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Film Preservation in Metro Archives: Content, Prioritization, and a Healthy Environment

September 21, 2018

We’re glad you’ve joined us for post #3 in our series detailing the Metro Archives’ Audiovisual Conservation Center’s Film Conservation Project! In this post we will discuss how we choose which films to inspect and how we manage our time.


Our collection is relatively large, but we only have one full time manager of the collection, and one part time processor/project archivist. This means that prioritization is a very important aspect of our work. The goal of this generous grant from the NEH is to inspect and rehouse our entire film collection. As we have dug deeper into the depths of the collection through the initial inspection, we have discovered that many of the films have significant decay, many production elements, and other features that require considerable attention and time, thus prioritization!

There are a few collections of film materials that we know right off the bat are important, one of the most significant and larger collections being the James Kilgore collection. Mr. Kilgore was a lifelong native and resident of Nashville. He was an avid amateur filmmaker who began shooting film at 14. He served in Italy during WWII and was able to document his experience using film. He was very interested in the latest film and video technology, so the Kilgore collection contains many unique materials including sound and color film. We want to prioritize this collection because Kilgore was a native Nashvillian and his home movies, narrative films, documentation of WWII and footage of his church and it’s activities can help tell a colorful story of everyday life in Nashville.

Here is a photo of a Kilgore home movie through the magnifying lens.

The other collections that we have deemed locally and culturally important are the Thomas Mayhew collection, Sid O’Berry collection, the McCowan Collection, and any other home movie collection to which we might own the rights.

That is another aspect of prioritization we want to consider. Eventually we would like to make the film collection as accessible as possible by transferring the films to a digital format (with the appropriate funding of course). We need to consider the rights of the filmmaker, and whether or not the AVCC has the right to make the film accessible. If we know for sure that we do not have the rights to something, that item is not high on our prioritization list.

The next question that we have to consider is how does prioritization relate to creating a healthy space and environment for our film collection? Well, prioritization allows for the collections we deem important to be inspected and live happily for the time being. The faster we can get to ALL of the films the better, but unfortunately inspection takes time. We can make sure that films we know are moldy or significantly decaying get inspected, rehoused, and separated from the larger collection. By prioritizing our inspection based on content and decay, we can make sure the most culturally significant films live happily ever after before other materials.

We have discovered production elements in a lot of our collections such as work prints, soundtracks, and small clips of footage that eventually make it into a finished product. Those materials are at a lower prioritization. We want to get through them quickly because they are either duplicates or elements that make up a finished product.

Lastly, who are we (the archivists) to say what is important and what is not? This is a questions I constantly think about as I am processing our film collections. There is a level of responsibility the archivist has as a steward of her collection to take into the consideration the community she serves and the importance of these collections to the community. Ideally, everything in our whole collection should be inspected and rehoused instantaneously. That is just not the case, so us archivists have to make important decisions about what comes first. This responsibility is not taken lightly (at least not in our archive).

I’m including a few photos of the Thomas Mayhew collection and the James Kilgore collection. We are close to finishing the Mayhew Collection, and we have moved on to the Kilgore Collection.

Completed Mayhew films on the shelves.

Completed Kilgore Collection films on the shelves.
Stay tuned for a very exciting post next week about all of the NEW equipment we recently received to make the inspection life MUCH easier!


The Film Preservation Project is generously funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation Assistance for Smaller Institutions Grant.

The AVCC is generously funded by the Nashville Public Library Foundation and is located at the Nashville Public Library in downtown Nashville, Tennessee.



Melanie is an audiovisual archivist with a passion for cats, books, palindromes, coffee and equal access to information. She has worked in the Audiovisual Conservation Center since February 2018. On the weekends you can find her singing all of your favorite dad rock hits at karaoke.