Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive (University of Oklahoma Political Communication Center)

Housed in the University of Oklahoma’s Political Communication Center, the Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive holds approximately 80,000 film, audio, and video recordings of commercials from 1936 to the present. These include political television spots from candidates running for offices ranging from the U.S. Presidency, such as the controversial Lyndon Johnson campaign ad “Daisy Girl” from 1964, to state and local offices throughout the United States. The major purpose of the archive is to preserve these valuable historical materials and to make them available for scholarly research and professional use.

The original plan for preserving the recordings called for creating an accessible duplicate copy of each item onto a videocassette and storing the originals in a secure, climate-controlled area. For over 16 years, as the collection of original materials continued to grow, the archive continued to produce duplicate copies, which resulted in a collection of over 1,100 videocassettes by the year 2005 that contained the working copy of nearly 80,000 political ads.

In the past several years, the Archive has faced a new preservation challenge: technological obsolescence. Instead of the common preservation problem of objects in the collection deteriorating and needing care, the problem has been finding and maintaining equipment on which to view objects in the collection. The solution to this preservation problem has been to again re-format the recordings. The recordings are being recorded to the DVD-video format with help from a $135,000 grant from the Save America’s Treasures program of the National Park Service and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This case illustrates some of the emerging preservation problems associated with documents that are non-human-readable as actual physical artifacts and the difficulties that arise when access to audio-visual documents depends on a technology that must be economically viable in the marketplace to survive. (Courtesy Lewis Mazanti.)