Without a doubt one of our most popular collections at the Hoover Institution Archives is the Firing Line Broadcast Collection; as a result we get a lot of comments about it through the website. Going through these comments has made the assistant archivist for visual collections and I (the administrative associate for AV services) realize that, aside from the collection having a vocal and enthusiastic fan base, most users have the same questions. We at Hoover have therefore resolved to explain the logic and methodology behind our seemingly cryptic treatment of Firing Line programs.
Let us begin with the core question that most fans ask in some way, shape, or form:
Why aren’t all the episodes available?
There’s a long answer and a short answer to this question. Because the short answer—“because not all of them have been preserved yet”—only leads to more questions, here’s the long answer:
As we explain on the Firing Line website, there are 1,505 episodes in the series. The general policy of the Hoover Institution Archives is to allow researchers only to access copies of audiovisual material so as to limit excessive handling of the originals. This policy especially applies to Firing Line where the archival master videotapes are in obsolete broadcast quality formats. Those tapes must be shipped to a laboratory specializing in archival media that reformats them to access and preservation copies on modern videotape stocks so that not just the general public but we archivists can actually view them.
The preservation treatment and reformatting costs are not inconsequential. Depending on the videotape format, its condition, and the duration of the program, creating the necessary preservation and access copies currently costs between $325 and $800 per episode. To do all 1,505 programs at once would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars!
Since funding is limited and we have numerous collections requiring preservation and digitization, we send the programs to the laboratory in batches of twenty to thirty at a time. Due to the physical toll shipping and lab work inflicts on videotapes, we only send unpreserved archival master videotapes to the laboratory if preservation work will be done on that trip. To date, approximately a third of the programs have been preserved.
The pace of preservation may not wholly satisfy every one; keep in mind, however, that “slow and steady wins the race” and the race to preserve all Firing Line programs in our collection is one we intend to finish.
William F. Buckley, Jr. meeting audience members Mrs. Fred Harris and her mother at the WETA studio, Washington, D.C., Sept. 14, 1971. Box 8, Firing Line Broadcast Collection, Hoover Institution Archives