Preserving Moving Images in the Archives

by Janine St. Germain, School Archivist
Last year a curious canister of 16mm film re-surfaced in the archives.

With a keen interest in viewing its contents, the footage was hand-delivered to a film preservation house in mid-town Manhattan and digitized for safe keeping. Now these fluttering, silent, black-and-white motion picture images from the 1920s documentation of Sports Day and other school sporting events (baseball, soccer) are preserved in electronic form.

Headmaster Jenkins’ palpable enthusiasm now lives in the digital archives, as he bellows into his megaphone, distributing prizes, and directing myriad foot races, including mothers, fathers, and chauffeurs.

If you are interested in viewing your own private screening of these gems, click here to see a short segment of the film. Another fragile form of motion picture footage that lives in the archives is a collection of approximately two hundred VHS tapes. The collection is in dire need of digital preservation. These VHS cassettes, now an antiquated media format hailing from the 1980s and 1990s, are much more fragile than 16mm film and are impossible to view manually.

Video tape has a variety of longevity problems, quite different from photographic film, and while the clarity of a VHS tape never had perfect picture quality to begin with, the content on these cassettes is just as valuable as our film footage from the 1920s. Many of the cassettes document school assemblies from the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, some with titles that include:

Remembrance Day, 9K and Mr. King-Wood, (11/14/1997)
Miness Assembly, History of St. Bernard’s, (1985)
Twelfth Night, (1986)
The Mayflower Compact, VI Austin, IV Bazarini, IV Gillespie, V Silvia, (1993)
Y2K, 6A & Mr. Austin, (4/30/1999)

Unfortunately, these videotapes can no longer be played due to their fragile nature. But a plan is afoot! An audio visual preservation house in Philadelphia has provided St. Bernard’s with some guidance (and cost estimates) on next steps for preserving this valuable collection.

St. Bernard’s school history is documented in a wide variety of formats, starting with Headmaster Jenkins’ own handwritten letter documenting the first day of school, to our collection of oversized scrapbooks of Shakespeare Play cast members from the early 1900s. Preserving school history in the chapters ahead now includes preserving pixels –including both digital images and motion picture video files.

If you have any interest in helping with this effort, or learning more, please contactJanine St. Germain,