1. The task of audiovisual archives

A core responsibility of an archive is to ensure sustainable access to information. Essential to achieving this is the preservation of the information, which for audiovisual material requires the fulfilment of three related tasks:

  1. The stability and optimal readability of the physical carrier bearing the information must be preserved, so far as is possible, through the use of best practices. This applies equally whether the information is held in analogue or digital form, file-based or otherwise.
  2. The technological system required to access the information (replay equipment, spare parts, playback and format-migration software, expertise etc.) must itself be maintained or renewed, with sufficient capacity for the size of the collection.
  3. Provision must be made to transfer the information to other sustainably accessible, file-based formats while access to the original information is still possible, ensuring that digitising or otherwise transcoding their holdings does not compromise the sonic and/or visual content, or other related information.

Examples of what constitute best practices in audiovisual preservation can be found in IASA-TC 05: Handling and Storage of Audio and Video Carriers (2014), IASA-TC 04: Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects (Second edition, 2009), and IASA-TC 06: Guidelines for the Preservation of Video Recordings (forthcoming).

The challenge of ensuring the sustainable accessibility of file-based formats through digital data management is at the heart of contemporary audiovisual archiving (see sections 12 and 13).

Technological advances can sometimes enable modern analogue replay equipment to retrieve more audio information from carriers than was possible at the time of recording. This is not currently the case with video, which is far more locked to original playback equipment. Modern techniques used in transferring analogue video may improve retrieval of the signal.

For a number of reasons, some of the holdings retained in, or offered to, audiovisual archives will not be the original recordings but copies. For the purposes of digitisation and preservation, these copies should be considered to be originals, unless earlier-generation or otherwise superior copies can be accessed through co-operation with other collection holders (see sections 6 and 16).

Although collection building and collection management per se are beyond the scope of this document, there are ethical and strategic aspects to the relationship between an archive and its potential contributors that should be addressed here. Technological change increasingly democratises the creation of sound and audiovisual content, and increases the number of formats in which material is created. Much of this material may at some stage find a legitimate home within an archive, and for reasons discussed below, the format in which content is created or submitted can have a significant effect on the subsequent use of that material and on its preservation. It is important therefore to raise awareness among potential contributors to archives—whether professional producers or the general public—regarding the consequences of using data reduction, proprietary codecs or other content-compromising schemes described in sections 10 and 11.