French National Archives possess a collection of audio-visual archives acquired from government departments, public operators and private individuals, all of whom who were quick to recognise the possibilities offered by sound recordings or moving images for presenting their activities, recording their functions, demonstrating and promoting their skills. This vast collection of material is stored on all kinds of physical media, their number growing exponentially so great is the ingenuity of their inventors and so effective the sales tactics of their suppliers: acetate films, tapes in all formats, even the most obscure, UMatic, Betacam, VHS, audio cassettes, etc.
This material began to find its way into the National Archives in the 1980s as a result of two phenomena. At its premises in Paris, it was the private archives section that first started to collect oral records, this task then being taken over and pursued by the contemporary archives section and, later, by the 20th century records section. Many of these records were sound only and were often delivered with material donated or on loan from the people in the recordings or other private individuals or associations. It was at about the same time that the Centre for Contemporary Archives in Fontainebleau began to receive its first audio-visual archives from government departments.
For French National Archives, there are two difficulties inherent in this type of material. The first is the very real issue of obsolescence, the race against time before earlier generations of the audio or video recordings or films, the devices for reading them and people capable of dealing with this type of material disappear. The other problem concerns finding out more about such media and their content, little information often being supplied with them when they first arrive at National Archives. Yet without this information, their access will be compromised.
Over the next four years, National Archives are therefore hoping to embark on an emergency programme to save these fragile recordings and on a robust campaign of processing and promoting their content.
Martine Sin Blima-Barru
French National Archives
Head of the Electronic and Audio-Visual Records Department