Going from analog tape to digital library

The outcome of one news company’s digital transition

Analog tape library
Analog tape library

Analog tape library.

For nearly seven years, LibSource librarians have been embedded onsite at a major news organization. We have been managing the media libraries operations in both the New York and Washington D.C. locations as part of the organization’s commitment to digital workflow in their news production process.

The tape library in the Washington D.C. bureau recently completed a move to new space, and while that isn’t particularly newsworthy, the transformation of the video library is.

Historically, the D.C. tape library created a chaotic workday for the library team:

  • It occupied approximately 1,000 square feet of valuable real estate within the network’s facilities.
  • It contained workspaces for the librarians, computers, video viewing and editing equipment, compact shelving, tape moving carts and supplies.
  • It had accumulated miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam collected over the last 40 years.
  • It was a high traffic area visited regularly by the news production teams looking for video research help or to access and retrieve or return physical tape assets.

In short, the space was cluttered, noisy and a source of added chaos to the already fast-paced newsroom environment.

News tape digitization and preservation process

Throughout our long engagement, LibSource has been driving an extensive content digitization process to preserve a legacy collection of tape-based physical video assets in both Washington D.C. and the news organization’s New York City headquarters. Once digitized, these tapes become accessible to all users to search, view and order from the convenience of their desktops, regardless of location.

This digitization and preservation effort has allowed everyone to re-imagine the shape and form of the news library during its transition to a born-digital setting for all new assets. Both the workflow and the space requirements have undergone a profound transformation.

What an all-digital library needs to be successful

As part of a space reassignment, the decision was made to relocate the tape library to a smaller footprint within the same facility. Working closely with bureau operations personnel, the LibSource library team planned the library relocation and initiated a number of projects to prepare for the move.

media librarian workstation digital archive

Media Librarian at new workstation adding to digital archive.

From the start, all agreed that the new library should be designed as an all-digital workflow process, meaning no accommodations for tapes, shelving, carts and other physical videotape artifacts. The new library would contain digital workstations, research tools and video editing systems for the creation of new content to the digital archive and to process on-demand research activities based on daily editorial priorities.

The transformation was well planned and coordinated with a number of different teams including operations, IT, engineering and facilities management, reducing complexity to a series of manageable phases.

The first task was to methodically review thousands of videotapes, and to make content decisions about those media assets. Tapes were either boxed for digitization, flagged for recycling or shipped to “deep” storage offsite. This curation triage was facilitated by the LibSource team, with over 30 years media library and content experience. Having worked closely with the production and editorial staff at the bureau, they reviewed the extensive videotape collection and also significantly culled paper files, books, outdated reference materials and other items.

Meanwhile, meetings were taking place to lock-in a final design for the new space, mapping out the new technology needs for the editing and information systems and planning the demolition and construction timelines. While this planning and assessment phase was time-consuming, once finalized, efforts could begin in earnest and the project progressed faster than anticipated, and with fewer issues along the way.

By the time the new library was ready, the tape library team transitioned easily into their new work space, with full appreciation for their all-digital world. Gone is the cluttered library filled with videotape on high-density shelving. The new work space is streamlined, sleek and comfortable to accommodate the new digital workflow. The workload hasn’t changed—in fact, it has increased, with more time to focus on adding new content to the digital archive as opposed to finding, circulating and re-shelving tapes.

Benefits of the new digital library

Overall, the transformation has provided a range of benefits, not only for library staff but for the entire news organization. The library work space is a cleaner, safer and more professional environment, more conducive to supporting higher level activities and systems that are now at the core of the librarian job function.

media librarian workstation digital archive

Media Librarian at new workstation adding to digital archive.

Real estate savings

The old library space is being converted to additional office and workspace for production and editorial staff. With Washington D.C. and New York City having some of the most expensive real estate in the country, that valuable space is no longer wasted on low-value storage of videotapes and boxes.

News production time savings

The transition to all-digital workflow allows new content, created and arriving daily from a high-volume newsroom, to be added to the digital archive and shared across the enterprise faster than ever before.

Greater meaning and context to news stories

By locating historical content more quickly and easily to meet pressing deadlines, producers and reporters can now add valuable context and greater meaning to current news stories.

LibSource has been involved in many library transformations, not only in news and entertainment but in law firms, universities and other library settings. We have created our own Library Roadmapping methodology based on best practices and lessons learned to deliver both strategic and practical navigational guidance. And while Roadmapping is a comprehensive, multi-month consulting process, we also work on more discrete phases for all kinds of Knowledge Management and Digital Asset Management projects. No matter where you are, we can ease the way in your digital transition.

In the case of this library, the transition to digital has transformed the way it operates, allowing a major news organization to maximize its production resources and meet every deadline to be more competitive than ever.

Phil Spiegel

Phil Spiegel

Phil Spiegel is Senior Director, Content Management Operations for LAC Group. Phil delivers insights and advice based on more than 20 years of media archive and asset management experience gained from companies like National Geographic Television, Corbis Motion, Image Bank and Getty Images.
Phil Spiegel
Phil Spiegel

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