You Need To Plan Before You Can Preserve

February 22, 2013

One issue we commonly do not factor into planning projects is the time it takes to ramp up to be able to actually perform the task. Whatever it is you want to do, there’s always a lot more time needed than anticipated to plan, select, decide, communicate, arrange, or whatever it is that has to happen to make the desired activity actually occur and be completed successfully.

These types of efforts are related to the time necessary for project management that occurs during implementation. When budgeting for a grant or a preservation project, project management — the work that facilitates the work — can often be an easily discounted or underestimated factor. Emailing is a part of our normal daily routine, so it’s difficult to isolate the project specific time we take on it or other types of communication that do not seem like ‘work’. Rather, the focus is on budgeting towards the definable activities with a palpable outcome: Processing or digitization of this many items or linear feet will take this many work hours. What we can lose site of is the time to hire, train, refine processes, and other issues that are necessary but are not directly linked to outcomes.

Similar to how the development and implementation costs of open source software add a (necessary) cost to using it, the cost of managing and implementing a preservation project — if not considered ahead of time — can become a burden or blockade to the project, or can come into conflict with other existing responsibilities.

When we express the urgency of the need to reformat and preserve audiovisual materials, it is not only because of the degradation and obsolescence risks, but also because of the normal project planning and ramp up time. When we say organizations need to start reformatting now, it’s not meant to suggest that you should start popping tapes in decks tomorrow. It means the organization needs to start developing policies, making decisions, raising funds, advocating, establishing capabilities, vetting systems and vendors, etc. etc. etc.

Realistically we are looking at a 10-15 year window in which to reformat legacy audio and video materials before the issues of decay, technology loss, and expertise loss make such work either impossible or unfeasible due to the cost factors of working with severely degraded materials and limited machinery. Thinking about this window and the time it takes to plan, gather funding for work, and then actually do the work, we believe that if you are not starting the planning process within the next 5 years you must accept that a significant portion of your audiovisual collection will be completely lost, and any resources put into other activities or collection management will have been wasted.

There is no getting around the fact that reformatting must occur for audiovisual materials to be preserved and accessed, just as there is no getting around the fact that reformatting efforts take money and planning, both of which take time gather and develop. We can’t hedge our bets on the far end of that 10-15 year window and wait until the night before to cram all the work in. We need to get to work on making that work happen.

—¬†Joshua Ranger