Chapter 4, Arrangement Guidelines

Chapter Contents:

Because every archival collection is unique, it is impractical to prescribe rules for the intellectual arrangement of archival audiovisual materials that will address all collections. In general, at the Archives we do not create an “audiovisual media” series as a default. It is our preference to arrange AV media where their intellectual content and the context of their creation places them most logically, whether with other AV materials or with records in other formats.

This document is designed to help archivists make arrangement decisions for mixed-media collections using general principles and strategies, and to give examples of typical audiovisual and/or mixed media collections found at the Archives of American Art.

For instructions addressing physical arrangement of AV in containers, see Chapter 3 on AV Re-housing and Storage.

 4.1 AV and related documentation

When audiovisual media exists in mixed-media archival collections, it is often related intellectually to other records found in the collection. The relationship between the audiovisual records and other records should be maintained and expressed in the arrangement. 

  • AV recordings found with related records in any form should generally be left in their original arrangement, similar to photographs found in project files, for instance.
  • If documentation is found in a collection that describes the content of AV recordings, such as transcripts, shot lists, or inventories; or records that describe their creation or use, such as lab records, production notes, project proposals, printed programs, etc.; the arrangement of the collection should maintain the relationship between the recordings and the records.
  • If AV material and its related documentation are physically separated prior to processing, they can be left separate, particularly if the collection is being minimally processed,  or if the physical format of any of the records makes physically filing them together impractical.
  • When related documentation is physically arranged separately from the audiovisual material, the relationship between the media and its related documentation should be clearly expressed in the finding aid, and the media itself should be arranged and described in a way that facilitates using the documentation to access the media. For example, if you have a paper or electronic inventory of videotapes that uses a numbering system, arrange the videos numerically and include tape numbers in the description of the tapes.

Audiovisual materials are typically found in or can be arranged in one of the conventional series used at the Archives, which are listed below. If the series described below do not exist in the collection, do not create one exclusively for the AV content. Instead, find another appropriate existing series or see “When to create an AV series” below.

When including AV material in series such as “Writings,” “Printed Material,” or “Photographs,” where the conventional series title specifically names the type of material present, include an additional form term in the series title so that it reflects the presence of the AV material. For instance, “Writings and Lectures,” “Printed and Broadcast Material,” or “Photographs and Moving Images.”

Typical series used at the Archives of American Art, and the types of AV recordings that often can be arranged with them, include:

  1. Biographical material:
  • Interviews with the main creator (unless there are enough to constitute their own series);
  • recordings of memorial services;
  • Third-party film or video documentaries about the main creator (not production collections, however; for documentaries with raw footage, outtakes, rough edits, etc. see “Arranging AV production materials.”)
  1. Correspondence:
  • this is rare, but occasionally recorded personal “letters” are found in collections
  • audiovisual materials enclosed in correspondence should be kept with correspondence
  1. Writings:
  • Lectures by the main creator (Use “Writings and Lectures” as a series title)
  • Recordings created in the course of research for a writing project, usually interviews; however, if there are a large number of interviews they would probably be easier to describe as their own series.
  1. Exhibition files:
  • moving images created specifically to document exhibition installations
  • recordings gathered or created by a curator in the process of creating an exhibition
  • documentation of openings
  • press coverage of an exhibition
  • media made to promote an exhibition
  • media shown in the exhibition, unless an artwork series would be more appropriate

An isolated recording related to an exhibition can be incorporated into an existing exhibition file series, even if there is no other documentation for that exhibition. This principle also applies to Project Files, Artist Files, and Research Files.

