New Materials Back from Conservator: U-Matic Tapes

Shortly before the COVID-19 crisis brought so much of the world to a halt, some good news came to the Daughters of Charity Archive.  We can now make available – at least when everyone gets back to the office and we are completely available to researchers again – three pieces of audio-visual material in digital format which we have never been able to before.  Thanks to our work with ColorLab in Rockville, Maryland, we can provide access to some of our U-matic tapes, one of the earliest versions of videotape which did not require the complicated equipment of open-reel film.  Effectively, U-matics were a giant VHS with a tightly wound reel of film inside.

In addition to no longer having equipment to play these tapes, these tapes had fallen victim to sticky-shed syndrome, or “shredding.”  The glues meant to hold the magnetic tape to the plastic base attract moisture, which makes the tape sticky and causes it to deteriorate as it crosses the mechanical portions of the cassette.

The solution to this condition is “baking,” which is exactly what it sounds like.  By baking the tape to a high temperature, it can be made dry enough for long enough that it can be converted into a digital format.

The tapes cover three different subjects:

  • The first is an episode of United States Catholic from November 1928, featuring a ten minute segment on the United State Public Health Service Hospital in Carville, Louisiana, staffed by the Daughters of Charity, better known as the National Hansen’s Disease Center – the treatment center for the disease colloquially known as leprosy.
  • The second is a program on Mother Seton, which ran in the half-hour on Buffalo local television before her canonization aired live.
  • The third is a celebratory Mass at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chicago celebrating the recent canonization of Mother Seton, featuring Father Edward Riley, CM; Father Thomas Burn; and Father Phillip Dion, CM.
Blurry still from the stationary camera at the celebratory mass at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chicago

For more information on preservation and conservation of U-matic tapes, see http://www.audio-restoration.com/baking.php

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