Hundreds of videos held on tapes in Auburn University's Special Collections and Archives are degrading. If their contents are not digitized in time, they could be lost, but the department is seeking to restore and preserve them.
The department is asking for $10,000 in donations for Tiger Giving Day on Wednesday, Feb. 24, for the preservation project. This project is listed on the Tiger Giving Day website under the tagline, “Save Historic Auburn Videos.”
Greg Schmidt, head of special collections and archives, explained that this initiative is a renewed funding push in an ongoing project. The archive already has hundreds of preserved audio files which were digitized with the help of funding from Tiger Giving Day 2019, he said.
While the archive has its own digitization equipment for audio “reel-to-reel tapes” Schmidt said that it has no means of digitizing the scores of videotapes on the shelves.
“Time is of the essence for old videotapes,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt explained that the videotapes are mostly “U-Matic” tapes, commonly used in video production from the 1970s to the 1990s. The machines that play these tapes, however, are “difficult to maintain, clunky and old,” he said.
Instead of purchasing a U-Matic machine, the archival staff uses donated funds to send the tapes to Preserve South, a preservation firm in Atlanta that has several of these machines.
The tapes are prepared, played in U-Matic machines and converted to digital files.
“The biggest component is also that it would be available for anyone to watch online,” said development officer Margherita Ligorio.
The first video recordings to be digitized, Schmidt said, were old Auburn University Marching Band halftime performances because he knew that those would be “beloved by the Auburn Family.” Every performance from 1979 to around 1990 is digitized and preserved online, Schmidt said.
“We’re at risk of losing them, and those are important historical moments, memories for the Auburn Family,” Ligorio said. “We absolutely don’t want to lose them.”
Schmidt, who graduated from Auburn in 1990 with his degree in marketing, told a story of one preserved recording, a promotional video for Auburn, where he recognized a friend of his on the video.
“I sent the link to him and said, ‘Look at minute 14; is that you?’” Schmidt said. “And he was like, ‘Oh my God, that is me!’ He got back with me and said, ‘OK, I know this person and this person and this person in the video, and I’ve emailed them the link.’ So within a day, 50 people had looked at this video and started reminiscing.”
Tapes like these, Ligorio said, have a lot of sentimental value for the Auburn Family.
Ligorio said their goal is to salvage about 300 tapes.
Those 300 tapes, Schmidt said, would be a major chunk out of the largest videotape collection, though not nearly the entirety of the files.
Ligorio said that student workers are involved in the preservation of audiotapes already, and she called the project another way that the library can link the past to the future.
Ligorio said the preservation of these videotapes “preserve[s] Auburn history, memories and tradition.”
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Emma Kirkemier, junior in English literature with a minor in journalism, is the campus reporter for The Auburn Plainsman.