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1.4 Audiovisual records as archival material

Wolfgang Klaue (1989)

There have been films since 1895, radio since the twenties and television since the thirties of our century. There have been facilities for the recording of sound for over a hundred years and for the magnetic recording of pictures for about fifty. The majority of audiovisual documents made in the preceding decades have been lost or destroyed. The further we go back in history, the bigger are the gaps in our inheritance of films, sound and video recordings. Without wishing here to analyse the reasons for this or to investigate the question of the responsibility and guilt for this loss of human values, one thing must be said: it is high time that audiovisual media were viewed as archivable materials, to be accepted and conserved in archives. The process of the mass destruction of audiovisual records must be ended. Audiovisual media have become one of the most essential forms of human communication in the twentieth century. Not to treat them as books in libraries, manuscripts in archives, works of art in museums, can be justified neither scientifically nor morally. This 11th International Archive Congress, after its beginnings in 1972, should play a pioneering role in the process of extending the recognition of the historical value of audiovisual materials.

I do not believe that at an international forum of experienced archivists the case for the necessity of audiovisual material conservation needs to be made. Audiovisual documents exist in great breadth and colourful variety, whether we subjectively like them or not. Audiovisual media and, alongside them, new archivable material are a reality which no one can ignore.

As long as there is no internationally recognised definition of audiovisual materials, one must perforce, for the sake of intelligibility, define one's own concept. My definition lays no claim to general recognition, it is for me no more than a working hypothesis: audiovisual materials include both still and moving pictures and sound recordings together with all combinations of storing these no matter what recording process or carrier medium is used. For me, the term 'audiovisual records' is a comprehensive designation for photographic, film , sound and video recordings.

There are already today a considerable number of film, television and sound archives. The memberships of the specialised NG0s are impressive by themselves: FIAF - Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film - over 70 members and observers. FIAT - Fédération Internationale des Archives de la Télévision - about 50 members, IASA - International Association of Sound Archives - over 400 members. And it can be taken for granted that each of the bigger radio and TV stations has access to an archive. Broadcasting stations without an archive are almost unthinkable. According to the "Latest statistics on radio and television broadcasting" (Unesco, 1987), there are over 6100 sound broadcasting institutions in 197 countries and 1200 television broadcasting institutions in 139 countries. Can we assume from these figures that the continuing conservation of our audiovisual heritage is really secure? No, this conclusion is not justified. A more profound analysis of the position reveals that the situation is not merely disturbing but highly alarming. The process of the mass destruction of audiovisual material, whether as film, video or sound recording, is continuing. All our powers of discernment must be brought into play in order to change this. In 1986/87 FIAF and FIAT conducted a worldwide survey on the position of radio and TV archives. The results of this survey have been published as a Unesco document and to a certain extent the findings can probably also be related to photographic and sound recordings. The following problems are especially apparent.

1. Lack of appreciation of the audiovisual heritage

In 1980 the General Assembly of Unesco unanimously passed the "Recommendation for the safeguarding and conservation of moving images". The acceptance of this document was of historic importance: for the first time the heritage of "moving pictures" was declared to be part of the cultural heritage of each nation and the responsibility of governments for the care and conservation of this heritage was defined. It might have been thought that this recommendation would have stimulated a real movement towards the conservation of audiovisual materials, but unfortunately this breakthrough has not taken place. The aforementioned survey showed that in many countries the Recommendation was insufficiently known and had had only slight effect on already existing audiovisual archives. It was reported that in only one country had the Recommendation led to the founding of an audiovisual archive.

If audiovisual materials are to be safeguarded, the first and most important task is to establish everywhere the recognition that photographs, films, video and sound recordings represent archival material worthy of preservation. All administrative, legal, material and financial consequences for the existence and development of audiovisual archives begin with the realization that audiovisual materials are part of the national culture of every people and belong to the testimony of the twentieth century as proof of cultural identity.

