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Salvaging Wet Audiovisual Materials Workshop

Waterlogged film, video, and audio tapes were at the ready for librarians to practice on during this two-day workshop.


It was every librarian’s nightmare: opening a box to reveal soaking wet film, video and audio tapes. In the workshop entitled “(What If) A River Runs Through It: Salvaging Wet Audiovisual Materials,” Elizabeth Walters, preservation librarian for AV materials (Weissman Preservation Center), and Liz Coffey, film conservator (Media Preservation Services) instructed librarians and conservators on how to handle water-damaged materials, as well as how to come up with salvage solutions in the moment. “Don’t panic, don’t give up hope, and don’t go it alone,” said Walters. With this reassurance, workshop participants gingerly removed waterlogged film canisters, videotapes, and audio cassettes, triaging the materials carefully while formulating a strategy on how to save them.

Attendees practiced on submerged AV materials in teams, working together to assess each object. The salvage exercise was the culmination of a two-day class. Participants applied what they learned during prior lessons to ask insightful questions about how best to proceed when encountering water damage. Coffey and Walters spent a significant amount of time identifying and preparing items to use that represented formats commonly found in Harvard Library's collections.

While it’s true that exposure to water can cause severe damage, in most cases the damage is not immediate, and there is time to form a plan. The workshop was “an opportunity to demystify AV materials in Harvard Library collections and help library staff be more confident about the best steps to take when they encounter a water emergency,” Walters said. Media Preservation staff and the Library Collections Emergency Team at Harvard Library are ready and willing to help those at the Library deal with water-affected AV. An additional goal of the workshop was to increase the participants’ familiarity and comfort with AV formats frequently encountered in Harvard Library’s collections, and to promote awareness of simple actions that can go a long way toward minimizing, and even preventing, water-related damage. 

Coffey and Walters hope to hold another workshop series in the future—once they have the chance to replenish their collection of AV media to use in the salvage exercise. “Doing this kind of workshop has been a dream of mine almost since my first day on the job,” said Walters.

Article written by Kaitlin Buckley.

Article published on January 27, 2016.