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1.3 Worldview and paradigm of AV archiving

Ray Edmondson et al. Philosophy of AV Archiving.

1 Introduction

1.1 A defining feature of the various collecting professions is the particular perspective, paradigm or world view which they bring to bear on the vast amount of material of potential interest to them, and which allows them to select, arrange and provide access to material in meaningful ways. They have much in common: the disciplines of collection building, the management and conservation of collection material, the provision of access to users are standard elements. There are cultural motivations and ethics which transcend the mechanical or utilitarian; there is the management of competing demands on slim resources. Differences arise in the way these functions are addressed.

1.2 Although influenced by tradition and history, these worldviews are not essentially determined by the physical format of the material: libraries, archives, museums and AV archives all collect paper based formats, AV formats and computer-based formats, for example. At the risk of gross over-simplification, some comparisons are suggested. Beyond the comments given here, they warrant further examination.

2 Libraries

2.1 Libraries, traditionally the repository of the book (hence their name), the written and printed word, are also information providers in all formats. They deal with material that is for the most part published and/or designed for dissemination, created with conscious intent to inform, persuade, move, entertain. The basic unit of the library collection is the discrete published book, periodical, program, recording, map, picture, video etc. Although a given book may be included in the collection of hundreds of different libraries, each collection is unique in character, reflecting its clientele, responsibilities and governing policies, and the quality of the library's selection skills. The disciplines of cataloguing and bibliography provide for control and accessibility, significant information fields being the publisher, author, subjects, date and place of publication..

3 Archives

3.1 There are various definitions of archival terminology, and as an example the following are quoted from the International Council of Archives' Dictionary of archival terminology, ed. Peter Walne, 1988: "Archives" is defined as: (1) Non-current records preserved, with or without selection, by those responsible for their creation or by their successors in function for their own use or by an appropriate archives because of their archival value (2) An institution responsible for the acquisition, preservation, and communication of archives: also called archival agency, archive(s) service and records office. Archives are also called after the type of institution whose "archives " they collect, e.g. college and university archives, press/radio, television archives, church archives etc. (3) A building or part of a building in which archives are preserved and made available for consultation: also called archive(s) repository or archival depository.

3.2 Archives deal largely with unpublished material - accumulated records of social or organisational activity which have been judged to be of continuing value. Rather than stand-alone works consciously created for publication, their interest is the collective residue of activity. This material is selected, managed and accessed in context - the linkage to its creator, activity, or other related records are the prime considerations and collections are developed, managed and accessed in accordance with these concepts. For example, an archived correspondence file may be part of a particular series created by a particular government body in particular circumstances or at a particular time.. Knowing this and using the material within that context is essential to a full and proper understanding of it. Finding aids, not catalogues. provide the user entry point.

4 Museums

4.1 Museums may be said to deal in objects rather than documents or publications per se: collecting, researching, documenting, displaying. Conservation is a central skill and discipline, and the skills of public display under controlled conditions for educational purposes are a fundamental raison d'Ítre. The use of AV technology for display purposes is increasingly characteristic.

5 AV archives

5.1 It is evident that the totality of AV archives, of necessity, embrace aspects of all three concepts. For example, the material they deal with may be "published" or "unpublished" though the distinction is not always obvious or important; the concept of an "original" (a film negative or a master recording) is also meaningful. The skills of cataloguing and inventory control are equally essential. Because they deal with a technological media it is conceptually impossible to separate the technology from its product, so the disciplines of museology are relevant. The mechanics and avenues of access, whether to individuals or groups of various size. are manifold. In addition, there are distinctives which arise from the nature of the media.

5.2 Equally, within this amalgam, there are aspects of each of the older professions which are not so relevant. For example, the archival science concepts of the record, original order and respect des fonds can be confining ones for the AV archive and not always relevant to its needs. The library science concepts of information and collection management have limitations. Access services can be very costly, so the ethic of free public access traditionally common in archives and libraries can be impractical.

5.3 The comparisons are instructive and would repay study. A hypothetical example will illustrate. The same television program might legitimately find a place in all four types of institution. Within a library, it may represent information, historical record or an intellectual or artistic creation. Within an archives, it may comprise part of the records of a particular organisation. Within a museum, it may be a displayable work of art. Each concept is legitimate, but the same work is viewed from different perspectives - from the worldview of the profession involved. AV archives see this differently. The great Russian film maker and theorist, Sergei Eisenstein, considered film to be the "synthesis of the arts". One way of viewing AV archiving is to see it as a synthesis of disciplines.

