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Preserving VHS Tapes

June 27, 2013

A reader from Spokane, Washington, sent in the following question:

My wife is the volunteer director of our presbytery resource center.  She is concerned on how to preserve some historically signified VHS tapes.  Any tips/help on this subject you have will be appreciated.

VHS tapes are degrading at an alarming rate.

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works has a great page on Home Video Tape, some highlights below:

A dust-free, temperature- and humidity-controlled environment—68 degrees Fahrenheit and 20 to 30 percent relative humidity—is recommended for the safe home storage of videotape. Minimize tape handling at all times. Take care not to drop tapes or cassettes. Do not touch the surface or the edge of the tape. When tapes are not in use, store them on end (like books on a library shelf) to prevent deformation. Do not store videotapes lying flat. When housed in a horizontal position, pressure from other tapes can cause distortions. Rewind tapes after recording or playback. Date and subject matter is crucially important to determining the contents of a videotape. All labels should be consistent and on both the outer box and the cassette itself (use of the adhesive labels that come with the videotape are safe).

However, for items that are known to be of value, migration to DVD might be worth considering.  You can send to a company that will make the conversion for you. These companies are fairly easy to find locally through a quick search online. Working with a local company can be beneficial for these types of projects, and you can hand deliver the tapes, and discuss in person your specific needs. These services vary in price from $15 - $35 per tape.  I think it will depend on the shape that the VHS is in. If you are technically inclined and have a lot of VHS, you can try the conversion yourself. This can be done by either connecting the VHS to a computer and copying the video to a digital format, then burning to a DVD, or by purchasing an all in one VHS to DVD converter, which seems to be a little pricier. Please send other preservation question to [email protected]