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Center stage for audiovisual collections – Screening the Future 2012 (1)

22 mei 2012 Gepubliceerd door 1 Commentaar

This week I’m be reporting from the Screening the Future 2012 conference, “Play, Pause and Press Forward” (an apt title for digital preservation), organized by PrestoCentre, in collaboration with the University of South California/Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles, CA.

Different stakeholders: Rick Prelinger (left) is an archivist and film maker, Kara van Malssen (middle) advises on how to preserve audiovisual material and at right Diana Little of the MediaPreserve

For PrestoCentre, which is originally a European organization, to cross the ocean and seek active exchanges with the USA, is of course an excellent idea. I gather the conference will alternate between North America and Europe every year from now on.

I was tempted to entitle this first post “Digital Preservation goes Hollywood”, but that would have given you entirely the wrong impression. Audiovisual content is not just a Hollywood affair. Increasingly, academia, libraries and archives are confronted with audiovisual content as well.

The room is filling up for the first session

Having said that, the first session this morning was by and large a Hollywood affair. In the afternoon smaller, specialized collections came into view. I will report in more detail about these sessions later in the week when I have more time. For the moment, let it be said that I was both struck by the diversity within the audiovisual field and by the commonalities which distinguish the sector from libraries and other archives.

Conference VIPS: from the left: co-organizer Sam Gustman of the USC Repository/Shoah Foundation, Jan Müller, President of PrestoCentre (and director of the Dutch Institute for Sound and Vision), and Bernard Smith, conference chair

The commonalities are reflected in the stage of development of audiovisual preservation. Most of the talk today was not really about preservation, but about digitization and storage. What file formats to use, whether to store on tape or on disk, the risks of cloud storage, those type of questions. Mind you, this is not a criticism, just an observation. When libraries talk about “migration” they usually refer to file format migration, say from Word to PDF. In the audiovisual domain “migration” means transferring content from one medium (e.g., a DVD) to another medium (tape or disk). File format migration is not an issue here, at least not yet. Another commonality is that there is lots of talk about huge volumes of data. Audiovisual files are big, petabytes, exabytes of data (uncompressed, a movie may yield 1 gigabyte per second). Doing anything with such volumes (e.g., a migration from one type of tape to another) takes forever.

Finding the balance between preservation and available resources (money) was another common denominator. Keynote speaker Andrew G. Setos warned: “It is safe to overdo things (in terms of preservation), but overdoing it ultimately goes against our goal”, as funders will simply say that they cannot afford it.

I also detected a certain nostalgia for the analogue days: analogue film from many years ago is usually still in very good shape. Quite unlike early digital video from, say, the eighties. That is the stuff that is most at risk now.

As for the variety within the audiovisual field, Nan Rubin, of Community Media Services, said: “The world is much more complicated than we think.” Howard Besser, of New York University, added: “Perhaps we should stop thinking in terms of large versus small archives. It is much more important to distinguish between mass file handling (e.g., broadcasting companies) and a ‘boutique’ way of handling, e.g. for video art installations by museums.” Indeed, the latter’s requirements seem to be very different, also in terms of metadata, and it is something I will take home with me.

Outdoor lunch on USC campus

There is lots more to report, and you will hear about it all in due course, but this is it for today. Conference days are long and one does not want to pass up on the informal moments either, as lots of really good sharing is facilitated by a glass of wine.

Let me leave you with a good suggestion: if you want to learn more about audiovisual stuff, there is a most recent report by the former technology manager of the BBC’s archives, Richard Wright: Preserving Moving Pictures and Sound. The report was commissioned by the UK Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) for their ever growing Technology Watch series which they gracefully share with non-members with only a slight delay. On the very long flight over here, I had a chance to read Wright’s report in detail, and I can certainly recommend it. At 37 pages (including references and extensive glossary) Wright has managed to catch the core of the issues in a most manageable format.

Related posts: Screening the Future 2011, at Sound and Vision in Hilversum, The Netherlands (three posts in Dutch).

Travel notes

Being a frequent traveller on a modest (really!!) budget, I never know where I will land up. Two weeks ago, in Florence, I was in a 7-room Bed & Breakfast on the third floor of an old building, without an elevator or a dependable wifi, but with paper thin walls and Italian neighbours (the proprietress, Susanna, made up for a lot of discomfort, though). This week, I find myself in the glamorous setting of the LA Biltmore hotel (AD 1923), straight out of a Hollywood movie. In fact, the ballroom scenes for the film Titanic were shot right here in the hotel. Not something I would have expected in downtown Los Angeles!

Before you get the wrong idea, the special deal for conference visitors gets you a courtyard room next to the elevator, but the stupendous lobby and swimming pool are for everyone to enjoy! (The bars, restaurants and beauty parlor, of course come at a surcharge). Typically for LA, the grand main entrance is not used by anybody anymore, because it is a no stopping zone on a busy street. What used to be the back entrance, for delivery cars, is, of course, now the main entrance, because “everybody” comes by car.

The elegant 1923 Biltmore



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