  1. Project files:
  • Recordings made in the course of a project, or made to document or publicize a project
  • An existing project file series can be a logical place to arrange an isolated recording made by an artist if it relates to a specific project or artwork.
  1. Artist files:
  • Recordings found in artist files should be left in artist files
  • An existing artist files series can be a logical place to arrange an isolated recording or two that relate to specific artists, but are unrelated to any other documentation in a collection.
  1. Teaching Files:
  • Lectures or demonstrations of technique by the main creator
  • Recordings of classes, crits, class discussions
  • other types of academic recordings such as panel discussions
  • student projects
  1. Printed Material:
  • Any commercially distributed media, such as a “published” sound recording, video, or film can be arranged with printed material. Such recordings are similar to printed material in that they are not unique and are likely to exist elsewhere. Typically such media will have mass-produced packaging for commercial distribution. If you are uncertain, check the title in WorldCat.
  • If AV material gets integrated into your Printed Material series, the series title should be changed to reflect the inclusion of AV; use “Printed Material and Published (general format)” aka:
    • Printed Material and Published Sound Recordings
    • Printed Material and Published Video Recordings
    • Printed Material and Published Motion Picture Films
  • Television or radio news coverage taped off the air by a gallery or artist for their own records is similar to “clippings” from printed news sources. In this case, a suitable series title might be “Printed and Broadcast Material.” Do not use this approach for a TV or Radio series created by the main creator for which we have original recordings. See below under “When to create an AV series.”
  1. Personal Business Records: Rarely used for AV.  One example of when this series was used for AV material was for Super 8 mm film reels that documented the construction of an artist’s studio, filed with invoices and correspondence related to the project.
  2. Photographs: When either video or motion picture film contains documentation similar to the photographs found in the Photographs series, the AV content can be arranged with those photographs as additional visual documentation. Series title should be adjusted to include the AV portion, e.g. “Photographs and Moving Image Material”
  • Moving images of artwork or exhibition installations (or, include with exhibition files if such a series exists)
  • home movies arranged with personal or family photographs
  • footage of an artist working or technical demonstrations can be arranged with studio photographs
  1. Artwork:
  • When the recording or film is itself a creative work, or a component of a creative work, whether by the main creator or someone else, it can be arranged in an Artwork series. A component of a creative work would be a recording that formed part of a sculpture or installation.
  • AV documentation of kinetic, generative, or performance art could also be arranged in an artwork series. Depending on what else is found in the collection, such documentation could also be arranged in a photographs series with photographs of artwork, a project or exhibition file series, or if there is enough of such material, in its own series.

 4.3 When to create an AV series

Although we do not group all audiovisual material together in an audiovisual series as a default arrangement, there are times when it is entirely appropriate to have an all- or mostly-AV series.

Even in these cases, do not use the series title “Audiovisual material.” Use the word “unidentified” with the general material designation, i.e. “Unidentified Sound Recordings,” “Unidentified Video Recordings, or “Unidentified Motion Picture Film,” or a combination of material terms if appropriate.

  1. Large group of AV with related content

In some cases, the collection may contain a large volume of AV material related to a single project, or may be all the same genre.  If such a series is found, include the name of the project and/or genre of recording in the series title. Typical all- or mostly-AV series found in the collections of the Archives of American Art include:

  • Interviews (Be specific with the series title if they document a single project or subject)
  • Lectures (Include formal titles, creators, and/or subject matter include that information in the series title if found)
  • Panel discussions (Include event series, location, and/or host institution or organization information in the series title if found)
  • Radio or Television series (include the formal title of the series in the series title, as well as the genre term “radio series” or “television series,” e.g. “Art Scene Radio Series;” or use the more general term, ”Broadcast Material,” if a variety of radio and TV material is found)
  • Documentary production elements (i.e. raw footage, rough edits, etc.) from a media project; use the formal title of the completed work in the series title along with a form term. If there is no formal title, use the terms used by the creator to refer to the project, or devise a title conveying the subject of the production, and include either a general material designation of the finished work (sound recording, video recording, and/or motion picture film) or a genre term (e.g. “documentary”)

It is also acceptable to combine multiple such groups of media into a single series, for example, “Interviews and Lectures.” Be sure to devise a series title that accurately describes the series content, and use subseries if each sub-group requires detailed description.

  1. AV unrelated to each other or other records

An AV series is also appropriate when there is a significant quantity of AV material that is miscellaneous, unrelated to each other or to other documentation in the collection. Integrating such material with existing series should not be forced or illogical. Do not use the term miscellaneous in your description; instead, use the general material designations “video recordings,” “sound recordings,” and/or “motion picture film” as appropriate.

  1. Unidentified AV

And finally, under certain circumstances, unidentified audiovisual material may form its own series. Use this rationale only when necessary due to:

  • Media being unlabeled and unplayable due to format or condition
  • Media is unrelated to other records in the collection in its found arrangement
  • Media is unplayable due to format or condition

Archivists should consider playing media to identify it if possible. If working on a minimal processing project, archivists can consider not playing unidentified media, regardless of format. Regardless of level of processing, the AV Archivist is available to assist with playback and identification.

Again, do not use the term miscellaneous in your description, but use the general material designations with the word “unidentified.” See Chapter 2, AV Levels of Processing, for more detail on how to handle unlabeled AV media.

 4.4 Arranging AV production materials

Collections containing production elements for media productions, sometimes referred to as outtakes collections, are challenging to arrange because of their volume and complexity. At the Archives, production collections are typically for film and/or video documentary productions. Sometimes the main creator of such a collection is the filmmaker, and sometimes artists or their foundations have acquired the production materials of works created about artists by a third party.

