This spring, I am working on a set of guidelines for VHS collections at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image. Regular blog posts will be hosted here to keep track of my progress on the project. Let me begin first by defining the project as it was informally proposed to my advisors:

I am planning to explore the problem of VHS in small, regional collections by performing a case study of the materials acquisitioned by the Texas Archive of the Moving Image at the El Paso Film Roundup in 2011.How to deal with VHS in moving image collections is a question that has been widely discussed, but few practical solutions have been proposed. Professionals that work with home movies have even drawn a figurative line in the sand between home movies on film and VHS, which leaves a decades-wide gap in non-commercial moving image materials and a gap in the cultural representation of certain socioeconomic groups (VHS is cheap!). VHS deterioration, particularly on tapes recorded on EP, results in magnetic dropout and jumpy images, making digtization an increasingly urgent necessity. I will approach VHS collections only for the purposes of small collections (rather than, say, the Library of Congress), to develop a set of guidelines that primarily addresses the question of how to create a representative sample of a collection for permanent storage and for the online library. The amount of VHS that exists and needs to be preserved is astounding, as is the file size of a digitized tape. Small archives such as TAMI cannot afford to permanently store all of the VHS it digtizes for donors, and they can certainly not afford to host the bandwith to make them all accessible online. The content of VHS, because it was so affordable, is often not strategic or selective; there are many hours of tape where the video camera was just left running. Should these scenes be represented? What are the ethical implications of selecting portions of tapes with regard to preserving the original? Is it okay to not keep everything? Where is the line drawn between curation and editing?

I am beginning this project with several weeks of research, in which time I will investigate issues of appraisal, evaluation, and curation in archival collections, both traditional paper collections and media collections. I will then explore how those methods apply to home movie collections, general media collections, and VHS collections specifically, ultimately applying the best and most appropriate methods to guidelines written specifically for TAMI.

Updates on research findings to follow.