Each year, Auburn University holds Tiger Giving Day, a one-day event when donors are asked to fund special projects by various units of the university. This year, Auburn University Libraries sought funding from donors to save more than 200 U-matic format video tapes from the 1970s, ’80s and ‘90s that have been unviewable for more than two decades. Through the generosity of donors, the funds needed to make these videos available online in a digital format were raised.
“We are so grateful to the Tiger Giving Day donors for giving us the opportunity to preserve so many of these U-matic analog video tapes,” said Greg Schmidt, head of special collections and archives at Auburn University Libraries. “Old analog media does have a self-life and the technology to read them is beginning to disappear. When the physical media degrades or the last machine that can read them breaks beyond repair, the contents will be lost to history. We have to act now to ensure that does not happen.”
AU Libraries’ special collections and archives has been hard at work for more than a decade to find ways to transfer legacy analog and digital media to modern formats. This effort creates files that can be stored in a variety of ways to give future researchers access to the history they hold. The department has acquired several pieces of equipment to aid in this effort, such as reel-to-reel, cassette, and even Digital Compact Cassette audio tape players to digitize legacy audio recordings. But some formats, such as the U-matic video tapes, cannot be processed in-house.
“U-matic tapes are a different animal when it comes to digitizing their content,” said Schmidt. “U-matic was a professional grade analog video tape that was mainly used to produce television content. There were never that many of the players and those that remain in use require professional servicing and maintenance. We will be sending our tapes to one of the professional video transfer companies to ensure we have the greatest chance of getting as much as possible from the tapes we hold.”
During 2021 Tiger Giving Day, 198 donors gave $12,168 (well above the $10,000 goal) for the project.
“We like to think that most people don’t want to lose the memories these tapes contain to time and advancing technology,” said Schmidt. “This is not the first time that the Auburn Family of givers has helped us save legacy media in our collection. I’m sure it won’t be the last.”
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