Archiving Thousands of Videotapes from the Agency for Instructional Technology

At the Indiana University Libraries’ Moving Image Archive staff members have spent the last two summers unpacking and processing 20+ pallets of audio-visual and paper materials from the Agency for Instructional Technology (AIT), formerly located here in Bloomington, IN. The process has included identifying and inventorying material in preparation for digitization and cataloguing. The handling of AIT’s materials has provided its own unique educational instruction in media formats from the past century with all variety of audio-visual materials including: 16mm and 35mm film, Hi8, DVCAM, MiniDV, U-matic tape, 1″ reel-to-reel tape, BetaCam and BetaCam SP, VHS, Digital Audio Tape (DAT), and more. The final count yielded approximately 18,000 audio and video items on over twenty-three different formats! You’ll hear more about the digitization process of these materials over the next few weeks on the Moving Image Archive’s blog. 

Decades of audio and video formats from AIT’s collection, some of which are now being digitized by MDPI.
Decades of audio and video formats from AIT’s collection, some of which are now being digitized by MDPI.

Originally founded in 1962 as the National Instructional Television Library (NITL), AIT operated in Bloomington for almost fifty years, creating educational television programming for National Educational Television (NET) and later PBS. The organization saw itself as leader in developing educational material for a television age and believed that evolving televisual technology could, according to one AIT catalogue, “complement traditional teaching by providing ‘field trips’ through time and space, demonstrations, and simulations.” A shift in emphasis from “television” to “technology” in 1984 marked the expansion of AIT to include development of instructional materials for computers and other technologies. The mission of AIT paralleled the various audio-visual instructional activities at Indiana University’s own Audio-Visual Center (AVC) and the NET Film Service, which, through a network of collaborative efforts, produced and distributed educational programming for nearly half a century.     

National Instructional Television Library newsletter detailing a symposium held at Indiana University in the 1960s.
National Instructional Television Library newsletter detailing a symposium held at Indiana University in the 1960s.

AIT’s collection is an important resource for historians working on non-theatrical moving images, since it provides an extensive resource evidencing the process of educational media production, particularly as it transitioned from film to broadcast television and video. While much of the writing on educational film, such as in Learning with the Lights Off (2012) and Useful Cinema (2011), has focused primarily on earlier periods of the history of educational media, the materials from AIT extend that history into the video, digital, and computing era, offering a glimpse into the cooperative development of educational audio-visual production and programming. The collection will ultimately provide researchers with access to the inner workings of a specific education and media organization, which was part of the vast and complex network of filmmaking and videography professionals, programming and distribution sites, and innovation in educational media production. The materials acquired from AIT by the Moving Image Archive include not only items such as distribution masters that show a final product, but also raw footage, unedited interviews, and audio recordings that were the building blocks of educational programming. Along with these materials are important papers and photographs that help tell the story of AIT as an institution—from the actual program-making process that included scripts and contracts to files containing the profiles of professional actors who specialized in the field of educational programming performance. 

AIT’s catalogue collection. Along with these catalogues are over one hundred boxes of paper materials from AIT’s offices.
AIT’s catalogue collection. Along with these catalogues are over one hundred boxes of paper materials from AIT’s offices.
The acquisition from AIT couldn’t have come at a better time, since the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, which was announced in 2013, has been aiming its digitization efforts toward the preservation of audio and video recordings that exist on bygone formats that are now in danger of complete obsolescence or degradation.
Stay tuned for the next blog post, where we’ll describe in more detail the digitization process these media materials have been undergoing! If you have questions about the collection or would like to schedule a research visit, please email iulmia@indiana.edu. 
– by Saul Kutnicki