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1.7 The AV archive: definition and typology

Ray Edmondson et al. Philosophy of AV Archiving (Draft 2)

1.1 AV archives embrace a plurality of institutional models, types and interests. While recognising that every organisation is unique, and that any typology is to a degree arbitrary and artificial, some natural categories are discernible, and categorisation is a useful way of describing the field.

1.2 The following typology is presented in no particular order, and from two perspectives. It will be obvious that an individual institution may fit into one or several categories simultaneously.

1.3 "Label" categories

1.3.1 The following are a number of "labels" in more or less common use in the profession which provide a broad typology. For each, the "label" is given followed by a brief description.

1.3.2 Broadcasting archives: these contain primarily tapes and discs of radio and/or television programs held for broadcasting purposes. Some are departments of broadcasting organisations - ranging from major networks to small public radio stations - while others have varying degrees of independence. The objective is usually to maintain a collection as a permanent source of material for future program or commercial use, and the clientele is usually "in-house": public access services may be limited or non-existent and will be subordinate to the priorities of the "in house" client.' As well as completed programs and commercial recordings, collections may include "raw" material such as interviews and sound effects, as well as ancillary material such as scripts or program documentation.

1.3.3 Presentational archives: these have a particular emphasis on providing public access to their collections through screenings in their own cinemas or exhibition rooms. The screenings are often carefully researched and presented, and many of these organisations operate specialised cinemas capable of screening obsolete formats or housing live musical accompaniments for silent films. Many have an emphasis on fiction (as opposed to documentary) material. Sometimes the term cinemathèque or videothèque is used to characterise these archives. However, these terms are used more widely by entities that are not archives: for example, repertory cinemas or commercial video rental outlets which have no preservation or curatorial dimension.

1.3.4 AV museums: the emphasis for these organisations is the preservation and display of artefacts - such as technology, costumes, and memorabilia - and the presentation of images and sounds in a public-exhibition context, both for educational and entertainment purposes. Within this category, film museums form a recognisable and growing group, while others emphasise the broadcast media or recorded sound.

1.3.5 National AV archives: these are wide ranging bodies, often large, operating at the national level, with a brief to document, preserve and make publicly accessible the whole - or a significant part - of the country's AV heritage. Access services may cover the whole spectrum from public exhibition to the support of private research, and technical services and facilities may also be extensive. They often provide services and supply a coordinating function to other AV archives in the country. The role is analogous to that of national libraries, archives or museums: In some cases, these archives are departments of such bodies, in other cases they are separate institutions of comparable stature and autonomy.

1.3.6 Academic archives: a varied and somewhat amorphous group which embraces archival collections of AV materials and related activities operating within the administrative framework of a university, scientific or similar academic institution. Some are substantial and have collections and preservation programs of national significance: others are small and specialised. These are distinct from AV resource collections, a common feature of universities, often related to campus schools or libraries. These collections have a lending or access function but little or no preservation role.

1.3.7 Thematic archives: this also is a large and varied group of AV archives distinguished by a clear focus on material of a particular format, subject matter, locality or chronological period; or relating to specific cultural groups, academic disciplines or research fields . Examples are oral history collections, folk music collections, local or provincial film or. tape archives, organisational in-house archives. Most are likely to be departments of larger organisations. An emphasis on servicing private or academic research is characteristic.

1.3.8 Studio archives: some major production houses, for example in the film industry, have taken a conscious approach to the preservation of their own output by setting up archival units or divisions within their organisations. As with broadcasting archives, the purpose is normally to preserve the parent company's assets for future use, rather than fulfil a cultural objective per se.

1.4 "Profile" approach

1.4.1 The second, and complementary, approach is to get an organisational profile against several pertinent indicators:

1.4.2 Institutional status: AV archives range from small departments of much larger organisations to major entities which are autonomous institutions in their own right. Their degree of autonomy in setting their own priorities, procedures, policies and internal culture will vary according to their relationship with their governing authorities. It is not a simple equation; some small bodies can be highly autonomous, while larger, formally independent ones may be constrained by current government policies and priorities.

1.4.3 Funding source: Culturally motivated AV archives, virtually by definition, cannot be financially self-supporting and are reliant on finding from government, charitable or other sources. For some, funding comes entirely or largely from government: for others. a mixture of government, charitable, corporate or revenue sources may apply. Sources of finding may, in turn, affect the policies and priorities of the archive.

1.4.4 Range of media: AV archives differ in the range of media covered. Some, for example, are strictly focussed "film" or "sound" archives; some are "multi-media" archives which embrace all formats of sound recording and moving image; some fall between these extremes.

1.4.5 User emphasis and clientele: AV archives can service one or several clienteles: for example, the academic researcher, the commercial producer, the exhibition-going and product-buying public, the in-house clientele of the parent organisation, education, broadcasting, the audiophile and the cineaste. There is a relationship between the culture and the clientele of an archive.

1.4.6 National/regional status: Some archives collect material and service enquiries from a national perspective, be it broad or highly focussed: others focus on a particular geographical area and build a collection and knowledge base that would never find its way into a national institution. These are complementary ways of contributing to an overall national task.

1.4.7 Purpose and motivation: AV archiving began as a culturally-motivated movement - pursuing the preservation of the AV heritage because of its intrinsic worth, regardless of commercial potential. While these values remain paramount, in most archives collections and programs are growing faster than subsidies. This increasingly requires them to generate income to cover the shortfall, and the trend shows no sign of abating. At the same time, they are being joined by archives and service agencies which have a commercial and pragmatic motivation: protecting and servicing the assets of their principals (such as film producers or broadcast networks) and meeting their running costs from revenue. The once clear divide between these groups is becoming less strict. Even though the perspectives differ, however, in both cases the survival of the AV heritage is involved; the same professional skills and values are relevant. It remains true that, once the limits of commercial cost-effectiveness are passed, the protection of cultural material is still a cost on government and granting bodies.

1.5 The definitions above are not co-extensive with the membership of any of the federations. To varying degrees, they base their membership requirements on parameters selected from this typology. Their approaches differ, taking into account such factors as the organisational autonomy, motivation, and priorities of the archive concerned. The above typology is descriptive, not prescriptive, and includes entities that may not belong - and may not be eligible to belong - to any of the federations.

Note: Material in this section draws on the article A brief typology of sound archives by Grace Koch (Phonographic Bulletin No 58, June 1991) and other research sources noted in that article. It is acknowledged that some of the research data is now dated, and a survey project to update it would be a useful exercise.


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