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Obsolete Media Highlight: U-matic Tapes

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Have you ever had a day at work where the stars align, fortune unexpectedly smiles on you, and something great happens? We had a day like that yesterday . . . almost.

One of the U-matic tapes found at the Library. Although it reads "Impeachment of Andrew Johnson," we suspect it's from the 1970s, not the 1860s.

One of the U-matic tapes found at the Library. Although it reads “Impeachment of Andrew Johnson,” we suspect it’s from the 1970s, not the 1860s.

GHL staff discovered a small stash of old U-matic tapes from the 1970s and 1980s, tapes that we’d weeded from our collection years ago but hadn’t actually gotten rid of. We marveled at the old U-matic tape’s bulky containers and dorky instructions*. Some staff reminisced about using U-matic tapes back in the day, while others were baffled by the aesthetics of this plastic-brick technology. We scratched our heads for a day, trying to figure out what to do with the tapes. The library doesn’t have a U-matic player and we figured the tapes should probably go into to our Obsolete Media Museum as a warning against failing to migrate resources off aging electronic media.

The inside of the U-matic player, with the top cover removed. The tape is inserted from the right, and the tape should be pulled around the central cylinder.

The inside of the Archives’ new U-matic player, with the top cover removed. Tapes are inserted from the right, and the tape should be pulled around the central cylinder.

On a lark, we called down to Matthew Waehner at the State Archives to see if the Archives happened to have a U-matic player. Lo and behold! They did! Not only that, but they’d just–JUST–gotten the player and they were dying to know if it actually worked. The problem was that they didn’t have any U-matic tapes they could test it with. A perfect match!

As you may (or may not) know, U-matic tapes were early video tapes from the 1970s. The U-matic format was the first widely used videotape packaged within a cassette container, replacing the widespread use of reel-to-reel tapes in video production. Today, they are known as physically unable and their playback machines are notoriously finicky. Our hopes were not very high.

In fact, Archives warned me that they were pretty sure the U-matic player wouldn’t work at all. It might even eat our tape up and destroy it. When the Archives team turned the machines on, it made a sad sort of moan with an abrupt end, which wasn’t a good sign.

When Archives turned on the U-matic player, it made a sad sort of moan (rumble?).

Jim Willard (Historic Sites) and Linda Fox (Archives, photo lab technician) gathered around while Matt tried the first tape. To our giddy surprise, the machine actually took the tape and didn’t destroy it! We were very impressed. Only problem, the player wasn’t actually pulling the tape from the cassette, and pressing the play button did nothing (you can hear Jim asking “Did it wrap around the head?”).

“No waaaay! It took it, Jim. . . . Tapes go inside of it.” – Matt

We may be able to fix the machine, or perhaps we’ll have more good luck and a working player will fall in our laps. In any case, we’ll keep you posted!

Matt Waehner and Jim Willard investige the innards of U-matic player, determining why the tape isn't being taken up.

Matt Waehner and Jim Willard investige the innards of U-matic player, determining why the tape isn’t being taken up.


For more resources about obsolete media, check out these posts from our blog archive:

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Free Genealogy Workshop: Using the North Carolina Digital Collections for Genealogical Research

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Using the North Carolina Digital Collections for

Genealogical Research

May 2, 2015, 10-11a.m.

digitalcollections1   (more…)

NEW Digital Collection! Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine

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We’re happy to announce a new digital collection, made possibly with help from our partners at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Nearly 70 years and over 700 issues of the Wildlife in North Carolina magazine are now available online!

Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine - Digital CollectionView the collection!

Published since 1937, the magazine contains a wealth of research, essays, and photographs about the wildlife and natural habitats of North Carolina. The digital collection currently contains issues from 2003 all the way back to the first issue in November 1937. We’ll be adding more, so stay tuned.

The magazine started out as an 8-page, black-and-white pamphlet titled Wildlife Management in North Carolina, published by the Department of Conservation and Development and North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering (now NCSU). Despite its humble packaging, its first issue embraced a bold claim:

Wildlife conservation has definitely left the dark age in North Carolina history. The common practice in this country has been to allow the wildlife resources to dwindle almost to the vanishing point before definite action has been started looking toward their preservation and increase. North Carolina still has a fair abundance of most of the original wildlife species throughout a large part of its area, and by starting research and improved management practices at this time, it should be possible to prevent many of the mistakes of other States and assure a more complete realization of the values of our wildlife for all the people for all future time. As an aid in speeding the progress of this work, it has been decided to issue a game management and research pamphlet. . . .

The purpose of this pamphlet is to bring together and present in brief form the ideas, management practices, research activities, and progress of game management in the field for the benefit of farmers and landowners, sportsmen, game managers, biologists, and students of game management in this State.

Wildlife Management in North Carolina, November 1937: 3

We’d like to invite you to explore the magazine and its wealth of educational articles and nature photography. Which is your favorite issue?

Digital Collections: Women, Marriage, and the Law

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The Government & Heritage Library has many different digital collections thanks to the work of our Digital Information Management Program staff who work to put information online in conjunction with the State Archives of North Carolina. Currently, there are about 30 collections and more than half of those are of interest to genealogists. I will regularly highlight a collection. This week in honor of Women’s History Month, I will highlight the collection titled: Women, Marriage, and the Law.


This blog is a service of the State Library of North Carolina, part of the NC Department of Cultural Resources. Blog comments and posts may be subject to Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.