Preserving the 20th Century: California Preservation Survey of Moving Image and Recorded Sound Collections

March-June 2007

Project Summary

Current events in the 20th Century were recorded on a wide array of audiovisual media whose existence now is threatened by deterioration and equipment obsolescence. Recognizing the seriousness of the threat to the survival of California’s audiovisual heritage, the California State Library awarded funding to the California Preservation Program to undertake a statewide survey to document the scope and scale of the audiovisual preservation problem.

California’s history belongs to many ethnic groups and to several distinct geographic and cultural regions, a consequence of the state’s large size and diversity. Audiovisual materials of importance to the history of California are located in many small libraries and archives as well in several large repositories in the State. Consequently, the survey methodology selected for the project had to maximize opportunities for institutions to participate and to contribute information on the preservation needs of their audiovisual collections to the statewide survey.

A survey instrument specific to audiovisual materials, CALIPR, was used for the project. Originally developed for the California State Library by UC Berkeley in the early 1990’s to survey paper-based collections, CALIPR was rewritten for the Web and modified to accommodate audiovisual collections. CALIPR is hosted at UC Berkeley ( and is available for use by all libraries and archives at no charge.

With support of the State Librarian of California, the California Preservation Program encouraged California libraries and archives to participate in the project to document the scope and scale of preservation needs, to define the risks, and to build a case for funding to ensure the survival of moving image and recorded sound collections in California. The project final report is available at the website  and a brief version of the recommendations for actions is below.

Recommendations for action

Thirty two libraries and archives statewide participated in the survey, representing 1,061,000 moving image and sound recordings. Their data, based on random samples from the collections, document significant threats to the survival of California’s heritage of audiovisual recordings.

A short list of actions and cost estimates are below. However, the estimates reflect only the needs of the libraries and archives that participated in the survey rather than all audiovisual repositories in California; these actions are a place to begin, and from which to expand when other California libraries and archives are able to participate.

  1. Catalog and make known potentially valuable audiovisual recordings that currently remain unprocessed, unknown, and therefore unlikely to be selected to be preserved as part of California’s audiovisual heritage.
    Estimated cost: 340,000 recordings @ $35/recording = $ 11,900,000
  2. Provide staff and user education programs to reduce the inevitable, if unintentional, wear and damage to recordings from patron use.
    Estimated cost: 2 training courses/yr @ $3,000/course = $ 6,000/yr.
  3. Establish a reformatting program to copy high value/high risk analog and digital recordings to current digital media.
    Estimated cost: 239,000 recordings @ $150/recording = $ 35,850,000
  4. Establish a digital preservation program to ensure the survival of digitally reformatted moving image and sound recordings.
    Estimated cost: 5 petabytes data @ $3 million/petabyte/year = $15,000,000/yr.
  5. Create disaster preparedness and collection salvage plans for all libraries and archives with audiovisual collections.
    Estimated cost: 2 training courses/yr @ $3,000/course = $6,000/yr.

The costs for a California preservation program to meet the needs of all historically significant moving image and recorded sound collections are very substantial, but the costs to get started with the most cost effective preservation program elements, and with the best known, best loved recordings of the 20th Century are within reach. Time is not on our side; either we decide to begin now or we decide to let California’s audiovisual heritage disappear.

Survey Participants

  • Autry National Center Autry Library
  • Autry National Center Braun Archives
  • Blue Mountain Center of Meditation
  • California College of the Arts
  • California Historical Society Library
  • California State Archives
  • California State Railroad Museum
  • Caltech Archives
  • Computer History Museum Media Resource Type
  • Graduate Theological Union Library and Archives
  • Hoover Institution Archives
  • Judah L. Magnes Museum Western Jewish History Center
  • Los Angeles Philharmonic Archives
  • Mills College F.W. Olin Library
  • Ontario City Library Robert E. Ellingwood Model Colony History Collection
  • Other Minds
  • Pacific Film Archive
  • Pepperdine University Payson Library
  • Roseville Public Library
  • Saint Mary’s College Archives
  • San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
  • San Francisco State University Frank V. de Bellis Collection
  • Stanford University Art and Architecture Library
  • Stanford University Archive of Recorded Sound
  • University of California, Berkeley, Bancroft Library
  • University of California, Berkeley, Media Resources Center
  • University of California, Riverside, Library
  • University of California, San Diego, Library
  • University of California, San Francisco, Library and Center for Knowledge Management
  • Archives and Special Collections
  • University of California, Santa Barbara Libraries
  • University of San Diego Library
  • Wells Fargo & Co. Corporate Archives