Audiovisual Formats: Storage and Preservation

A brief guide to identifying rare and obsolete audiovisual materials.

Storing Your AV Materials

Most AV formats do best in dark, cool places with low humidity and stable temperatures.


Film is a relatively stable medium that will keep for generations longer than other formats, especially if stored correctly. In the high desert air in Utah, it is uncommon to find mold on film, but definitely possible in more humid climates. If you find mold on a film, isolate it immediately, as mold spreads quickly. If the films smell musty or vinegary, take them to a professional film lab for digitization and preservation. There are no labs like this in Utah, but many exist in Los Angeles and on the East Coast. Do not run film through a projector as projectors damage film. Modern film digitizing equipment runs the film slowly and gently through equipment, so as not to damage a film further.

It is best to store films flat, in non-acidic archival cans and on archival cores (such as those made by Stijl). Do not wrap film in a rubber band, use any kind of tape (other than archival tape) on it, or enclose any acidic paper in the can.


Magnetic videotape has a shelf life of approximately 30 years. It can develop sticky shed syndrome, wherein the tape begins to deteriorate and stick to itself, making the tape unplayable. Magnetic videotape is not particularly stable, and it is recommended that they be digitized promptly if it contains valuable content. Store magnetic videotape cassettes and open reel formats upright (unlike film formats).


Inscribed audio formats (phonograph record, wax cylinders) are relatively stable and can also last for generations if stored properly. Open reel audiotape and audiocassette tape formats can vary dramatically in quality depending on the speed they were recorded at and if they were recorded over another recording, but if stored properly, can also last very well. Reel to reel players and tape cassette players are still available fairly widely.

Marriott Library Eccles Library Quinney Law Library