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1.2 Nature of the AV media

Ray Edmondson et al.


1.1 During the 1990s the development of a codified philosophy has become a more urgent concern, for several reasons. First, the obvious and increasing importance of the AV media as a part of the world's memory has contrasted ever more starkly with the low profile and low resourcing of its preservation. Decades of accumulated practical experience in AV archives had by now provided a foundation from which to signal more strongly, by codifying this experience, the consequences of the contradiction.

1.2 Secondly, individual practitioners in AV archives lacked a clear professional identity and recognition. They also lacked the critical reference point - a theoretical synthesis of the values, ethics, principles and perceptions implicit in the field - vital to achieving that recognition. This made them both intellectually and strategically vulnerable. It also detracted from the public image and status of the field, and resulted in an apparent vacuum at its core. Even though the various AV archive Federations which operate within the AV spectrum, FIAF, FIAT and IASA as well as individual archives had developed policies, rules and procedures, there had traditionally been little leisure to step back and ponder the theory on which these were based. The emergence of organisations such as the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) and the Philippines Society of Film Archivists (SOFIA) aimed at meeting these individual, professional needs was a sign of change.

1.3 Thirdly, the lack of formal training standards and courses for practitioners had emerged as a significant issue, and had prompted Unesco to set up processes resulting in publications on the role and legal situation of AV archives, and the development of training curricula for their staff. Such courses, as they emerged, would need theoretical texts and reference points as well as the means of assimilating practical skills.

1.4 Fourthly, rapid technological change was challenging old assumptions as the "information superhighway" advanced. The multiple - media archive (sometimes called multimedia archive - as distinct from multimedia (a new term usually meaning an interactive laser disc containing sounds, moving images, text and graphics) was increasingly supplementing, and sometimes evolving from, the older film archives and sound archives, and the field was showing an increasing diversity of organisational formats and emphases. Currently IASA and FIAF are reassessing their roles and futures.

1.5 This concern crystalised in, among other things, the setting up of AVAPIN in early 1993, as well as the increased visibility of theoretical and philosophical discussion in the professional literature. Although the first AV archives (c/f. the definition in this section) came into existence nearly a century ago, and the field may be said to have developed self-awareness from the 1930's onwards, sustained growth is basically a phenomenon of the second half of the century. It is therefore a young field, underfunded and undervalued, preoccupied with the pressing practicalities of doing a complex and demanding job with limited resources.

1.1.6 The vision of the pioneering generation that established the concept of the film archive and sound archive has been enriched, modified and developed by time and experience, trial and error. Today's AV archivists are a much larger circle, pioneers still, facing more complex tasks, and with new needs that time and circumstance have added. The challenge is to meet those needs in a vastly changed and changing AV environment on the eve of the 21st century.


2.1 The preparation of this document has occurred under particular circumstances and is necessarily based on some assumptions. It is important to make these clear at the outset.

2.2 This document is a synthesis of the views of many individuals speaking as individuals, not as representatives of institutions or of the Federations. It therefore has no "official" status in the sense of representing the formal views of this or that organisation. Its purpose is simply to provide a focus for discussion, structured in what seems to be - at this stage - a logical order.

2.3 The document follows the same stance as UNESCO in conceiving of AV archiving as a single field, within which several federations and a variety of institutional archive types operate, and which it is valid to regard as a single profession with internal plurality and diversity.

2.4 AV archiving is considered to be in practice, if not in formality, a profession in its own right. It follows that it is not seen as a specialised subset of an existing profession, such as the "collecting" professions of archival science, librarianship or museology, though it is closely related to them.

2.5 The relevant federations and other NGO's are the appropriate fora for the discussion and pursuit of a philosophy of AV archiving. However, it is the case that many AV archives are ineligible to, or choose not to, join a federation for various reasons: this makes a philosophy no less relevant to such institutions and their employees, and so their views are no less valid.

2.6 The discussion on philosophy is developing at a time when the federations are evaluating their future direction. The development of further stages of this document is an appropriate project on which representatives of NGO's could be productively brought together to deal with issues of common concern.

2.8 The intention is, as far as possible, to document what is actually the case, rather than invent or impose theories or constructs: to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. The philosophy of AV archiving may have much in common with other collecting professions, but it is suggested that it should arise from the nature of the AV media, rather than by automatic analogy from those professions. Similarly, the intent has been to try and describe the AV media in terms of what it is, rather than what it is not, and hence avoid phrases like "non-book", "non-text" or "special materials".

2.9 It is difficult to compile a shared terminology, since terms like "film", "cinema". "AudioVisual", "program", "recording", etc. mean different things to different people. Equally, however, a shared professional terminology facilitates clarity of communication and concept.


3.1 At the outset some key definitions are essential as a foundation for subsequent discussion.

3.2 Definition of A V media

3.2.1 There are many definitions of, and assumptions about, this term, which is variously seen to encompass

(a) moving images, both film and electronic
(b) audio-slide presentations
(c) moving images and/or recorded sounds in various formats
(d) still photographs and graphics
(e) video games
(f) CD ROM multi-media
(g) anything projected on a screen
(h) all of these.

