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The Videocassette Indexing Problem Solved
by Lionel E. Deimel

I am a longtime user of the videocassette recorder (VCR). With a background as a computer programmer, programming the VCR has never been a problem for me, so I have regularly used the device for time-shifting and archiving. Most commonly, VCR and videocassetteI record a program because I will not be home when it airs. In such cases, I view the program as soon as possible.  But not always. And sometimes I record a program that I might like to watch in the future, but not at any particular time in the future.

Time-shifting presents no great administrative problems. I usually leave a scratch tape in the VCR and record over whatever old programs might happen to be on it. In practice, however, because I don’t always watch recorded material immediately and because I want to retain some programs indefinitely, keeping track of what program is where has become a problem. I am most acutely aware of the problem when I am frantically getting ready to leave home and I want to record a program I won’t be home to watch. A number of unlabelled videocassettes are usually lying about near the VCR, and the machine is either empty or appears to contain a videocassette with programs I want to keep or haven't yet watched and that may or may not contain sufficient tape to record what I want without erasing something important. Which tape should I use? Where should I record on the tape?

There are, I suppose, many ways of solving the problem of keeping track of what is on one’s videocassettes, depending upon how obsessive one is willing to be. Pasting labels on all my videocassettes and writing the tape contents on them has never seemed a viable idea; re-recording, particularly over non-consecutive segments of tape, can quickly result in a label without any more room for information. This leads to multiple levels of labels, scraping off old labels for new ones, or just saying to hell with the whole business. Until recently, most of my tapes were unlabeled. I seem to remember seeing something like Post-it® Notes for videocassettes, but, if such a product exists, I have never used it. I did think, at one time, that Sony had a good solution—a spine label using Magic Slate technology. (I never thought I’d write that phrase!) I quickly discovered that (1) the spine was hard to “write” on, (2) the writing had a tendency to disappear over time, and (3) it was difficult to fit much text on the spine. Sigh!

I have a new plan, however. I am putting labels on all my tapes but writing only identifying numbers on them. For each tape, I am printing an index slip (roughly 6½ x 3¼ inches) that can be inserted into the videocassette slipcase or just left on a pile of such slips near the VCR. After a few revisions, my index slip looks like this:

Videocassette index slip

Obviously, the tape number goes at the top. Without this, I would not know which slip goes with which tape. The tape number can be written in ink, but everything should be written in pencil. The design assumes that material to be recorded almost always is 30 minutes long or a multiple of 30 minutes long. A content description can be written in a block representing a 30-minute segment of the tape, and a longer recording can be indicated using a vertical line across blocks on the form, with brackets, or by a similar graphical means. For each 30-minute segment, I provide two checkboxes, labeled “ERASE” and “KEEP.” This is to indicate material that can be recorded over or material that is definitely not to be re-recorded. Old entries on the index slip can be erased or scratched out. Since the form is not attached to anything, it can simply be replaced when it gets too messy.

My index slip is a moderately obsessive solution, but, I think, a reasonably serviceable one. I am now labeling tapes and figuring out what’s on them. We’ll see how this works out.

— LED, 12/7/2006


If you think my index slips might work for you, you can download a PDF file with three slips on a page by clicking on the button below:

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