On memory, digitalisation and death.

Published January 16th, 2011 - 09:00 GMT
Can digitalisation beat death?
Can digitalisation beat death?

 

The 20th century has introduced a new type of memory in the form of sound recording and the moving image, the “Audio-visual Memory”, which the world’s population needs to ensure that it is transmitted to future generations.

Hundreds of millions of audio-visual films and tapes are spread around the globe in personal, corporate and national libraries and collections. Physical damage and deterioration of the media assets, format obsolescence and lack of adequate internal resources in the form of funding, training and expertise contribute to the fact that a major part of the audio-visual memory of the human kind is in jeopardy.

Indeed, UNESCO has forecast that 80 per cent of the 200 million hours of the world’s television and radio are doomed to disappear by 2015.

This estimation is extremely worrying as entire volumes of humanity's global heritage are going to disappear very soon. Priceless content is hidden inside these films and tapes and the only way to protect them is to immediately convert them into the digital domain where files have real longevity and can be saved, backed-up, and utilised in an unlimited number of ways.

In addition to the immense cultural values of this content, there are immense opportunities for commercial exploitation through revenue generation. Commercial organisations should take protecting their audio-visual libraries seriously by turning their archives into assets.

   The task of reformatting the audio-visual collections requires high expertise and specific equipment. These projects are complex to manage in terms of workload, decision-making and cost.

 Large national archives, libraries and broadcasters may have the budgets for implementing highcost digitisation, preservation, restoration and archiving systems to process the millions of tapes in their large libraries.

Small and medium sized archives on the other hand currently face major technical, structural and financial challenges in preserving their holdings.

Technical obsolescence, physical deterioration, the lack of adequate cataloguing and the extensive amount of material demand efficient technical services in order to accelerate preservation efforts.

The only apparent viable solution seems to provide digitisation as a service. There is a need to develop highly efficient and costeffective “preservation factories” to help protect valuable media assets professionally, reliably and economically, and to turn fragile audio-visual archives into robust, secure and accessible digital assets.   

Unfortunately, only very few governmental institutions in the Middle East region such as in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi have recently started digitisation and preservation projects for parts of their national archives.

The region is currently far behind in its efforts to preserve its audio-visual memory. Even if all the governments’ audio-visual libraries were preserved, which does not seem to be happening before damage to most of the media is beyond rescue, such libraries constitute only a small amount ofthe overall collections.

Major parts of our history and cultural identities are residing in private and corporate collections and are in real danger. Considering the diversity and the number of collections that contain a huge number of audio-visual materials, even the notion that these records can be lost is alarming and the task of preventing these losses is daunting.

 


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