Pamela Vadakan, Report on the Association of Moving Image Archivists Conference, November 2010

It has been four long years since I last attended the AMIA/IASA Conference, so I was excited to reconnect with colleagues in Philadelphia, the city of archival love. I began my post-grad MISL/IMLS Fellowship in October 2010 and was anxious to catch up on current processes, best practices and standards, particularly in terms of digital preservation and online access. I’m in residence in the Preservation Department at UC Berkeley Library, working with the California Preservation Program to build a centralized prototype digitization service for moving image and sound collections across the state, referred to as the California Audiovisual Preservation Project (CAVPP). The goal of the Project is to guide archives and libraries through the digitization process—from considering copyright questions to determining metadata and encoding file format standards—and facilitate the transfer of new files to the Internet Archive and the Online Archive of California.

The AMIA Conference expanded my picture of the universe. This is an exciting time for digitizing moving image and sound collections. Digitization can serve the preservation needs of collection material, and provide access that users and audiences expect now, without losing the “essence” of the original source. This is particularly true for audio and video content, and some argue that digital film preservation is here too. We are reaching a technological zenith where the means to build and store “good” digital collections are not only available, but can be affordable too. This was demonstrated by a range of institutions, small and large, that are hosting archival collections online: the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Rutgers University Libraries, Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University, Stanford University and the Library of Congress, to name but a few. The PBCore metadata schema is being adopted by organizations beyond public broadcasting—as presented by Northeast Historic Film and the Dance Heritage Coalition—so it’s becoming easier (and encouraged) for institutions to use free, open schema to describe and share analog and digital media objects across systems.

It’s critical that moving image and sound specialists ask questions, with an awareness that questions inevitably lead to more questions. It’s imperative that they present preservation strategies, demonstrate different workflow models, offer practical experience, and share open source tools. A consistent theme at the conference was that our field demands a constant process of research and development; as the universe of moving image and audio preservation continues to expand, our collective bodies of knowledge and technologies will reach higher points. Our expectations will change. User expectations will shift. The zenith is relative, depending on the observer. We need to remain flexible. To be sure, each collection has particular needs, and preservation actions must be determined with respect to the capabilities and limitations of individual institutions. But we must also be asking: What are our common goals and how can we connect and share resources? How can we collaborate collectively and expansively? These were questions I brought home with me.

CAVPP is an opportunity for a range of institutions—archives, libraries, special collections, historical societies, and museums—to partner and share online various perspectives of California as region, state, country. It’s inspiring to think about new discoveries, interactions, and the gathering of communities around their own sights and sounds within the archive and beyond. History will become shared, universal, history.

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