Yesterday (27 October) was the first celebration of UNESCO’s world day of audio-visual heritage. The trailer on that website, put together from the holdings of various audio-visual archives around the world, gives a flavour of the kind of material that is held in audio and film/video archives worldwide. Australia is fortunate to have many cultural institutions that hold and look after material recorded in Australia: the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Straid Islander Studies (AIATSIS), the National Library of Australia (NLA), the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and many others.
But what about the many small recording collections that are languishing in garages, filing cabinets and under beds Australia-wide? The sad reality is that there simply is not enough functional equipment to play it all back to enable it to be digitised. There are plenty of resources on the web that will give you some pointers as to how to digitise and manage your collection at home, but is that going to be good enough for really unique and significant materials? If your collection (or Grandma’s) was recorded in Australia, has good metadata (information about who, where, when) and significant content, you may be lucky enough to have it accepted by one of our national institutions.
Perhaps it’s just as well that some of our more embarrassing home videos are unlikely to survive for posterity without special attention, but what about material that you believe is highly significant but that was recorded outside Australia? One obvious tack you could try is to attempt to repatriate it to the country of origin, preferably within reach of the individuals or communities from whom it was recorded. PARADISEC was established in 2003 to provide a facility for preserving and making accessible Australian researchers’ field recordings of endangered languages and cultures in the Asia-Pacific region.
For more information and some pointers to technical and archiving advice, try the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA), the E-MELD project’s School of Best Practice, and the links page from the Digital Endangered Languages and Musics Archives Network, DELAMAN. Both IASA and DELAMAN will be meeting in Sydney in September-October 2008.