Harvard University’s library system has been collecting and creating a variety of audiovisual resources for decades. Unfortunately, like many institutions, much of this content is on obsolete formats that are actively degrading with a rapidly closing estimated window of opportunity to take preservation action. Recognizing this problem, the Library initiated a strategic effort in 2016 that included a commitment to stewarding and preserving vulnerable and critical research information, a designation that clearly applies to obsolescing and deteriorating audiovisual media. Jointly charged by the Collections and Stewardship Standing Committees, the AV Survey Task Group researched suitable survey methodologies and conferred with Library stakeholders to determine their best path forward.

In 2018, AVP was engaged to conduct a survey of a subset of the Library’s audiovisual materials. The survey was designed to help the Library determine how many at-risk audiovisual assets are held within selected libraries, an important first step toward engaging stakeholders to mobilize resources and take the actions necessary to digitize, preserve, and make accessible the audiovisual holdings of Harvard University for generations to come.

AVP interviewed representatives from 19 Harvard libraries including 25 discrete units and studied existing documentation. These conversations helped AVP to interpret and normalize the documentation (e.g., spreadsheets, databases, finding aids) and to determine which units would need an onsite survey. AVP visited three libraries in person to view collections and gather missing information to better cement format counts.

Working together, Harvard Library representatives and AVP were able to paint a much clearer picture of the quantities of at-risk audiovisual materials held by 19 of the libraries in the Harvard system. Armed with this knowledge, the Library is much better situated to advocate and plan for the preservation of these unique and important materials.