The journey of auditing a media library or media archive begins with a single step. And that step is knowing what you have.

Think of a media library as a ship. Before leaving the dock, you conduct a stem-to-stern inspection. The galley must be stocked with food, the radio equipment must be in working order, and the ship must be seaworthy.

The inspection will reveal issues that need to be addressed to ensure the seaworthiness of the ship, the safety of the passengers, and the effectiveness of emergency procedures.

A periodic audit or inspection of a media library or media archive will reveal issues regarding the “seaworthiness” of the video, audio, or film elements. It may also reveal opportunities to save money.

The auditing can be done in three stages.


Taking inventory is the heart of any business that deals with products. Presumably, a media library or media archive will have a document listing its video, film, or audio elements. Check the list against the elements on hand. If elements are missing, find out their location.

When I was an archivist at a television production company, audits consistently revealed 19 tapes in a ¾” format signed out to an in-house producer. He did not have them. For nearly a year, we wrote them off as missing. Then, on instinct, I went to the media cabinet in the conference room. There they were.

The inventory phase may also reveal opportunities to increase storage space by discarding multiple copies of an element. Unless there is a pressing need to have six sub-masters of a television episode, for example, consider the option of discarding. If the elements are housed in a properly maintained off-site storage facility, discarding of unnecessary elements will yield a financial benefit by cutting down storage fees.

Quality Control

Once the inventory stage is completed, implementing a quality control program is advisable. Limitations in personnel and financial resources will likely not allow a quality control check of every element in the media library or media archive. But a spot check is advised, particularly for master elements. The spot check will reveal tears, glitches, or damages that need to be repaired.

Quality control is an issue often overlooked because of the lack of resources, however, it is no less important in a media library or media archive maintenance plan. If a quality control plan cannot be implemented in whole, then a slow but steady approach may be practical. If the media library or media archive has 10,000 elements, perhaps 100 elements spot-checked each month for a year will suffice. The figures, as always, depend on budget.


Dealing with a media library or media archive requires a worst-case scenario paradigm: What if the videotapes, audiotapes, and films are destroyed? The best way to guard against the fallout from destruction is by backing up every master element to a sub-master, housing the backup master at an off-site facility, and making a digital backup on a computer – if the digital storage space is feasible.