Andrew W. Mellon Director
New York Public Library
Aaron and Clara Greenhut Rabinowitz Assistant Director for Preservation
New York Public Library
This session will share New York Public Library’s (NYPL) efforts to assess, prioritize and develop long-term strategies for its audio and moving image (AMI) research collections, which are among the largest and most significant in the world. They form an invaluable resource for scholars and artists, and provide the world with an irreplaceable record of its cultural heritage. In the next 10-15 years the majority of this media is at risk of loss due to degradation, unsupported media technologies, and the increasingly cost-prohibitive nature of preservation reformatting. NYPL is committed to the preservation and future availability of these collections and seeks timely, efficient strategies to build on and expand its established preservation program to meet the very real and urgent needs of these collections.
With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, assistance from contract partner AVPreserve, as well as an internal working group and broad curatorial engagement, NYPL performed a deep, thoughtful, and comprehensive assessment of its AMI collections. The three-phase project consisted of: an onsite physical collection assessment and inventory; a preservation needs assessment for collections with recommendations for future action; and an assessment of NYPL’s current AMI facilities, equipment and workflow, with resulting time, staff and cost estimates for future action. The project looked at 810,753 items, with an estimated 522,402 hours of content spanning 60+ formats and four asset types. One third of the collections emerged as an urgent preservation priority. Recommendations were developed in key areas including storage conditions, processing and sustainable collection policies for each site and collection. Four distinct scenarios were developed by which NYPL can reformat and otherwise preserve priority items. Costs and assumptions for each scenario are comprehensive, including recommended processing and associated digital storage costs as well as the quantifiable costs of inaction.
As a result of raising the profile of AMI and other at-risk digital presentation needs simultaneous to a Library-wide strategic planning effort, staff have reaffirmed that sustainable, long-term preservation strategies for AMI collections best serve the Library’s collections and users. NYPL’s executive team has committed to taking decisive and efficient action through immediate reallocation of existing resources, including a new role explicitly responsible for digital preservation. Other existing resources have been reallocated to support AMI work even more directly, including new AMI lab staff positions, larger outsourcing budgets, and new positions to tackle processing. By facing up to the scale of the challenge and the ongoing threat of obsolescence and degradation, the Library is better positioned to save its most unique, distinctive, and mission-critical collections.
The tools and methods used for and refined during this project can assist other institutions in addressing common needs for short- and long-term AMI collection life-cycle management and preservation.