Audio, Film and Video Preservation and Access at the Oklahoma Historical Society

Audio, Film and Video Preservation and Access at the Oklahoma Historical Society 

JA Pryse, Director of Digital Archives, and Rachel Mosman, Head Photo Archivist and Media Specialist, Oklahoma Historical Society 

The Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) Research Division is comprised of numerous departments, each responsible for unique formats of archival materials. It is the main goal of the Digital Archives Division to identify and prioritize the methodical reformatting of all collections. Preservation and conservation of these materials must be handled expediently and efficiently to prevent further damages or loss. The largest threats are to audio, film and video, for which we have developed a preservation and access workflow.

Over the last three years the Oklahoma Historical Society has received national and international praise, awards, and grants due to our advanced technological abilities given our limited budget. At this time in the analog environment, it is imperative to address the degradation of antiquated, or obsolete, formats.

One of the richest pieces of Oklahoma history is the Living Legends Collection (LL) which is an assemblage of the voices  and stories of pioneers of the state of Oklahoma. The LL Collection was established in 1976, by Pendleton Woods, of the Oklahoma Christian College in Oklahoma City. Woods conducted thousands of personal interviews to be made available to “anyone for research, for recollection or for review, through electronic equipped study carrels within the Learning Center at Oklahoma Christian College”.  It is the mission of the OHS to continue to make these recordings accessible, through the migration and systematic digitization, preservation, conservation, and dissemination of all 1000 magnetic tape reels. 


The interviews reflect Oklahoma’s political, cultural, and economic history, covering the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century. This preservation project will contribute to the public’s access to these regionally significant interviews, which represent a number of national subjects, movements and individuals of note. The Living Legends Collection is the embodiment of first-hand history in the words of the men and women who experienced it. From the comfort of the classroom, home, office or personal computer, students from grade school age through post-doctoral status will have a chance to listen to the tones, the inflections, and the actual words spoken by these individuals.

Interviews of notable Oklahomans and notable national figures include:

  • Senator Mike Monroney – LL 132.A-B (July 8, 1966), LL 392
  • Senator Robert S. Kerr – LL 487
  • Pawnee Bill – LL 117 (April 12, 1939)
  • Gene Autry – LL 403
  • Woody Guthrie – LL 410
  • Cherokee Strip Pioneers – LL 120
  • John D. Mayo – LL 136.1 (September 1, 1970)
  • Colonel Tom Stafford – LL 132.A-B (July 8, 1966)

Current Condition:

The Living Legends Collection is currently housed in the original packaging, in a climate-controlled environment. However, we know that seventy percent of all audiovisual material is under immediate threat of deterioration, damage or obsolescence. Reel-to-reel magnetic tape consists of a base topped by a binder that contains particles that are magnetized in a pattern that represents the sound wave.  As with most products, the variation in production, quality and condition makes isolated assessments nearly impossible. Magnetic tape is an ephemeral medium with an average functional life of twenty years, After that it begins to suffer edge curl, cracking and flaking, binder decomposition,  winding defects, brittleness and drying, shrinkage, vinegar syndrome, and sticky shed syndrome, leading to loss of the recorded signal. 


  • Identify the media – composition of tape, reel or disc.
    • Inspecting according to visual and technological parameters
    • Cleaning media
    • Handling safely and according to established methodology, using cleaning agents and recommendations set forth by industry standards, NARA best practices, and the Audio Engineering Society. 
  • Assess the stage of deterioration – make the detailed plan of transfer, according to best long-term preservation methods available.
    • Format encoding, safeguarding the digital archival master files, checking for integrity, migrating data to new platforms (to address issue of obsolescence).
    • Determining conversion bit rates, actively preserving original quality and enhancing original status; preventing lagging from wear.
    • Monitoring the equipment through all stages to prevent mistake or damage and to ensure proper processes, maintaining specific quality, playback speed and tape alignment.
  • Prepare for digital conversion.
    • Verifying tape has been properly prepared for transfer, and that signal path, tones, levels and physical integrity has been calibrated.
    • Choosing sampling rate to determine industry standards, balancing audio fidelity and capacity of the storage unit. 
  • Create metadata –  describing the history of the recording, the technical aspects, and the organization that transferred the material and all essential data that incorporates the entire structure of the media.
    • Noting abnormalities, hardware settings, analog source type, equipment used during the conversion process and administrative data that contextualizes any archival material
    • Generating as much metadata possible, preventing future confusion or questions.
  • Store and make accessible master and access copies
    • Creating a comprehensive catalog of all material in the Living Legends Collection, verifying all of the steps have been carefully followed and that metadata has been properly embedded.
    • Providing access to the comprehensive collection through site.
  • Assess master and access copies of all media on a quarterly basis.

We are excited to announce that our team is actively seeking funding to fulfill the goals of bringing the Living Legends Collection to the Gateway to Oklahoma History Platform ( Should the reader know of any avenues for assisting the OHS Digital Archives Division, please contact us as soon as possible!


Documents and Images Attached:

Current_Records_Available_1970.018.pdf1.74 MB