Finding AV in Special Collections

There have been a few blog posts written before about the WMAR-TV and WJZ-TV Collections, but today I would like to discuss the process of actually finding and accessing an AV item that is requested.
First, how might researchers even know where to look for WMAR, WJZ or Baltimore-area news footage? They would most likely conduct a Google search which would show (a few hits down in the results) the Langdale Library Special Collections’ website. We also have a collection-level entry in ourlibrary catalog that will show as a result in searching This points to collection-level finding aids, which then points to that particular collection on the Special Collections’ website.
Our website has inventories online that describes many item-level objects for these two collections–although not everything that we have is mentioned online. For the WMAR-TV Series I film reels, we inherited old paper-filled log books where most of the films are described with key subjects and terms, chronologically. Large portions of these have been electronically transcribed and are in word-searchable HTML tables that are also searched by Google (here is an example of one). For the rest of the collection, the logs are either not online or scanned but not searchable (and in cursive, which many people these days cannot read). The WJZ-TV inventory is a list of the titles on the videocassettes containers in word-searchable PDFs—just CTRL-F and type in the term you are looking for.

Binders full of films: the WMAR-TV Collection Log Books
Once you know what you want, we have a location register in Excel for me to easily find the boxes in our storage areas. The film reels take a bit more time to find as their locations are not in the register: they are not stored in boxes so they need to be entered into the Excel at the item-level and there are about 4,000 of these reels (we are slowly working on this, but, like many libraries and archives, we have limited time and resources).
After I physically find the item, if it is a Umatic, VHS, or Betacam tape, I then can make a digitized copy for you pending some restrictions. However if it is any other AV format it must be sent out to a vendor at cost to the patron. If it is one of our 4,000 16mm films, I can only send a photo of a pertinent frame for whatever subject you are looking for. We cannot project the film as this will irreparably damage the film and as archivists we are bound to “do no harm” to our collections. 

Recent film frame sent to a patron: Eubie Blake playing the piano in 1973.
If you see the photo I send to you and absolutely must have a digitized copy of the film, you must pay to have it sent to a professional preservation vendor to have the whole reel or video digitized (we must approve of the vendor as there are many qualifications they must meet). We initially provide 1 hour of work for free (please read more about our services here). These charges help us to maintain our expensive obsolete AV equipment, purchase preservation supplies and containers, and to overall better care for and provide access to these collections.

As tapes and films are digitized, we take any information we can find about that item and upload them to the InternetArchive collection for viewing and downloading for non-commercial purposes. There are several hours uploaded per week of unique Baltimore-area history, so please stay tuned for more!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *