What place for audiovisual archives?

Given due recognition in the UNESCO-endorsed Universal Declaration on Archives, are audio-visual records finally about to come of age?

Amateur films, oral testimonies, videos of events and performances or court cases, documentaries, sound tracks, rushes, radio and television programmes and, now, web TV have become fully-fledged parts of our world heritage. For archivists, the issues of status definition, choice of level of description, classification methods and deployment strategies that arise at each stage of the archiving chain are the same as for all other record types.

But response to these issues will often be very different to that for written records, given the specific aspects of preserving, managing access, description, status and the legal use of audio-visual materials. This may explain the delay in addressing the audio-visual record challenge.

While, fortunately, there are many places where audio and visual records have been preserved, there are others where whole collections are at risk because of their particular nature, the technical implications and the cost of putting suitable documentary, physical and technical processing systems in place. Even those collections that have been preserved are not always kept in ways that make them easy to access and share.

But it is not too late to act, to give audio-visual records their rightful place in the world of archives and duly acknowledge the institutions and archivists that look after them. All we need is the courage to challenge the status quo.

We could set the example with the quintessentially “technical” audio-visual record processing chain, by developing research into sustainable conservation, born digital records, ingestion and transcoding of data and metadata, open data, use of artificial intelligence for description, guidance and research purposes, secure on-line access and development of rich, intuitive search interfaces, extension of archiving practices to internet and social networks, new information and knowledge dissemination channels and, lastly, developing new engineering and mediation functions.

In our 21st century, it is archiving professionals capable of controlling information-generating flows, who will be able to offer universal access to the memory of the world, a condition sine qua non for democracy and the defence of Human rights.  

By Agnès Magnien, Director in charge of Collections, National Audiovisual Institute (Institut national de l’audiovisuel), France