a question of access when it comes to the archives. These tapes all found their way here because the donor(s) wanted them to be accessible to scholars of the future. But the future comes with new audio visual material formats. Digitizing these materials is going to be a first step in a very long project.
Digitizing content will make these materials more accessible to a broader audience. It might seem most realistic to take these reels and convert them to CDs, but even the CD is becoming unstable in a media market where content is streamed. Thus, one consideration for these tapes is to make them digitally accessible so that a researcher at home could sit down at the computer and stream the content while sipping a lemonade.
This week, I began making some initial observations of these materials. First, each reel needs to be given a quick inspection just to make sure it does not appear to be significantly damaged.
Just looking at the reels might not provide an accurate portrayal of their condition. Just because the tape is intact does not mean the reel tape does not suffer from a different type of formatting error. For example, the tape might be scratched from improper use before the material arrived at Special Collections, making it inaudible.
Nonetheless, I have started creating an inventory of these tapes, and hope that by the end of the semester I will be able to share with you more information about some of these hidden treasures. You never know what might be in the “old school” tapes at the archives!