There remains a great deal to be done if governments, public opinion, makers of audiovisual materials and all decision-making bodies which contribute to the financing of audiovisual archives are to recognise the historical and cultural value of these materials. Experience shows that today audiovisual archives are still very far from being ranked alongside libraries, other archives or museums. All forces, especially those of archivists, which have the most experience in the onward transmission of historical sources must be brought into play to positively influence this process of recognition. In many countries more can be effected with the authority of public archives than with the enthusiasm of specialist institutions.

Television exists in 139 countries and films are produced in over 100 countries. It has been established that archives exist in about 80 countries. There remains a sizeable gap between countries which produce audiovisual materials and countries which also archive these. Even if there is a film, TV or sound archive, we should not assume that a functioning system for the deposit of audiovisual material also exists. Because of their physical condition and their legal basis, there are extraordinarily big differences between present-day archives.

2. Legislating for audiovisual archives

Whether or not an audiovisual archive is integrated into a state archive or exists as an independent institution, its function must have a legal basis. In many countries, this problem has not been solved.

- audiovisual materials are not defined as archival goods and incorporated into appropriate laws.
- there is no functioning system to ensure the deposit of audiovisual materials both from official sources and from the private sector.
- with the increasing internationalisation of the manufacturers of audiovisual materials, there is increasing difficulty in defining the area of national interest.
- audiovisual materials are covered by most of the provisions of the copyright law.

Essential archive functions such as acquisition, duplication - including for the purpose of preservation - and use are covered by it. The rights and powers of archives in relation to audiovisual materials are scarcely defined and in consequence not contained either in international legal conventions.

The survey of film and TV archives showed that in an astonishingly large number of countries, copyright deposit for films and partially also for other audiovisual materials did exist. But experience shows that the legal requirement is practically never enforced. Either the mechanism for the implementation of this principle is lacking or the requisite material preconditions do not exist in the archives. It has been shown that rules designed for the deposit of manuscripts in archives or the copyright deposit of books in libraries can be made to fit audiovisual materials only to a limited extent. In many cases there must be supplementary repairs to audiovisual materials before they are archived and the costs of this can be considerable.

I think the time has come to bring together all legal problems of audiovisual archives in co-operation with other NG0s within the ambit of a working party. This working party would be given the job of making recommendations to individual countries on their legislative programme and on an international level to effectively support the interests of the archives.

3. Conservation of audiovisual materials

Carriers of audiovisual information exist in great diversity: films in colour and black and white, on nitrocellulose and acetate bases, in 8mm., 16mm., 35mm, and 70mm formats; videotapes from half-inch to two inches, in VHS, Umatic, Betamax and many other configurations. Sound cylinders, records of very different sizes and speeds, compact discs, video discs - the list could be extended as long as you wish. The conservation of this material imposes completely new demands on traditional archives; storage must have other parameters than those for paper; maintaining the material demands a technology adequate for the carrier. There are completely new requirements for technical and personnel provision. Rapid technological changes compel the technical base to accommodate new formats, processes, technologies. Because of chemical and physical properties, audiovisual materials are subject to rapid wear or decay. Nitrocellulose films disintegrate, colour films fade, acetate film is found to be less stable than it was hitherto thought to be. Magnetic recordings demand regular inspection and maintenance. All these technical problems - and a good many more might be mentioned - could be reasons for withholding audiovisual materials from being archived. But there can be no audiovisual inheritance, unless all the technical problems associated with this are recognised and overcome. It is obvious that not every country can provide for itself alone all the material and technical preconditions for the conservation of audio-visual materials. Regional co-operation, especially when it comes to maintenance, will be essential. Unesco is striving, in co-operation with specialised NG0s, to develop regional centres for the maintenance of audiovisual materials and this effort should be intensified. This step would be an important precondition in the prevention of further losses.

Can new technologies, new carrier materials have a revolutionary influence on the future of audiovisual archives? There is a future-orientated technology fetishism which looks towards both miniaturisation as a solution for the problems of mass, and carrier materials which are totally maintenance-free, but archives cannot wait for that.

Archives must act today, must conserve and maintain audiovisual materials today. Any waiting for future technologies means further losses must be reckoned with.

