I began collecting examples of media formats in early 2006, and now have at least one example of over 460 different types covering audio, video and data, with lots more identified that I have yet to collect.
In 2014, I also began to collect film formats.
To give a bit more background to the collection, I thought I provide answers to some possible questions…
Why did you start the Museum?
When I first started collecting examples of obsolete (or soon to be obsolete) formats, it was mainly as a way of having tangible examples of formats that I had known and used. Many of the formats I had grown up with, such as video tapes, music cassettes and floppy disks were quickly disappearing, sometimes to be replaced by other formats, but increasingly with no physical format at all, as content is increasingly delivered over the internet.
As the collection grew, I became aware of more and more formats that I had never even heard of, and the urge grew to collect all of these. The collection will never be completed as many formats are so rare, and it’s difficult even to find information about some of them. This is partly what has made it more interesting, the chance discovery of an example of something I’ve been looking for for ages, or more often the discovery of something I’d never even heard of.
As a librarian by profession, I wanted a means to organise the collection, to document it properly and to make it discoverable in different ways, through lists, images, tags and so on. The creation of this website in 2013 allowed me to do this both to satisfy my own desire for order, but also to satisfy a sense of responsibility I felt having collected so many formats, including some unusual and rare exhibits, to share the collection with the wider world.
Why does the collection include media that is not obsolete?
Some of the formats in the collection are far from obsolete, and may not be for many years to come. However, I feel it is important to try to identify and catalogue as many physical media formats as possible for several reasons.
Firstly, they’re interesting to collect and document, and hopefully interesting for people to read about. Some of these formats have been around for many years, and have seen off many competitors. In addition, many of these formats have spawned variants, and in the example of the 12-inch LP, there have been 10-inch LPs, laser-etched LPs, CD-4 quadraphonic, and dbx discs to name but a few. To put its competitors and variants in context, there needs to be an entry for the 12-inch LP despite it being far from obsolete.
Secondly, although LPs and some other still-current formats are likely to be around for a long time yet, there are many formats in the collection that were current when I started collecting in 2006 that are now obsolete, and even some formats that were introduced after I began collecting that have already disappeared. Rather than wait for them to become obsolete, I feel it is worth collecting them now while they are easily available.
Lastly, I feel it’s useful to include information about the preservation of some of these still-current formats. For example, despite not being obsolete, early CD-RWs may already be showing signs of deterioration and data loss.
Why don’t you collect the equipment or devices needed to use the media?
It’s mainly a question of space and cost. With over 450 formats in the collection, I would probably need around 300 or more devices to use them all. I already have some of the devices necessary to use some formats (as many of us probably do) such as a record player, digital camera, mobile phone, DVD player and so on, and I have bought a few items to use as props in photographs, or on occasion had to buy the device to get hold of an example of the media.
At this stage though, I have no further plans to collect equipment.
Where do you source all the exhibits?
Most of the items are purchased from ebay. I’ve also had some very kind donations, and have swapped a few items with other collectors. A few items have come from antique shops, and a few items were owned by me but not purchased specifically for the collection.
Will you ever complete the collection?
No! The more I collect, the more formats or variations of formats I discover. My ‘wanted‘ list never seems to get any smaller, but it does get more difficult and expensive to source items. However, many items that I never thought I’d obtain have cropped up, so I hope to carry on as long as I can.
I’ve had quite a number of suggestions of formats I’ve missed, and these have been really helpful, so please feel free to let me know if you spot anything that is not already on the wanted list.
In one sense, it is nice to collect in an area that is open-ended and will never be complete.