Archives Moment: World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

World Day for Audiovisual Heritage happens on Oct. 27 and was created by UNESCO to be a day to raise awareness of the importance of preserving audiovisual heritage.

In the video above, we talk about some of the things we do at our archives at the Musée Héritage Museum to better preserve our audiovisual materials. We work to store both our artifacts and archival materials in stable climate control environments, but even within this environment certain items are preserved better with more specialized treatments.

For example, some of our older and more sensitive negatives are stored in a freezer. Negatives have constant chemical reactions that will degrade them over time. By freezing them we put them in a chemically inert state, thus helping to stop the degrading process. It is also important to note that when we retrieve anything out of a freezer when we want to look at it, we must first place the item in a buffer room that is slightly above freezing. We do this so that the temperature change is not drastic. If the stable environment is changed very quickly, that can be very detrimental to the item. In this situation, we may produce condensation on the negative if we move the negative straight from the freezer to our office (think about what it’s like on your car windshield or your glasses when you come into a warm place from the freezing cold). We will keep the negative in the buffer room for a few days and then bring the item out to our desk area to observe. If there is any potential for touching the surface of the negative, we will wear cotton gloves to prevent any oil or finger prints on the negative. We will wear gloves for any sensitive artifacts or archival materials in our museum.

 

In the video we also talk about the importance of digitization not only for access, but also so that the original is not handled as often. Unnecessary handling could lead to potential damages to the materials, so we try to limit handling as much as possible.Our photographic reproduction is done through a scanner. And we scan materials at a much larger higher quality than what you may normally do at home. We scan at higher resolutions, which varies by type of media. Scanning at higher resolutions ensure the most amount of detail from the original material is recorded in digital form. These high resolution files are large files, which are called our master files and deemed the archival copy of the original. We also add metadata to these master files to add more contextual information about what was digitized, such as the subject, title, and date of the item. We then create access copies that are smaller files at lower resolution from the master files files, which becomes our working files that can be shared with others. Typically after the access copy is created, we never touch the master file ever again. The master file is simply stored in our server.

We have also reproduced our audio and video collection into digital files. This type of reproduction can be even more time consuming and costly compared to photographic reproduction. One of our bigger audio collections, the St. Albert Historical Society Oral Histories, was digitized a few years ago. These digitized files are now stored in our online database. Our users have access to the written summaries, and we can provide access to the digitized files upon request. Digitization has made access so much easier to these fragile tapes, which do not need to be manually played anymore every time someone makes a request to listen to it.

Some people may wonder, is it necessary to keep the original when you digitize it? Archives always make sure to preserve the original archival material, regardless of whether it is digitized or not. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, no digitization process will be 100% accurate to the original, there is always some loss of information in the digitized form. For example, a digitized photo’s colour may look a bit off from the original, and sometimes even magnify white noises, such as scratches, that are barely visible in the original. Secondly, for legal purposes, in some cases the original will always be needed because of the ease of modification of a digitized item, whether intentional or otherwise. Thirdly, there is a human emotional reason to keep the original. There is quite nothing like the feeling of holding the original letter that your grandmother wrote or the original print of a historic event in your city or simply an older form of communication that is no longer practiced. No digitization effort will completely capture the essence of a genuine emotional reaction to seeing original archival materials.

You may also wonder how we have obtain audiovisual materials, which is vastly through donation from the public. Our mandate is to collect materials relevant to the St. Albert area. So if you think you may have a photo, audio, or video that shows an interesting or historic aspect of St. Albert, please consider contacting us to review what you have and see if it fits the mandate of our museum. Audiovisual materials is an area we would like to really grow in our archives. And with the advent of more born-digital materials, such as videos created on your phones, we hope that the public would be willing to share more of their history with us. But it also doesn’t need to be digital, if you have an old VHS tape or 8mm film from your family, and you think it can be relevant to our archives, we would be happy to consider what you have to share.

And for a closer look at what we have in the archives, and possible ideas about what you may want to donate, please visit one of our previous blogs that looks more in depth about the different types of audiovisual materials found in our archives: http://museeheritage.ca/archives-moment-more-than-just-paper/. And as always, please get in touch with us at archives@artsandheritage.ca or 780-459-1528 if you have any questions related to our archives.