One archival principle must also be applied to audiovisual materials - archives must be handed on in the form in which they were produced. Films should be conserved as films not as videocassettes, records as records not sound cassettes. This may sound very conservative and could certainly be contested. But is not the archivist duty bound to the original? Nobody could possibly compare even the most superb microfiche of a medieval document with the original.

4. Education of audiovisual archivists

One issue of "Archivum" was specially devoted to this subject and I have given my opinion there at length.1 Here I should just like to limit myself to a few basic remarks: it is obvious from the FIAF/FIAT survey that one of the real reasons for the delays in this field is the lack of knowledge about the handling of audiovisual materials, about the legal and administrative problems of audiovisual archives, about the conservation and exploitation of these. But further training provision alone at national, regional or international level cannot meet the need for specialist archivists and technicians for audiovisual archives. We must create an academic course in existing educational institutions for these specialist archives. And here too I make an urgent appeal to all those who have responsibility for the training of archivists to rise to these new demands. Unesco has allotted praiseworthy support for the educational programmes of audiovisual archivists and a working party made up of representatives of the ICA, FIAF, FIAT and IASA is working on this.

5. Financing audiovisual archives

The institutions surveyed by FIAF/FIAT named three main problems that were hindering the development of audiovisual archives.

- lack of awareness that audiovisual materials should be preserved
- lack of specialist staff
- insufficient financial support.

No audiovisual archive can exist without subsidy, just as no library, no museum, no manuscript archive can fulfil its task without financial assistance. Everywhere - whether in developed or developing countries, socialist or capitalist states - it needs considerable and constantly increasing funding both to establish and maintain audiovisual archives. However difficult it may be, there is no other solution than to include the financial needs of audiovisual archives in state budgets. Apart from a few exceptions, there are no other sources of finance. There are considerable expenses in creating and maintaining a controlled environment, in buying technical apparatus for the use, checking and maintenance of audiovisual material. In many countries only gradual solutions are possible. Again and again it will need the arguments of archivists, historians, media experts, sociologists and other scientists and journalists to carry out possible measures on a national scale- Additional funds must be allocated. The development of audiovisual archives cannot and must not be at the expense of existing archives, libraries and museums.

In my opinion, the development of audiovisual archives leads to a further differentiation of archive science. In many areas there are completely new theoretical problems, which up to now have not been exhaustively answered either by archive science or any other scientific discipline. Headings of some subjects are listed below:

- methods of deposit and collection
- adminstrative problems, centralisation or decentralisation, relationship between the production archive and the deposit archive
- audiovisual materials as contemporary historical documents and works of art
- physical value of audiovisual materials and selection
- value of supplementary documents (materials arising during production or distribution)
- legal problems of audiovisual archives
- access and use, new demands, new user categories
- index of audiovisual materials
- critique of the sources of audiovisual materials
- handling, conservation and maintenance

For two decades there have been valuable contributions towards a theory of audiovisual archives. But the spasmodic development of new media technologies has led to a situation in which in archive practice more problems have been thrown up than have been answered by theory. A reversal of this situation - theoretical advance preceding practice - is much to be desired.

In conclusion, a comment on the institutionalisation of audiovisual archives. Should they be independent or integrated into the national archive? Should all audiovisual materials be collected into one archive or should photography, sound recordings, video recordings and film be separated? In my experience there is no universally applicable solution. The most favourable variant for the onward transmission of audiovisual materials will depend on national conditions. In each case, the experiences and authority of the traditional archives are an essential factor in the promotion of practical solutions. In such solutions we should care for what is already in existence and strive for a effective productive co-operation of all those who are concerned with and have a part to play in this work. The recognition of a problem is the first step towards its solution. We must be in a position in all countries, at the beginning of a new millenium, to ensure the onward transmission of those mass media which have arisen in the twentieth century. It is a complicated task, a challenge to all who are involved in it, but it lies in our hands to pass on to the coming generations the evidence of the "audiovisual age".

1 Wolfgang Klaue, Training and education for audiovisual archives, Archivum 34 (1988) pp. 113-123 (See Section XIII, 13.1 for this paper)


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