6 The AV archive paradigm

6.1 The AV archive is, instead, in a position to view the hypothetical program in its own right and not as an aspect of something else. It does not need to see it primarily as information, or historical record, or art, or organisational record. It can see it as a television program which is all these things, and more, at the same time and organise itself around that fact. The character of the AV media and its products are the first reference point for AV archives: just as, centuries ago, the character of the printed book, as a phenomenon, gave rise to libraries as we now know them.

6.2 To amplify this, one can consider - for example - how AV archives perceive paper materials in their collections - periodicals, posters, photographs, scripts and the like. These items are mostly not perceived in their own right - but in that aspect which serves to amplify the value of the recordings, films or programs to which they relate. A film poster has value in an AV archive because of the film to which it relates. It may have quite different value, as art in an art gallery.

6.3 The extent to which this paradigm operates in practice varies according to the circumstances and choices of the AV archive. Autonomous AV archives - be they single or multiple-media - which have independence and status comparable to major libraries, archives and museums are in the best position to exhibit it, for in such cases the AV media are seen to have the same cultural status as their older cousins. AV archives which are essentially departments of larger entities find an accommodation between this paradigm and the worldview of their parent institution. Obviously AV media, like other media, retain their whole character regardless of their organisational context: the question is how far that context can, or should, reflect that whole nature.

7 Other perspectives of AV archives

7.1 The worldview of AV archives contains many other elements which, to a greater or less extent, are characteristic or defining features. The following are illustrative.

7.2 Industries and the AV media: AV archives are part of the world of collecting institutions, conscious of the social responsibilities and ethic of public service which characterise that world. But they are also, to varying degrees, part of another world: the international AV industries and their culture. They recruit staff from it. They speak their language, they service their needs. As stable points in a volatile milieu, they preserve their corporate history and identity. They reflect their entrepreneurial spirit and passion for the media. They represent a strong and emotive part of the public memory and identity, an affirmation of the growing importance of preserving "popular" culture as well as "high" culture.

7.3.1 Corporate Culture: The fragility and fugitive nature of the AV media. the pioneering flavour of AV archiving, the lack of resources, the rapid development of the technology, and their relatively small numbers give AV archives and archivists a sense of mission and urgency. "So much to do, so little time": they are constantly confronted by the implications of their own actions, inactions and limitations: they need to convince, change attitudes and mould their environment. A sometimes passionate advocacy for their field is characteristic.

7.3.2 So is versatility. For example, having a basic general technical knowledge, and a historical knowledge of the AV media and AV archiving, regardless of one's area of specialisation. A sensitive and scrupulous approach to ethics is essential in a field where commercial-in-confidence information is constantly handled, access or acquisition transactions may involve considerable sums, judgement is constantly needed and many important suppliers (such as private collectors) prefer to trust individuals rather than institutions. The commitment required to operate successfully in this environment tends to exclude those who lack personal enthusiasm for the AV media and its archiving.

7.4.1 Preservation: The potential contradiction between preservation and access impinges on most collecting institutions. Because AV media are technologically based, the realities of preservation impinge on all the functions of an AV archive in a particular way: they are integral to day-to-day operation, rather than an adjunct. Preservation shapes perceptions: access to material always has technological and cost implications and the mode of access must be such that it does not put the survival of the work at unacceptable risk. If the cost cannot be met - for example, of making an access copy from a preservation copy, or having the appropriate equipment available - then access may not provided until it is.

7.4.2 Indeed because of their technological base, AV archives are often distinguished by their character as centres of specialised technical expertise and equipment: as places where obsolete technology and processes are, of necessity, maintained and nurtured so that material in all AV formats can be restored and reproduced. How far this will always be the case, as image and sound recording becomes increasingly digitised, is a matter for debate: although the inertia effect of storing, maintaining and copying ever increasing quantities of AV materials in obsolescent formats will keep it so for the foreseeable future. Further, the aesthetic skills, historical knowledge and ethical judgements involved in preservation work are integral to the character of the AV media and will always be needed.

7.5 Technical perspective: A related characteristic is the technological mindset of AV archivists: the capacity to think constantly in technical terms, to operate a variety of technical equipment, to understand the direct consequences for collection material of inappropriate storage, mishandling or misusing equipment in a variety of circumstances. It is an order of magnitude beyond that which one might expect as the norm in other collecting professions.

