What happens to a collection when its sole caretaker is suddenly out of the picture and has left no documentation? This is an all too common occurrence with archival collections, and the problem is compounded with audiovisual collections where content may not be accessible and identifiable, production practices may create multiple versions or derivatives, and preservation or reformatting is often a necessary first step before anything else.
Because of these challenges we have shaped the outcomes of the work we do on inventories, assessment, and appraisal to focus on preservation planning, trying to answer the question of What do I have? What do I do with it? and Where do I start? Our Catalyst Inventory Solution produces item level inventories of audiovisual collections at a rapid rate -- depending on team size we have hit rates of 1000-2000 items per day -- with a dataset honed to quantify a collection's makeup and produce information that can be used to prioritize, budget, select, and locate items for preservation or basic collection management.
To help elucidate the challenges and approaches to dealing with physical audiovisual collections, we have begun a new series of case studies on past projects that fall under our Catalyst Solution services. "The Catalyst Solution: A case study in the loss of institutional knowledge and a new approach to the process & outcome of inventories for audiovisual collections" is our first release, looking at a cultural institution where the caretaker suddenly passed away and then the audio collection sat for several years. The institution came to us when a pending construction project necessitated moving the collection to storage within a two month window, which also prompted the desire to finally tackle documenting the materials and trying to figure out how to preserve them.
There were many challenges related to the age and condition of the materials, storage conditions, and limited identifying information on the materials, but using our inventory approach and Catalyst software we were able to pack items for moving and complete an inventory of around 3,300 items in about one month. Like many of our assessment projects it was a fascinating exercise in logistics and thinking on our feet, so we hope you enjoy the series and can learn from it. Download the PDF here or (along with many other resources) on our Resources page.
--- Joshua Ranger