Introducing LIS Students to Moving Image Archiving

Karen F. Gracy, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Library and Information Science
School of Information Sciences
135 N. Bellefield Avenue, Room 657
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
(412) 624-7679, (412) 648-7001 fax

Class Stats and Facts

  • Official title, "Moving Image and Sound Archives"
  • 23 students enrolled
  • Required course for archival studies students
  • New, "experimental" course
  • Part of larger program (meant to "build upon" other courses)

Topics Covered in Course

  • History of moving image and sound technologies (from analog to digital)
  • History of archival institutions and their relation to the industries (studios, broadcasting, and record companies)
  • Properties and formats of analog and digital recording media
  • Preservation of moving image and sound media
  • Restoration of moving image and sound (including ethics of restoration)
  • Working with laboratories (visit to Summit Lab in Pittsburgh)
  • Appraisal
  • Documentation
  • Oral History
  • Preservation Policy (Copyright, "Orphans," etc.)

Profile of Students

  • Most of the students have some background already in traditional archives and preservation
  • Most of the students have no coursework in film and television history, media studies, or critical theory, however.
  • High interest for most (although some are just there because it's required )

History of the Technology

  • There are parallels to draw between history of the technology in the text/print world, and in the moving image world.
  • Unfortunately, we seem to be moving away, not towards, an emphasis on historical reflection in LIS. (e.g., "let's digitize everything and it will be better")


  • LIS students don't know the lingo of moving image archiving
  • Developing the critical eye and ear emphasized as important skills

Learning New Ways to "See" and "Hear"

  • Students in "information" professions have been trained to focus on semantic content ("information")
  • Most are not skilled in technical assessments of visual and aural characteristics
  • Exercise provided to develop those skills

Pedagogical Requirements

  • Access to the Literature

    • Hard to find

    • Paltry in many areas

  • Access to Moving Image Content

    • Many preserved/restored versions of moving images are not available or are so poorly marked that it is difficult to tell whether or not it's the "restored" version.

    • DVDs have benefits and drawbacks (e.g., can't copy clips from them!)

  • Access to Venues of Exhibition

    • It's hard to see older films on film in Pittsburgh

Underdeveloped Literature

  • Mostly technical
  • Lack of theoretical approaches to such areas as appraisal, preservation, and restoration
  • Little attention paid to non-Hollywood, non-feature preservation issues
  • Archivists don't write about their work enough!


  • The Good Stuff!:

    • Treasures from the Film Archives DVD

    • Playback (BAVC) DVD

  • Need to have separate screening night (to conserve class time for discussion)

Limitations of Teaching Technologies

  • Can't copy clips from DVDs into Powerpoint
  • Can't give people opportunities for "hands-on" experience
  • Difficult to give people opportunities to practice skills in cataloging and appraisal
  • Digital preservation?

Defining Preservation and Restoration

  • Preservation not the same thing in the moving image world as in the paper world.
  • Restoration - there is no universal definition (depends on where and who does it)

Defining the Profession

  • Identity: What are the boundaries of moving image archiving (who's in it, who's not)?
  • Where is our "code of ethics"?
  • Encouraging participation in the professional societies to get support for moving image/sound preservation activities in their institution

Tying Moving Image Archiving to Other Fields

  • Traditional archival studies
  • Records management
  • Librarianship