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The Paradigm Shift

February 10th, 2010 · No Comments


In teaching multimedia archive,s I think about the future of our content constantly. Like a new mother, I fret for its security, growth and health. What is THE answer for our degrading media, emulsions, for our software obsolescence and our equipment falling down around our ears?

Recent discussions on the AMIA listserv brought new energy to this discussion and I wanted to put my spin on this. The subject line was “What’s Not Cool About Cold?” and it solicited some serious discussion about whether we have made a horrible mistake for a generation of archivists and content.

Jim Lindner argues that the imminent demise of tape players is more important in an archivist’s preservation decision than our focus on the imminent degradation of the media itself. The latter being our big decision to place much of our media in cool or cold storage. The group discussion mentioned the fact that many of our players are no longer supported by their manufacturers and the simple math that the lack of machines and the existing wear on their parts will not even cover the playback of the volume of archival tapes awaiting…migration? This hits a deep reality. Have we lost hundreds of thousands of hours of archival motion under our watch? Maybe even millions or billions of hours?

With the current demand from patrons increasing and the desire to use motion outtakes, news, etc. for historic documentation this is a disappointing state. Motion is powerful, emotional and immediate. It puts patrons in the experience in a way that to the visual human being is dramatic.

This important discussion on the listserv was a strong exchange which took place over several days. Other important points included the argument that the research on degradation and proper handling has made the tape degradation less of an issue and now the issue is playback for migration and access.

Other points included:

1) The need to get these gems a proper venue to be seen (whether due to money or rights issues)

2) The natural evolution of gathering obsolete machines from production facilities and creating some centralized site for archival institutions to use.

3) How to custom make parts so that we can maintain the machines so that we can transfer the content.

4) Wait for a miracle technological innovation to happen in the next 20-30 years so that you can migrate. (Keep them cool until then).

We come back again and again to the complexities of managing archival multimedia. The next generation of archivists will have changed their paradigm and released themselves from the desire to preserve the artifact. I am not condoning refusing to preserve all originals but our focus as far as video tape and digital files will be on content migration.

Other formats still have certain inherent value and that is a different blog posting!

Future archivists will have a much better long-term understanding of what is an artifact and what is intellectual content that needs to be migrated. They will be more adept to the rapid pace of format change and will HAVE to adapt quickly.

Not that I am faulting us. We are the transitory archival generation, the one that bridges the 100 year film format and the thumb drive.

I agree that the great research done in the field has helped us to minimize that problem, but it does seem that we took the eye off the ball a bit on migration. We cite lack of funds, lack of understanding of the urgency by the non-archival world, the frustration with equipment manufacturers, etc. It sounds like we need a development guru to raise funds, awareness and help to join all the key players for a collaboration. Many mention that the creators often do not prioritize preservation as they should. That is true, but our role as professionals is to educate.

Hand-wringing is not allowed! The energy that we have spent on that could have been put forth to an international collaboration with a real potential for migration, managing equipment, and innovation. One manufacturer can not do this alone, everyone needs to get on board and when I say “everyone” I mean:

Creators (producers, studios, channels, directors, talent, writers, etc.)
Equipment and Media Manufacturers
Professional Associations

I think all of the above agree that the loss is imminent. The question is can we use our collective economy of scale to work together? Or maybe it is will we?

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Category: Archiving Challenges · Media Obsolescence · Preservation