Quads, u-matics, betas…oh my!

Dorothy and I pose with some of the 1700+ VHS tapes in our collections.

AV records are significant historical resources that complement textual records.

AV records give us (often unpolished) insight into a public official’s thoughts on the big topics of the day like integration, the power of the federal government, war, and whatever else is affecting the lives of the people they represent.

AV records allow us to witness a representative democracy at work, as public figures respond to concerns at town hall meetings and other public venues.

AV records bring us right into heart of the local campaign trail, allowing us to sing along to jaunty jingles and to hear the emotion and passion in candidates’ voices at stump meetings and debates.

A “quad” tape, a video format introduced in the 1950s.

For example, one of our quad tapes helps us to understand Senator Hollings’ motivation for exposing poverty across the state during his well-known “Hunger Tours” of the late 1960s. The quad shown here is over a foot in diameter and is as heavy as a bowling ball.  Despite its size, quad tapes often hold only 30 minutes of footage…or much less!

These blue SoundScriber discs were a dictation format introduced in 1945 (in a variety of colors) and used for two decades.

Despite the wonder of AV records, they come with a set of challenges (and often, the best things in life do, don’t they?).  A majority of our 102 collections include AV records.  In these collections, we have over a dozen audio (including reels, cassettes, wire and Soundscriber recordings) and video (U-matic, VHS, betas, quads) formats.


Audio reels from the 1950s and 1960s and a reel player. We are lucky to have playback equipment that is compatible for a majority (though not all) of our reels.

One huge challenge is that access to most formats is limited or non-existent due to deterioration of media (even VHS!) and outdated playback equipment.  Of course, the wide variety of formats means they deteriorate in different ways and play on different equipment.  To address these challenges, we plan to reformat and digitize as many of our old AV items as possible.  If you’d like to help us in our quest to increase access to our AV records, please let us know!

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