Tools TSLAC Uses To Access and Make Available Older Formats

Analog Formats

The second leg of our tour took us down to TSLAC’s digitization lab. This is the location where analog materials are transformed into accessible files made available through our web platforms.

The first tools we inspected were the wall of video cassette players. 90s kids like myself will remember the VHS fondly, but that wasn’t the only device that played magnetic tape. Any digitization lab worth its salt will include U-matic and Betamax players as well.

Here we have a tape deck tower – capable of digitizing half a dozen audio cassette tapes at once!

But not all audio and video recordings are found in a nice little cassette. Before that, recorded audio was stored on reels. Here we see a reel to reel player.

And not all audio and video was recorded on magnetic tape either. This is the Retroscan capable of capturing the sound and video of 16 and 35 mm film.

Here’s a taste of what the Retroscan can produce. This film from the 1950s features Governor Allan Shivers talking about his fight to keep Texas’s tidelands under state control. Coming soon to the Texas Digital Archive!

We also were introduced to the flextight machine – capable of digitizing photo negatives.

And we met some older dictation vinyl discs. The softness of the vinyl allowed personal recording of dictation, but requires a special stylus to properly play or digitize.

Speaking of hard to digitize, even TSLAC had to find a vendor to make electronic copies of these old recordings of Governor Pappy O’Daniel’s Light Crust Dough Boys. This abnormally large (and fragile) disc has an aluminum core and is coated with vinyl. Fortunately, there is still a commercial interest in digitizing audio, so a vendor could be found.

One issue with running a digitization outfit is that you must be familiar with these antique machines. Here we see an U-matic player taken apart for servicing.

Keeping a lot of spare parts at the ready can save you a very expensive trip to the repairman.


Lastly, a digitization lab will need a photography studio. A place where high quality digital images can be produced from archival materials.

Digitization is preservation.

Running a digitization shop is no small task. Not only are you working with and becoming an expert on older formats and their players, but you have a metadata issue as well. More often than not, you don’t know what’s on the material until you actually play it. And all analog materials are subject to decay over time.

Thank you to Brian Thomas, Mark Myers and Steve Kantner for inviting us into your spaces! And major kudos to SLRM’s own Bonnie Zuber for photographing our journey.

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