This article was first published in Broadcast Magazine, February 2011 issue
When I visited my cousin in Sweden last month, he told me about a set of old audio cassettes in his possession and how he didn’t know what was stored on them.
We started listening to the tapes only to find that one of them had a four-minute voice recording from my late father. It was a recorded audio message from my father to his nephew who was studying abroad 24 years ago. My father passed away the following year, and it was the first time I had heard his voice since then as I’ve never had any audio or video recording of him.
This four-minute audio clip is now the only audiovisual legacy of my father and is obviously invaluable to me and my family. The first thing I did was to immediately record (digitise) the tape onto my laptop. I later backed up the file at home and sent it electronically to my family. I am confident now it will never be lost.
The accumulation and transmission of memory from one generation to another is a sustaining motivation to us as humans. The 20th century has introduced a new type of memory in the form of sound recording and the moving image called the “Audiovisual Memory”. The world’s population needs to ensure that this is transmitted to future generations.
Hundreds of millions of audiovisual 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 audiovisual memory of the human kind is in jeopardy.
Indeed, UNESCO has forecast that 80% 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 our global heritage will disappear very soon. Priceless content lies hidden in 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.
The task of reformatting the audiovisual collections, however, requires high expertise and specific equipment. These projects are complex to manage in terms of workload, decision-making and cost.
Small- and medium-sized archives, on the other hand, currently face major technical, structural and financial challenges in preserving their content. 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 be digitisation. There is a need to develop highly efficient and cost-effective “preservation factories” to help protect valuable media assets professionally, reliably and economically, and to turn fragile audiovisual archives into robust, secure and accessible digital assets.
Unfortunately, only very few government entities 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 audiovisual memory.
Even if all the governments’ audiovisual 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 portion of the overall collections. Major parts of our history and cultural identities reside in private and corporate collections and are in real danger of being lost forever. Considering the diversity and the number of collections that contain a huge number of audiovisual materials, even the notion that these records can be lost is alarming and the task of preventing these losses is daunting.
Have you thought of digitising your audiovisual collection yet?
Hasan R. Sayed Hasan is head of twofour54 intaj