Inside the MTV Tape Library
Videotape librarian Tina Baxter worked for MTV during the 1990s, supervising the channel’s library of thousands music videos – each of which was stored on an individual videotape.
Managing this mammoth music library was a complex and stressful task and vital to the operation of the MTV.
As Tina explains: “Without the tape library, you wouldn’t have had a channel going on air. Every single piece of music that was played was on a tape, and that tape was in our library in numerical order. Forty, fifty thousand tapes: we had to know where they were at all times.”
Tapes in the library were identified by barcode and selected for transmission on a daily basis. “It was a very manual job,” explains Tina – recalling that each tape had to be loaded by hand into video machines for transmission.
MTV kept two copies of each music video – an ‘A’ copy and a ‘B’ copy. The A copy was reserved for transmission, and never left the building. The B copy could be sent to edit suites to be included in trailers, news packages, and other types of programming.
Betacam video cassettes were similar in design to VHS tapes and worked on a similar principle to audio cassettes, running a reel of magnetic tape from one enclosed spool to another. There was no instant back-up of the pictures and sound captured, so the tapes were an enormously precious commodity.
Managing metadata with physical videotapes was a constant challenge: what was on tapes was often logged on handwritten sheets which were supposed to be kept with videotapes.
However, as Tina recalls, the logs sometimes went missing, and tape librarians occasionally went to great lengths to retrieve them. “I remember getting into a skip outside a pub in Camden going through bins, looking for tapes. I think that was a low point!”
These clips are taken from a longer interview with former MTV videotape librarian Tina Baxter. To view the full interview with Tina on Figshare, click here (opens new window). You can also browse the same video content on our YouTube channel.