Media & archive FAQs

Will everything I store be kept together?

PRO-TEK Vaults has three large vaults and items are placed into the vaults at random, usually in order of delivery. Your items may not all be stored together.

What are the temperature and humidity levels of the vaults?

All of our vaults are maintained at 45F/25% RH (+ or – 5%) which is the ANSII standard for long-term archival film storage.

What kinds of containers does PRO-TEK Vaults accept for storage?

All film must be in 1000’,  2000’ or 3000’ metal or archival plastic cans. We can re-can film elements for you. Video or digital elements must be in their original cases.

What is vinegar syndrome?

Aptly named because of the pungent odor it causes, “vinegar syndrome” is the label film preservationists have given to the process of acetate film deterioration. It’s caused by deacetylation, a chemical reaction that forms acetic acid, producing a characteristic smell like vinegar. Vinegar syndrome is signal that the breakdown process has begun and requires immediate attention because the process is autocatalytic, meaning it speeds itself up over time. Acetic acid damages not only the acetate base, but the dyes in color films, leading to deterioration of the image itself.

What does “born-digital” mean?

Born-digital materials are those that originate in digital format. Moving images, still photography, books, music and other audio recordings, illustrations–today, these materials are usually created with digital tools and methods instead of analog tools and methods like film, tape or paper. Other terms that are synonymous with born-digital include natively or native digital, digital-first and digital-exclusive.

Can digital media degrade over time like analog (e.g., film, tape, paper) media?

Yes, media in digital format can degrade or become obsolete over time, and that includes media that is born-digital or digitized via scanning. Digital degradation can include “bit rot” or file deterioration and technology obsolescence, including both media formats like microfilm or floppy discs and hardware, like the peripheral devices needed for recording and playback.

What is Safety film?

Safety film was introduced in the early 20th century to replace the flammable and more dangerous cellulose nitrate film base. Early safety film manufacturing used cellulose acetate as the base material; subsequent improvements include cellulose diacetate, cellulose acetate propionate, cellulose acetate butyrate and cellulose triacetate. Polyester film base (also known as polyethylene terephthalate or PET and by the Kodak tradename of ESTAR) is another type of safety film. It became popular in the mid-late 20th century for post-production motion picture prints created mainly for exhibition and archival purposes because of its strength and stability.

What is film preservation?

Film preservation or restoration is the process of rescuing film from improper storage and handling to minimize deterioration—which happens to all media formats over time (including digital)—and ensure the integrity of the imagery is maintained for future use.

How is restoration different from conservation?

Restoration is the attempt to bring an artifact closer to its original properties. It is a form of conservation—other forms include stabilization, which is proper, archival storage and handling to minimize deterioration over time. While we can repair and restore some film, no preservationists can bring film in advanced stages of decay back to its original state. That’s why we urge collection owners to act with urgency and priority to preserve their irreplaceable media.

What is an archive?

When used with a lower case “a” and in singular form, it generally refers to a collection of records of lasting value, including not only motion picture film or still photographs but letters, manuscripts, accounts, audio recordings and artifacts created by individuals, government, companies and other organizations. When used with an upper case “A” and sometimes in the plural, as in Archives, it refers to an organization or group dedicated to preserving a history and heritage. Examples include the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in the United States, the Coca-Cola Company Archives and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in England.

Can all damaged film be restored?

It depends on the type and extent of the deterioration. Minor damages like slight scratches to the film base, surface contamination and edge nicks can be rejuvenated. Some early signs of film deterioration can be stabilized and the media preserved in digital format. But major damage caused by environmental factors like excessive water or heat, improper handling and storage, and most notably neglect can all lead to unrecoverable damage, sometimes resulting in a piece of film substrate that is essentially worthless.

What is cellulose nitrate film?

Cellulose nitrate was a film base for both still and motion picture photography from the 19th century through the mid-20th century, including the silent film era. Because of its high flammability, nitrate’s use as a film base was discontinued in the early 1950’s.

Most films made on nitrate stock were not preserved. Many were recycled for their silver content, some were destroyed intentionally—for example, silent films had little or no commercial value with the advent of sound films—or through fire or other causes. Yet many collections dating prior to the mid-20th century may contain nitrate film which should be inspected and assessed by professionals, not only for preservation purposes but for fire safety.

Is nitrate film explosive?

Nitrate is flammable, which is a safety hazard, and inherently old. It may have deteriorated already beyond viable use and preservation value. Because of those two conditions, you should contact nitrate film preservation experts immediately to understand your options and undertake the proper steps for handling and storage. In the meantime, make sure the film is not stored in sealed containers and keep it in a cool, dry place with adequate ventilation. If the items are not being excessively handled or subjected to heat or high ambient temperatures, you should not be afraid.

Can nitrate film be shipped?

Cellulose nitrate film has been classified as a hazardous material by the U.S. Department of Transportation, meaning that all commercial shipments must comply with the agency’s Hazardous Materials Regulations. You may not give nitrate film to a carrier like FedEx or UPS without proper packaging, labeling and preparation in accordance with those regulations, including HAZMAT (hazardous material) training. The U.S. Postal Service does not ship nitrate film.

Does PRO-TEK Vaults offer nitrate film storage?

We do not store nitrate film, but we can guide you to the proper facilities and requirements, and we are certified in the handling and shipping of nitrate film in accordance with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Hazardous Materials Regulations.