7.6 Evidential approach: Logically and validly, AV archives use methods and principles of acquisition, collection management, documenting and service provision that arise from the nature of the AV media and its context - physical, aesthetic and legal. These may therefore differ, in degree or in kind, from the corresponding approaches of the other collecting professions. While this statement may seem self evident, the fact that AV archiving has grown out those professions means that their differing (and sometimes mutually incompatible) assumptions have been applied, by automatic analogy, to the practice of AV archiving. The need to work back to first principles has sometimes become apparent later, and for many is still in the process of emerging. For example, the differing approaches to collection organisation and documenting of archival science and library science have both been applied to AV archiving. Many AV archives have developed other approaches which, while drawing signals from both, have different base assumptions and are different in practice.

7.7.1 Collection development: Like libraries, many AV archives acquire material (depending on their circumstances) by voluntary or legal deposit, purchase and gift, and like them they develop and apply selection or appraisal policies and mechanisms. But collection development has additional and characteristic dimensions. These include, for some, systems of voluntary deposit (where the AV archive has custody but not legal ownership of material), off-air recording of broadcasts, the creation of recordings, and the skills of detecting and chasing fugitive materials whose commercial shelf life may be a matter of weeks rather than decades. AV archives need to be active and selective seekers rather than passive acceptors. The pattern depends on the organisational setting of the AV archive and the policy of the parent body. Some may exercise little selection and may need to be less active in their approach. Official Government archives, for example, may receive the compulsory transfer of materials from other government entities.

7.7.2 Private individuals, including collectors, are a major source of material and relationships with them are very important. The AV industries themselves rely very much on person-to-person contact. The capacity to develop and sustain personal relationships and inspire trust is essential in a field where sensitivities can be acute and trust is easily damaged. Ethical questions arise frequently and require careful judgement.

7.8 Collection management: By their nature, many AV materials are both costly and environmentally vulnerable. Within the economic resources available to them AV archives maintain a variety of humidity/temperature controlled storage environments and regimes for periodically checking out the condition of their stock. Inventory type control systems which allow each carrier to be uniquely identified, and division of material by form, status and size are aspects of AV archive housekeeping systems. The building up of detailed technical information on individual carriers is necessary to permit monitoring of condition over time, and to inform correct conservation treatment if it is necessary. In this setting, the key unit is the individual carrier linked to a "work" identified by a title. In its concept and application, the approach grows out of the nature of the AV media, both physical and conceptual.

7.9.1 Access: Because of the nature of the media, access has many levels - actual and potential - ranging from the one-to-one enquiry, to product marketing, to telecasting and public presentation. The skills and knowledge required are also of considerable range: entrepreneurial skills, knowledge of the collection, technical skills, product development skills, legal knowledge, presentational skills - to name some. Certain AV archives may specialise in particular parts of this spectrum.

7.9.2 One can browse a book or a set of manuscripts. One does not browse a sound recording, film, videogram or even artefact in the same way. Catalogue entries, sometimes highly detailed, are often the most efficient entree for the user. Since cataloguing is labour intensive and expensive, and many collections are therefore still poorly catalogued, the collection knowledge of the AV archivist is the alternative. Since the use of auditioning/viewing equipment, and the retrieval of material for viewing, can be expensive, "free" access is often not possible.

7.9.3 Limited access information may be the current reality, but is certainly not the aim- for AV archives. New technology, such as CD ROM and the Internet, are rapidly opening up new possibilities for browsing catalogue data bases and browsing the images and sounds themselves. This in turn will create new demands on AV archives. It may even change the nature of cataloguing, allowing icons, images and sounds to become part of the catalogue entry itself.

7.10 Context linkage: The preservation and accessibility of moving images and sound recordings sooner or later involves copying. Copying is not a value-neutral act; a series of technical judgements and physical acts (such as manual repair) determine the parameters of the resulting copy. It is possible, in effect, to distort, lose or manipulate history through the judgements made and the quality of the work performed. Documenting the processes, and the choices made, from generation to generation is essential to preserving the integrity of the work: the AV equivalent, perhaps, of the archival concepts of respect du fonds and original order. The same logic applies to the restoration and reconstruction of AV media: only if the choices are documented can the "new" version be judged fairly, in context.


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