Some examples of definitions are given below: no doubt there are many others. They are offered as examples purely to illustrate the range of perception; no endorsement or comment is given.

[audio visual media are:]

All these materials are cultural materials.

The definition is intended to cover a maximum of forms and formats.......moving images......constitute the classical form of audiovisual material and are the principal form explicitly included in the Unesco 1980 Recommendation...... in reality, [they] necessarily include sound recordings as well.

(From Kofler, Birgit: "Legal questions facing AV archives" [UNESCO, 1991)

(From an early draft for a proposed European Community convention to protect the audiovisual heritage.)

3.2.2 The spectrum seems to range from anything with images and/or sounds on the one hand, to the moving-image-with-sound or the audio-slide-show on the other. In their respective contexts such definitions may be useful, but in philosophical and practical terms AV archives need a definition which accords with working reality and positively asserts the character of AV media in their own right.

3.2.3 Accordingly, the following is advanced as a professional definition of AV media":

AV media are works comprising reproducible images and/or sounds embodied in a carrier, whose

- recording, transmission, perception and comprehension usually requires a technological device
- visual and/or sonic content has linear duration
- purpose is the communication of that content, rather than use of the technology for other purposes

3.2.4 Accepting the likelihood that a sharp definition is impossible, this definition is meant to decisively include conventional sound recordings, moving images (sound or silent), videos and broadcast programs, both published and unpublished, in all formats. It is meant to decisively exclude text material per se, regardless of the medium used (whether paper, microform digital formats, graphics or projection slides. etc.) The distinction is conceptual rather than technological, although to a large extent a technological divide exists as well.

3.2.5 Sitting between these two groups, of course, is a spectrum of materials which are less automatically the preoccupation of AV archives, and which, depending on your perception, may or may not fully meet the above definition. these materials include video games, multimedia, piano rolls and mechanical music, and the traditional tape-slide "audiovisual". They also include still photographs, which many would regard as an AV medium, whether the photographs are collected in their own right, or as material relating to the AV media (see the definition of AV heritage and other sections)

3.3 Definition of AV heritage

3.3.1 The AV media, as defined above, may be perceived as the core of a larger range of material and information collected and comprehended by AV archives and archivists. This larger range is the AV heritage. The following definition is proposed:

The AV heritage includes, but is not limited to, the following:

(a) Recorded sound, radio, film, television, video or other productions comprising moving images and/or recorded sounds, whether or not primarily intended for public release
(b) Objects, materials, works and intangibles relating to the AV media, whether seen from a technical industrial, cultural, historical or other viewpoint; this could include material relating to the film, broadcasting and recording industries, such as literature, scripts, stills, posters, advertising materials, manuscripts, and artefacts such as technical equipment or costumes.
(c) Concepts such as the perpetuation of obsolescent skills and environments associated with the reproduction and presentation of these media.

3.3.2 Clearly, from this definition- the AV heritage includes both text material and the "in between" materials mentioned above, among other things, which relate to the AV media. For example, scripts are part of the heritage because they are scripts of radio or TV programs or films: not because they are scripts per se.

3.3.3 It follows that most if not all, archives would define their scope by placing their own perspective on such a definition - for example, from a subject, geographical or other viewpoint.

3.4 Definition of AV archive

3.4.1 There is no succinct definition of an AV archive in general use. The constitutions of FIAT, FIAF and IASA describe many characteristics and expectations of such bodies as members, but provide no such definition for the institutional type itself.

3.4.2 The use of the term "archive, while common parlance, is itself problematic because of its multiple associations. In popular use, it has wide and non-specific connotations as a place where "old" or non-current materials are kept. Within the profession of archival science, however, it has come to have quite precise professional and legal meanings. When coopted by the first AV archives it probably had the former association; now it often connotes both, accurately or otherwise. Lacking a unique international label which could readily define them as an institutional type, AV archives have resorted to a range of labels, including phonothèque, cinemathèque, videothèque, museum, or library. However, since the word "archive" is historically embedded in the titles of IASA, FIAT and FIAF, the term AV archive seems to be the closest match presently achievable.

3.4.3 The following definition is therefore proposed:

An AV archive is an organisation or department of an organisation which is focussed on collecting, managing, preserving and providing access to a collection of AV media and the AV heritage.

3.4.4 The key aspects are (a) that an AV archive is an organisation - i.e. not a private individual or collection (b) that collecting/ managing/ preserving/ providing access to AV media is its focus - i.e. not just one incidental activity among many. The operative word is and, nor or: it does all, not some, of these things, and this in turn implies that it collects material in the range of formats suitable for both preservation and access.

3.4.5 The typology of AV archives (see section C) shows that within this definition there are many types and emphases. For example, some AV archives concentrate on individual media - such as film, radio, television, sound recordings - while others cover several media. Again, some cover a wide range of content while others are highly focussed or specialised in their subject interest.

3.5 Definition of AV archivist.

3.5.1 While terms like "film archivist", "sound archivist" and "AV archivist" are in common use in the field and its literature, there appear to be no agreed definitions of these terms adopted by the Federations. or Unesco, or indeed attracting a consensus among the practitioners. Traditionally they are subjective and flexible concepts which evidently mean different things to different people: a statement of personal identity or perception, rather than a formal qualification.

