Archival moving images at Wilson Special Collections are made up mostly of analog video and motion picture film formats produced throughout the twentieth century. These formats are made from magnetic and celluloid materials that require specific storage conditions, handling, and playback equipment. Thanks to our colleagues across the field of audiovisual archives and our knowledgeable grant-funded staff, we have a solid grasp on the best practices for storage and handling of these materials. In order to make these materials accessible to you, library staff must digitize these analog formats using specialized playback equipment, digital conversion hardware, and software. Thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation we have been able to digitize and preserve over 3,000 unique videos, which are now accessible through their respective collection finding aids.
Formats may tell a story
AV formats may be able to inform you a little about the potential date of production, quality of the image and sound, and the production context of materials. Although there are no strict rules or correlations between format and it's quality or production context, we can make some generalizations that may inform which materials you select for your research or project. For example, you can broadly date materials by their format since these formats were produced and distributed by commercial entities for a defined amount of time. For instance 2" open reel video (or 2" Quad), which was introduced in 1956 and was in use until the early 1980s. We can therefore assume any 2" open reel video we encounter was produced between 1956 and the early 1980s.
All video formats are described as "videotape" in collection finding aids. Each video item has a unique ID that begins with the prefix "VT-". Often a format is also listed in the finding aid. Below is an example of a streaming videotape, titled Songs from the Cherokee Hymn Book, 29 July 1997. The unique ID is listed as "VT-05773/99" and the format as "VHS."
Meanwhile, motion picture film formats are described as "film" in finding aids. Each film item has a unique ID that begins with the prefix "F-" , and often a format is also listed in the finding aid. Below is an example of a motion picture film titled Jarrell and Cockerham, Lowgap, N.C., July 1971. The unique ID is listed as "F-20027/3" while the format is listed as "16mm motion picture film."
Regardless of format, the highest quality image is most likely found on the most original source material - in production heavy audiovisual collections compiled by filmmakers and documentarians, be on the look out for terms like "original" or "master" in the item's description, rather than "copy" or "dub", which implies it is a copy made from an original or master and therefore of lower quality. Below are examples of these terms "master" and "dub" used in moving image titles.
For more tips on finding and searching for moving images, please visit the "Finding and watching" section of this guide.
Below is additional information on video formats found at Wilson Library. Photographs and descriptions are courtesy of the University of Illinois' Preservation Self-Assessment Program Collection ID Guide. We encourage you to explore this resource for further information on individual video formats.
Below is additional informaiton on film formats found at Wilson Library. Photographs are courtesy of the University of Illinois' Preservation Self-Assessment Program Collection ID Guide, with the exception of the Filmstrip. Format descriptions include dates of production and a brief background description, which we compiled from the University of Illinois' Preservation Self-Assessment Program Collection ID Guide and the National Film Preservation Foundation's The Film Preservation Guide: The Basics for Archives, Libraries, and Museums. We encourage you to explore these resources for further information on individual film formats.