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Moving Image Preservation

The Moving Image Preservation labs are equipped to inspect, clean, repair, and reformat a broad range of video and motion picture film formats historically employed by videographers, artists, organizations, and individuals to document and preserve their work and lives.  The labs work on archival materials contained throughout The New York Public Library system, including the: Manuscripts and Archives Division, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, Dorot Jewish Division, Rodgers & Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division, as well as others.

Moving Image Preservation staff perform work on both video recordings and motion picture film. Video formats that can be accommodated by the labs range from some of the earliest open-reel video formats from the 1960s and 70s, such as ½” CV and EIAJ, to the U-matic, Betacam, VHS, and MII analog videocassette formats, to the digital videotape and file-based formats of recent years.  The labs are equipped to handle many of these formats in both North American (NTSC) and European (PAL/SECAM) variants.

The Moving Image Preservation labs support the assessment, repair, and care of a broad range of motion picture film materials.  Many of the films that receive attention are unique film elements ranging from home movies to choreographic and artistic records, and consist of a wide variety of film gauges: Regular 8mm, Super 8mm, Single 8mm, 16mm and 35mm.  In the labs films are prepared to be sent to preservation vendors for transfer to digital formats to fulfill requests for researchers, exhibitions, broadcasters, and filmmakers.

All of these analog media types used to record moving images are now obsolete, and the equipment and expertise necessary to extract the content from the media are frequently difficult to obtain.  Most of these formats also suffer from various forms of deterioration, such as shrinkage of older acetate-based motion picture film or binder hydrolysis of magnetic tape, which can impede the reformatting process.  As a result, Library engineers generate very high-quality digital files from these analog originals in order to avoid having to re-transfer any materials in the future.  In preparation for this reformatting, the materials must often first be cleaned, repaired, stabilized, and rehoused. All reformatting is done using carefully maintained, professional-grade equipment, following best practices informed by organizations in the field, including PrestoCentre and the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), and by peer institutions, such as the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Following the reformatting process, the original materials are sent to the Library’s off-site storage facility, which maintains climate conditions appropriate for moving image materials.

In addition to the high-quality digital preservation files, the Moving Image Preservation staff create access copies to be made available to patrons.  Much of this content is made available as streaming video through NYPL Digital Collections, while other content is available as DVDs for on-site viewing.  Staff also supply video for public programs and exhibitions, both at the Library and at other institutions around the world, as well as for various artists, television networks, and documentary productions.