The Stanford Media Preservation Lab serving faculty research needs as a matter of course

August 25, 2014
Nathan Coy
A compact cassette from the Clayman Institute on Gender Studies

While often at the Stanford Media Preservation Lab we work with sound recordings Stanford acquired long ago sometimes we have the opportunity to work on media freshly acquired on the premise of immediately serving faculty and students. Recently a case like this occurred.

A faculty member had a modest collection of 20 cassette recordings on the topic of labor organizing by farm workers. Unfortunately one of the cassettes had been significantly damaged during a previous playback attempt and required extensive repair. While the facilities and supplies to handle severely damaged cassettes is not widely available; at SMPL we handle degrading and damaged media as a matter of our sometimes-challenging routine.  The problems exhibited by the cassette in question are the classic problem of failed playback as opposed to the ever-increasing problem of soft binder syndrome in compact cassettes made in the 1970’s (which makes playback nearly impossible without treatment). Fortunately in this case we were able to solve these problems at SMPL with careful detangling, some leader tape, and splicing with minimal loss of content.

There were many steps to the cassettes arriving at SMPL. In this case the first step was the faculty member coordinating with the Stanford Libraries’ department of Special Collections for donation, followed with processing by Special Collections, reformatting at the Media Preservation Lab, and deposit in the Stanford Digital Repository ensuring long-term preservation and access after cassette playback equipment is no longer available.