The Memory of the World project will have different priorities to those in a single institution and will serve different ends - it is after all considering the Memory of the World, not a particular collection whether national, regional or specialised. The Memory of the World project will rely heavily on the existing collections to collect, preserve and make accessible material within their particular remits. The project has as its first task identification of the endangered collections, then selection principles will have to be employed to decide on priorities within those collections, which to save first - is it a case of moving them to safer areas, or better storage conditions, is it a question of physical preservation/restoration? Then selection of the most appropriate means of conservation. Some of the principles of selection or more appropriately in this case, appraisal, will stand comparison across most situations, others will not.
What are Audiovisual materials?
What constitutes audiovisual material? It has to be admitted that no two people quite agree on the definition of 'audiovisual', much discussion is being devoted to the topic, but no positive definition has emerged. There are several definitions of the term including those for working purposes and those for legal purposes but it is difficult to pin down. One definition which has been generally accepted is that in the Kofler study, where, to paraphrase:
Audiovisual materials are to be understood as visual recordings (with or without soundtrack) and sound recordings irrespective of their physical base and the recording process used. This definition is meant to cover a maximum of forms and formats, including films, filmstrips, microfilms, slides, kinescopes, videograms, optically readable laser discs, magnetic tapes, discs, soundtracks or audiovisual recordings. Such definitions do not include the still photographs which many regard as an audiovisual medium.
While a suitable definition is being worked out it is easier to mention those audiovisual materials which will be considered here. The paper will consider the moving images of film and videogram, the sound recordings and the still images in whatever format or on whatever carrier they may appear now or in the foreseeable future, including the electronic formats which are seen as high density storage media with an increased capability of access and transmission or distribution (copyright and neighbouring rights notwithstanding).
The properties of the materials can limit the selection process and set some of the options. Each of the materials has its own physical characteristics and carriers and this will influence selection and present different challenges on different timescales. There are three elements in audiovisual documents and some or all have to be accounted for in the selection process. There is:
a) the information content
b) the artefact, or carrier
c) the aesthetic content
Much material is collected for its information content, as a record of an event, cultural, sporting, political, educational. The most obvious of the av materials would be newsreels and newsfilm, but documentaries and straightforward recordings of cultural events may be included eg. a concert performance, ballet, opera or dramatic work recorded as the event happens.
The artefact or carrier will designate the form of the audiovisual and it will also, for technical reasons frequently influence selection. Can this material be replayed in the collection which acquires it, or is the carrier so esoteric it has only antique value and the capacity to fill storage space; is the carrier in good physical condition or will it be subject to transfer and/or restoration before or on receipt or is the damage irreparable. This has inevitable cost implications and also implications for damage and disaster to the rest of the collection - the canker present in one item, may spread to others if stored untreated and without inspection. The carriers add another dimension to the collection. Audiovisual collections have to maintain a range of playback machinery to suit the various formats acquired. Material has to be collected and stored in a form which will be accessible for as long as required, or at least will be available for easy transfer when its useful life in one format comes to an end.
The last factor is extremely important when considering artworks whether it is a fine film, selected for its performances, photography, dialogue or direction; or a particular performance of a musical work chosen for the interpretation of an instrumentalist, singer or conductor or for the ensemble playing, or a photograph chosen for its aesthetic quality as an example of a particular photographer's work, its subject content or as a record of a unique event. All too often we hear that what we should be trying to preserve is the information content and cramming work into dense formats in order to preserve more of it at the risk of losing its intrinsic quality. Audiovisual collections may include several interpretations of the same work, or several records of the same event carried in different types of document: a film or video version, a sound recording, series of photographs and so on.
Although there are many collections in which audiovisual materials may be found, in the context of this paper we will be concentrating upon those collections which maintain long-term goals of retention, preservation and access to the audiovisual heritage. In effect these are archival institutions or those collections which have an archival function.
An AV archive has been defined as: an organisation or department of an organisation which is focussed on collecting, managing, preserving and providing access to a collection of AV materials and the AV heritage. This will include collections of national importance, housed in national archives and libraries as well as the many smaller collections housed in other libraries and archives. A specialist national collection may only collect one material eg. a film archive or a television archive. Other institutions hold smaller, but unique collections of material in single format, and there are other collections of national, regional, local or academic importance which may concentrate on one or two materials: the moving images, the still images and the sound recordings, or they may have a mixture of the materials. The collections involved here can often be regarded as the collections of last resort, they are available for access, but have other functions such as the collection of unique or original material which is being conserved and/or preserved for posterity.
But archives are not storehouses or dumping grounds for material in the hope that it may come in useful some day - when that day comes with audiovisual materials unless they have been correctly selected stored and conserved, the material may have disappeared into a sticky mess or a pile of rust.
Some form of records management is essential to impose an order upon the record and make it manageable and accessible to future users of the archive, whether these users are researchers, browsers, those with a commercial concern to reuse the material or interested members of the general public. Archivists are not store-keepers. They must impose a discipline of management on their collections, and one of the more important disciplines will be the selection process. Selection, like management, is not an exact science, nor is it an art. It can be argued as more of an art than a science, but I prefer to consider selection as a craft, practised to achieve certain ends with suitable criteria or guidelines to meet these ends.
There are inevitable constraints placed on any archive which make it necessary to adopt selection policies. These constraints may be basic and arbitrary ones such as space for storage or the high cost of storage, or they may be constraints imposed by the available resources in terms of people and time as well as financial resources to prepare the material for storage, conservation and subsequent access.
Adapted from UNESCO