Christy Henshaw

Christy Henshaw

Last updated on 3 November 2021

Christy Henshaw is Digital Production Manager at Wellcome Collection in London

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Wellcome Collection, like many archives, has a tape problem. Video or audio, good condition or bad, tape archives present a major challenge for preservation and access. We hold hundreds of unique and distinctive works on tape formats, and regularly acquire more through our acquisition programme.

It is widely accepted that magnetic tape formats such as VHS, Betamax, U-matic, IVC and several others are coming to the end of their life due to player and recorder obsolescence and degradation of stock and binders. Providing access to this material via original formats is already risky and will soon be impossible. Prompted by this realisation, the BFI launched a project to digitise some 100,000 videos from across the UK.

AV digitisation is a core strand of our digital preservation programme. Each year of full-time operation, we digitise hundreds of tapes, with a goal to transfer our entire permanent collection of at-risk formats to digital by 2024. We were also lucky enough to have participated in the BFI H22 project with the London Screen Archives, who arranged to have almost 700  titles from our collections digitised in 2019-2021.

When we started to scale up our audiovisual digitisation efforts in 2019, we had to increase our processing and storage capacity. We were already moving all our digitisation and digital preservation systems to Amazon Web Services, which was completed in 2020. Our audiovisual workflows became fully operational on this new Cloud platform in mid-2021, coinciding with our ability to get back into the building after COVID19 lockdowns.

Prior to digitisation, some of these works could not be accessed at all, making it impossible to identify, evaluate and describe them, much less assess suitability for public access. So, although we are digitising for preservation in the immediate term, ensuring long-term viability even as the physical media becomes increasingly redundant, such unprecedented access to files stored in our Archive Storage Service allows us to carry out many essential collections management activities. And, of course, it means we can much more easily provide access to the public now and in the future.

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