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Preserving the Visual Past: An Introduction


When people ask me what I do, I usually answer them by stating that I'm in the restoration business. Anyone who has ever seen an episode of This Old House knows what it is when something is restored. Restoring an item also has this connotation that you will soon get that object back near its original form. It is easier to grasp and I get less blank stares. It is another story altogether when I tell them I work in Preservation.


Specifically, I work in the Moving Image Preservation Studios for the New York Public Library. Blank stares usually is followed by, "Huh?, What?". Then I go into my riff that Preservation does more than you just getting back your lost footage. Preservation makes sure that the item that has just been made accessible to you will always be around. How do you do that you may ask? Well, that is a long process for another blog. But, to put it simply; after inspection, the original object usually will require some form of cleaning before a decision is reached as to how best to stabilize it. The signal is then extracted and master digital files created. Only then will we send the original object out for long term storage in optimum conditions. The new digital master and its surrogate will then be managed and maintained in perpetuity. I like to tell people that I return to the public what was once lost , damaged or unplayable. I work at the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Division and I preserve our visual past.

Restore: 1. to return (something) to an earlier or original condition by repairing it, cleaning it, etc.  2. to give back; make return or restitution of (anything taken away or lost).  



Preserve: 1.  to prevent from decomposition or chemical change  2. to keep up; maintain

I hope to use the PRESERVING THE VISUAL PAST blog to talk about a myriad of subjects in the realm of preservation. Some will be technical in nature while others will be whimsical. I hope that after reading my blogs you will want to return again and again. Click HERE for a brief overview of what we do in the labs then continue below for the promised intro.  

Before joining the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Division - I was the Technical Production Supervisor for the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive (TOFT) at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. In that capacity I planned and supervised the building and implementing of the TOFT’s media ingesting system. That system was first used in the reformatting of all the analogue media from the multi-year Robert Wilson Audio/Visual Collection project to digital tape and disk. The success of that project lead to a new work-flow for all future preservation activities in the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive. After TOFT, I moved to the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Division where I now care for all permanent media assets throughout the NYPL system. 

I have also worked as a consultant for  numerous outside groups including New York University’s Master of Arts Program in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) and the former The City College of New York Picker Film Program. At The Brooklyn Tabernacle, I was in charge of all video/computer technology usage in their pre-teen outreach program. I hold a B.F.A in Film and Video from The City College of New York School of Communications


Some memorable programs at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts that I've worked on:










CELEBRATING OUR LEGACY: 30th Anniversary of the the League of Professional Theatre Women

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME: 100 Years of Music, Musicians and the national Pastime.

STARS AND TREASURES: 75 Years of Collecting Theatre

CURTAIN CALL: Celebrating a Century of Women Designing for Live Performance

It is not just projects from NYPL that occupy my time. The vast collections from NYPL are in high demand. Requests have come from local museums to international filmmakers. 

Three of my all time favorite film projects are:

BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL   - A must have for every theatre lover.

EVERY LITTLE STEP  - For the A CHORUS LINE aficionado. 

BILL IRWIN: CLOWN PRINCE  - From PBS, Great Performances.

I've had the pleasure of working with staff from The Museum of Modern Art, The MetropolitanMuseum of Art , The Morgan Library and Museum and many others. It is truly an honor for me to work with these wonderful materials with some of the most amazing folks here in the preservation labs at NYPL. I hope you will find this blog not just entertaining but informative as well. Stay tuned.


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Looking forward to future posts

It's very interesting to hear about some of the behind the scenes work going on at the library, I'll be eagerly awaiting future posts!

Your New Blog

I look forward to reading your blog, Rhony. I am duly impressed by the various experiences you have had in your career, one more enviable than the other. Please tell me, is there a way to subscribe to your blog, or am I cursed with having to just remember to look it up? A subscription service ala You Tube would be ideal, not just for yours, but all NYPL blogs. Have fun! Thanks!


You make clear the basic differences between restoration and preservation (although c'mon, don't you have to do preservation work first, in order to do restoration?), but you omit a definition of conservation and its role and function in the greater scheme of collection management, and the reasons it might be the wisest or only option, if even temporarily. Could you please indulge me? Thank you!


Hello and thank you for your comments. The topic you bring up is best addressed in a larger blog posting. Rest assured that our staff is well versed in the proper handling and care of the collections that come through the labs. The Intro blog was not meant as an exhaustive list of our procedures. At this time, digitization is the preservation strategy used in the labs. Please continue to read other blogs in the Preservation Channel where you can read about NYPL’s application of conservation practices throughout its workflow. Look to the upper right for the links to properly subscribe to the NYPL Blogs RSS feeds. Thanks again for your comments.

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