Library Excavations #7 mourns and explores VHS tapes in the public library lending collection. In addition to text and photos from the collection and the discard piles, this booklet also contains reflections on the history of VHS at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library Center by librarian Bob Sloane, and thoughts on the state of VHS relative to videos by artists from Abina Manning, the Director of Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From the back cover:
If you still own a videocassette player and wish to borrow a Video Home System tape from the library, I would jump on that opportunity at your earliest convenience. VHS tapes are quickly vanishing from public library lending collections. This is certainly true at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library Center, where they’ve been appearing in the Secondhand Prose discard nook for some time.
Recently I began photographing these tapes on their way out of the library. I’ve also started taking pictures of what remains, while it’s still circulating. An on-line review of all of the city’s branches shows a total of about 3,600 tapes in circulation or available for library use. Other tapes have yet to be cataloged. By comparison, there are over 24,000 cataloged DVDs in Chicago Public Library collections.
Many obscure educational titles from the 1990s were among the discards. There have been VHS tapes focusing on consumer awareness of scams, art and music instructional tapes, anti-drug films, job training tapes, author profiles, legal primers, films about workplace problems, and other items that seem unlikely to migrate over to the dominant DVD or web-streaming formats. Unless some dedicated archivists are willing to rip these tapes to digital and upload them onto one of the web-based streaming sites, with or without permission, a lot of this material will likely vanish. Consider this booklet a paper memorial to VHS in the public lending domain. — Marc Fischer
Library Excavations is a project and publication series that highlights and activates physical materials found in public libraries. Public Collectors prefers direct experiences of physical media over the digital. Public Collectors was founded by Marc Fischer in 2007. He is based in Chicago, IL.