3.5.2 Further, and unlike the sister fields of librarianship, museology and archival science, there is little in the way of formal training, and no internationally accepted formal qualification or accreditation, by which one may be professionally recognised as an "AV archivist". Recommended training standards have been devised (see: 26 Curriculum development for the training of personnel in moving image acid recorded sound archives Unesco, 1990 but, at this stage, are far from practical implementation. AV archivists come from a variety of backgrounds and it may be that the best beginning would be to develop a corpus of accepted opinion and principles (which they could assimilate into their current qualifications and experience. Perhaps a similar approach is possible in grafting an AV archiving corpus into existing course structures in the collecting professions.

3.5.3 Against this background, the following definition is proposed:

An AV archivist is a person occupied at a professional level in an AV archive, in the building, refining, control, management or preservation of its collection; or in the provision of access to it, or the serving of its clientele.

3.5.4 In the long run, it would seem logical that a formal qualification or accreditation, based on completion of university level training at least comparable to those of the other collecting professions, should provide the minimum eligibility. Pending this, the term and its variants will have little obvious or reliable meaning unless it is anchored to a reference point. One approach could be that the term be applied to persons whose experience, skills, knowledge, responsibilities or standing in the relevant international fora are judged to broadly match the standards set out in the above UNESCO document. It is open to the Federations and associations to establish accreditation mechanisms.

3.5.5 Like archivists, librarians and museologists, AV archivists would be able to follow whatever specialisations suited their opportunities, preference and subject knowledge, and identify themselves accordingly. So they might for example, share a common grounding in theory, history and technical knowledge, but elect to pursue careers as sound, film, television, broadcasting, multi-media or documentation archivists - or as administrators, technicians, managers or whatever.


4.1 "Profession" is a much misused word, but in this case the real question is: is AV archiving an aspect of one of the existing collecting professions, or is it sufficiently distinct to be a profession in its own right? That the answer is "yes" has already been asserted. How can this be demonstrated?

4.2 As a test definition, it is suggested that a profession. in our context, exhibits its own distinctive:

- code of ethics.
- principles and values.
terminology and concepts.
worldview or paradigm.
a written codification of its philosophy.
skills, methods, standards and procedures.
forum - for example, literature and professional society.
training and accreditation standards

This document asserts that it essentially meets, or is moving to meet, all these tests, albeit with significant qualification on the last two. Before discussing these, some points of history and perception should be noted.

4.3 AV archiving originated in a variety of institutional environments. Lacking any alternative, it was, and still is, natural for its practitioners to see and interpret their work from the viewpoint of their own mother disciplines and parent institutions. These disciplines variously include formal training in librarianship, museology, archival science, history, physics and chemistry, administration and the technical skills of audio, broadcasting and film. They also include no formal training at all - the background of the self-taught and the enthusiast. Pressed to state their professional affiliation, AV archivists may fall back on their formal qualification - if they have one - or identify with the epithet of sound/ film/ AV/ television archivist, or similar. Some may cite their links with one or more of the Federations as evidence of professional status.

4.4 AV archivists - collectively or in their specialist callings - are far from having a clear and unambiguous professional identity. Yet many university-educated practitioners in responsible positions have a strong perception that they are not librarians, (conventional) archivists or museologists, including those who hold formal qualifications in those fields. The frequent identification with phrases like "film archivist' or "sound archivist"- even if they cannot be defined and are not self explanatory - is a way of stating perceived identity.

4.5 Clearly none of these existing professions can fill the vacuum to the satisfaction of most participants. Nor, in the writer's opinion, would this be desirable if the profession is, indeed, a separate one.

4.6 Returning to the tests of professional status (para 1.2), it can be noted that a growing professional literature in AV archiving does exist, in which issues of theory and practice are debated. It includes the journals of the Federations. However, while they provide forums for debate and cooperation and give some shape to the AV archiving field, none of the Federations functions as a professional society - in the sense of providing formal accreditation and support to individuals, or representing and advancing a clearly defined profession. Such a professional society seems an essential characteristic of a profession. There seems no reason why one or more of the existing federations could not develop along these lines: alternatively, a separate society could be established to perform this role.

4.7 At this stage, adequate formal training is a theoretical hope rather than a reality. The draft standards exist, but the means to implement them is elusive.

4.8 These qualifications suggest that AV archiving is an emergent profession: it exists in fact but still lacks the formal mechanisms which would make this visible and unequivocal. This is probably no longer a matter for leisurely contemplation. There are practical needs to be met. Further, the dangers of relying on a non-codified philosophy, with the attendant risks of intuition and idiosyncrasy, are many.

It is interesting to ponder why, after a century of AV archiving activity, questions of professional identity, formal training and accreditation are only now becoming issues. Perhaps in a field pioneered by passionate individualists, generational change towards a greater reliance on formal theory and structures has been slow. Herein lie some fascinating prospects of enquiry into the history and character of AV archiving.

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