I display two items from Vidiots’ VHS shelves that feature singer-songwriter Kate Bush. Photograph by Shari Page, April 2016.

The Vidiots Foundation was established in 2012 as the nonprofit arm of the Vidiots video store in Santa Monica, California. Currently, the Foundation encompasses the store as well as the Vidiots Annex screening room. The Foundation’s mission states that Vidiots is “dedicated to the cinematic and media arts in the form of preserving and protecting our collection of over 50,000 rare and classic VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray titles,” as well as its goal of turning prior incarnation as a video store into something sustainable in the future: “taking the video store into the 21st century.”

In the summer of 2015, Vidiots took its first steps toward preserving and protecting the collection by initiating a comprehensive inventory of its holdings, beginning with its VHS section, which holds about 11,000 items. As the first intern focusing on the project, I was responsible for taking an initial survey of about 500 VHS items, cataloging them in order for the Foundation to have detailed information about those items’ rarity and value, information which would then be used to determine priorities for preservation, access, and programming endeavors. In selecting titles to catalog, I did not proceed in any particular order; rather, after conferring with Vidiots’ administrators, I sought out particular titles on the VHS shelves that I knew or was told were not available on DVD or subsequent digital formats in the United States. I researched each title’s status and then entered the available data in a digital spreadsheet in fields such as the title’s year of release, whether the title is available on DVD, whether fewer than 10 copies of that title are listed for sale online, and the lowest listed price for the best-quality available copy. Vidiots administrators have used the data from this initial gathering phase to suggest possible selections for digitization and screening.

Vidiots spreadsheet copy
A segment of the initial survey spreadsheet. Courtesy of the Vidiots Foundation.

The Vidiots administrators and I have determined that the remainder of the VHS items should be catalogued according to parameters similar to those established with the initial cataloguing phase. The upcoming phase of the inventory process will be conducted by volunteers. Each inventory volunteer begins by participating in a training session to learn the proper steps for research and data entry, and will then proceed to gather data on a particular section of items, going through the VHS tapes in alphabetical order by titles, according to which the items are arranged on the shelves. Cataloguing each item in order will enable Vidiots to gain information on its entire VHS collection, as well as to identify items that are rare or of limited availability that were overlooked in the initial survey.

In the training sessions, volunteers are instructed in how to effectively look up information on an item and enter it into the spreadsheet. Volunteers will enter data in the following fields, slightly modified from those of the initial survey:

  • Title, as listed on the item
  • Year of original release
  • IMDb entry: this is the code beginning with “tt” in the title’s IMDb URL; for example, “tt0062977” for The Fixer (1968)
  • Company that released the VHS
  • Has the film been released on DVD or Blu-ray?
    • Vocabulary for this field: “Yes,” if there is a DVD still in print; “No,” if there is not; “O.O.P.,” if there has been a DVD release but it is out of print; “PAL,” “Region 0/2/3/4,” or “Import only” if the only DVD release is in a foreign system not compatible with U.S. DVD players
    • Generally, whether a DVD is in print can be gauged at a glance from whether new copies are available for sale directly from Amazon.com. However, there are exceptions, as some DVDs are not for sale directly from Amazon, but are still available from the DVD distributor. This can apply to DVD releases from independent companies such as Milestone.
  • Is the title currently available to stream (for example, on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Amazon Prime, or Fandor)?
  • Are fewer than 10 copies of this VHS tape listed for sale online?
  • Are fewer than 5 copies of this VHS tape listed for sale online?
  • What is the lowest price of any copy of the VHS tape listed for sale? (If you cannot find any copies listed for sale, note that here.)
  • What is the lowest price of the highest-quality copy of the VHS tape listed for sale? (Use the condition statuses on Amazon and/or eBay for reference here: the best is “new,” followed by “like new,” “very good,” “good,” “acceptable,” etc.)
  • Cataloger’s notes: any pertinent information about the content that does not fit into any of the other fields; for example, whether this tape is a compilation of multiple titles, whether there are known differences in content between the VHS and the DVD, alternate titles, or whether the box is autographed
  • Date on which this data was recorded
  • Cataloger’s initials

Volunteer training began in April 2016. So far, I have led one training session with five volunteers. Currently, in addition to volunteer training, I am helping the Vidiots administrators to determine standardized procedures for assigning further research into titles about which little documented information can be found.