Different copies and generations of production materials in such a collection may be important to keep for different secondary uses, and archivists should never assume that material that is duplicated can be discarded. Desirable elements for a restoration project would be different from desirable elements for a new media production slated for theatrical release, which would be different from what users working on a web-based project would want, and different again from desirable elements strictly for research purposes.

Often providing research access to the material is a simple matter of serving an access copy of the finished product. However, researchers may want to view outtakes (material that was shot and not used in the finished program). Outtakes can be of high research value because, since they were shot for the production but not used in the final work, their content is unlikely to exist anywhere else. Source material gathered for the production from other sources (sometimes called “archival footage” within the collection documentation) can also be valuable, unique content.

For this reason, it is important to arrange and describe such collections in a way that clearly expresses what material exists from each stage of production, to provide at least some description of what the content is, and to identify the formats accurately. Some familiarity with the production process is necessary to arrange and describe production materials. Film and video production handbooks such as The Filmmaker’s Handbook by Edward Pincus and Steven Ascher, or Independent Filmmaking by Lenny Lipton can be helpful for understanding and identifying what is found in such collections. A glossary of production terms can also be helpful in deciphering terminology creators used to label elements found in a collection.

Often the artifacts of production found in archival collections will fall into basic categories for each stage of production, i.e. shooting, editing, finishing, and distribution, and sorting material into these categories can be a straightforward approach to arrangement.  Typical materials found from these stages are:

  • Shooting: Unedited camera footage, Unedited sound recordings
  • Editing: Work print, Outtakes (for film), Rough Edits (for video)
  • Finishing: Artifacts of this stage of production often have technical names, such as “Fine Grain Master Positive,” A+B Roll,” etc. The copy from which distribution copies are made could also be called “Dub Master” or “Archival Master.” There can be multiple finished versions for different distribution outlets.
  • Distribution: Projection Print, Answer Print, Distribution Print (for film); for video, distribution copies are often in consumer formats.

Archivists should avoid arranging production material by format, since artifacts from each stage of the production may exist in different formats, and different stages, with quite different content, can be found in the same format. For instance, a finished documentary will contain different content from the original camera footage that was shot for it, and so these two types of media should be arranged and described separately even if they are in the same format. On the other hand, multiple copies of the finished documentary found in different formats should be described in a single component with multiple physical descriptions, because it is the same intellectual content.

Paper or electronic documentation of the production process, if found, can be extremely helpful in understanding the content of the collection, both for the archivist and the researcher, and should always be retained. See section 4.1, AV and related documentation, above.

Several collections containing film and video documentary production materials in the Archives of American Art’s collections have been processed and have finding aids are available for reference:

Several artists’ collections also contain productions materials from documentaries made by third parties and collected by the artist, their heirs, or artist foundations. See the following finding aids for reference:

See the AV archivist for help identifying and arranging production elements in a collection.

It is not unusual to find duplication among AV recordings and films in collections. It is in the physical arrangement stage of processing that archivists must decide what to do with them. the Archives’ policy is as follows:

Copies made by the Archives: discard if item has been digitized recently (check the DCD for a record), and keep if not.

Analog and optical disc access copies (usually sound cassettes and VHS videocassettes) can still be useful for reference, and because of AV deterioration, these copies may be in better condition than the original. For this reason, the Archives keeps old analog reference copies until the item is digitized. If the item has been digitized by the Archives more recently, the older analog access copy should be discarded. Digital reference copies found on optical disc should be ingested following the born digital workflow.

Copies that came with the collection: typically kept, but can be weeded in some cases.

Sometimes multiple copies made by the creator exist in the collection, and for various reasons. They could have been made for production purposes, to share a recording with others, or for their own personal access to recordings in obsolete formats. Whatever the reason, it is often desirable to keep most copies of media that come with the original collection, unless there is a very large number of duplicate content, in which case an appraisal may allow for weeding of some copies.

Multiple published copies: keep 2 copies.

If there are multiple distribution copies of a published recording or film, the best two should be retained and the remainder discarded, returned to the donor, or donated to the library. Consult with the registrar regarding disposition of weeded copies, and see the AV Archivist if you’d like guidance determining which are the best copies.


Copies that are being kept should generally be arranged together and described as a single intellectual component with multiple physical copies described in the extent/s for that component. If the original is a format that needs to be housed separately, keep the access copy in the main collection container and describe the original like any other oversized item, but still describe them as a single intellectual component.

See the AV archivist for help identifying originals, duplicates, and production elements. See Chapter 5 on AV Description, in the section on physical description, for more detail on how to describe multiple copies.

Next Chapter: Chapter 5, Description in ArchivesSpace