Preservation Showdown: Audiovisual Edition: 2017 Annual Conference

The Preservation Showdown, first introduced to the American Library Association as an ALCTS program in 2015, has become a highly-anticipated annual event, shedding light on various aspects of preservation issues or actions through the use of a debate model to highlight their pros and cons. The 2017 Showdown was, once again, enthusiastically received and well-attended.

This year’s debate posed a statement to two teams, which took respectively “pro” and “con” positions on a topic; this year’s statement was:

The preservation of analog audiovisual media is the single most important preservation issue facing libraries (and archives and museums) in 2017.

While this presentation was open to all librarians attending the conference, the targeted audiences were members of the Preservation & Reformatting Section (PARS) and the Video Round Table (VRT). Representatives from these groups were included on each team. The PRO Team consisted of Kristin McDonough, former director of the New York Public Library Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL); Andrew Weaver, a National Digital Stewardship Resident at the American Archive of Public Broadcasting; and Daniel Johnson, Digital Preservation Librarian at the University of Iowa Libraries. The CON Team members were Howard Besser, Cinema Studies Professor and Director, Moving Image Archiving & Preservation Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts; Stefan Elnabli, Subject Librarian for Film, Video and Media Curation, the Library at UC San Diego; and William Schlaak, Digital Reformatting Coordinator, University of Illinois Library.

The showdown was energetically moderated by Emily Shaw, Head of Preservation and Reformatting at Ohio State University Libraries. Kristin McDonough of “Team Pro” began the debate, focusing on the dangers of machinery obsolescence and the need for well-trained reformatting and migration specialists. Daniel Johnson supported her statements, re-affirming the importance of analog media. Andrew Weaver concluded the “Pro” segment by stating that analog audiovisual media is the dominant format of the 20th century, and that needing to preserve it under the constraints of time makes it a top priority.

Howard Besser segued into the “Team Con” presentation by commenting that “passive preservation doesn’t work for either analog or digital.” He continued by stressing the need for big-picture prioritizing, stressing the importance of planning holistically, and repeating that specific preservation actions and comprehensive planning cannot be separated. William Schlaak continued reinforcing these thoughts, stressing the importance of infrastructure and standardization. All three team members reiterated the significance of preservation planning for these items, adding to this the importance of availability of resources and that the needs of organizations should be prioritized.

Numerous questions from the highly-engaged audience led to a lively discussion. A quick vote from the attendees indicated that, following the debate, the audience was more aligned (not by much) with “Team Con.” Cordial conversation extended for the remainder of the session’s allotted time.

This program was sponsored by ALCTS, ALCTS_PARS, and co-sponsored by the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) and the Video Round Table (VRT).

Reported by Ann C. Kearney