1.1 From carrier conservation to content preservation

A substantial change of paradigm in audiovisual preservation began as early as 25 years ago. Until then, audio and video preservation followed the traditional pattern that is still valid for archives of text documents and museums around the world: To safeguard the objects placed in their care.

Around 1990, however, audio archivists began to realise that following this principle would ultimately be in vain. It was becoming obvious — and this is the topic of this publication — that audio and video carriers are vulnerable. Most are unstable when compared with the great majority of text documents. Moreover, being machine-readable documents, the availability of replay equipment was equally important for the retrieval of their contents as carrier integrity.

By that time, it was also becoming obvious that the digital technologies and the enormous pace of technical innovation was creating new formats in an ever faster sequence and, therefore, with ever shorter life cycles. This would confront archivists with the additional challenge of keeping the format specific replay equipment for an ever-growing number of formats in operable condition.

This led to the change of paradigm: Safeguard the content, not the original carrier, was the new mantra. This is achieved by copying the contents from one preservation platform to the next. In order to avoid copying losses, copying has to be done in the digital domain. Analogue contents have, therefore, to be digitised and, together with pre-IT digital contents, converted into files. These will be safeguarded like all other computer files by adequately equipped and managed digital repositories.

While in its beginnings this new paradigm was not accepted without dispute, it was widely adopted for audio archiving from the early 1990s onward and was accepted soon after by video archivists. Meanwhile, because of the global change from analogue to digital film projection and the retreat of the industry from the production of analogue film, this principle is now also widely applied in film preservation.