Audiovisual archives, the next ten years: turning vision into reality and positive change.

ICCROM Sound and Image Collections Conservation programme, SOIMA.

Rapporteur: Johan Oomen (@johanoomen)

Last September, over 200 delegates from around the world attended the 1st international SOIMA conference to jointly define a ten-year vision for audiovisual archives. To celebrate the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, we (the SOIMA community) invite the wider audiovisual archive community to provide their feedback on our vision, and how to reach it.


1. About ICCROM’s Sound Image Collections Conservation programme

Nine years ago, ICCROM, a Rome-based IGO, initiated a multidisciplinary training that broke institutional, professional and cultural boundaries to build capacity for preservation and access of mixed sound and image collections held by diverse cultural institutions with the creation of the SOIMA programme. SOIMA, a 3–4 week intensive training in safeguarding sound and image heritage for mid-career professionals, began in 2007 with the first course held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Since then, a total of 6 courses have been held, bringing together 100 participants from 56 countries to share common challenges and collaborate on solutions. The initiation of this course came as a response to UNESCO’s 2005 call to safeguard endangered sound and image heritage trapped in obsolete carriers. While technological obsolescence continues to threaten this heritage, continued access to today’s mainly digital cultural record has become an added challenge that requires cross disciplinary thinking and knowledge exchange.

2. Defining the 10-year vision

SOIMA 2015: Unlocking Sound and Image Heritage, an international conference held from 3–4 September in Brussels, was therefore an attempt to broaden the discussion on the future of audiovisual heritage by bringing creators, collectors, preservationists, technology professionals, users and educators together. The aim was to identify future orientations and suggest ways in which ICCROM’s SOIMA programme could continue to expand the space for interdisciplinary dialogue and knowledge exchange among and between cultural institutions and nations. The conference brought together many former SOIMA course participants as well as numerous additional voices. As part of the SOIMA conference, delegates jointly mapped out their ten-year vision for audiovisual preservation and access. The session was visually captured by Visuality, a Brussels-based firm that specializes in ideation sessions. Below, we outline the vision and actions SOMIA initiates towards reaching this vision.

3. The ten-year Vision

Audiovisual materials will be as much a part of the future fabric of information as text based materials are today. As creation will continue to expand, archives will be storing and managing increasingly large collections of assets. Archives operate within a dynamic and multifaceted context. They will grow to become nodes in a network of communities along with other content providers and a variety of stakeholders from various industries ranging from education and research, creative industries (publishing, broadcasting, game industry), tourism, journalism and so on.

Recent studies indicate that by ~2025 analogue carriers will need to have been digitised. After that date it will be impossible to transfer the carriers, either due to technical obsolescence of the playback devices or due to the state of the physical carriers.

For many archives, managing born digital is already the norm, with analogue collections only growing through donations or acquisitions. So, the future of audiovisual archives is digital. Multiple formats will need to be supported, from the highest industry standards to emerging open video formats and wrappers. Content, in various formats, will continue to be managed through specialised asset management systems. Metadata will be fine-grained, allowing access at shot or scene level. Standards will be adopted to allow interchange between collections (RDF, SKOS, PID,, etc.) and to maintain a record of provenance or metadata records as content is distributed online. Navigation across the combination of semantic data and a diverse range of media types is essential.

In terms of the value chain of media consumption and production, the position of archives and roles of archive staff will evolve. Already today, we see the transformation of the traditional role of archivists/cataloguers. The future archivist plays a role as media manager; managing assets from their inception all the way through to distribution and long-term storage.

In sum, SOIMA envisions the future audiovisual archives to be smart, connected and open, using smart technologies to optimise workflows for annotation and content distribution. Collaborating with third parties to co-design and co-develop new technologies in order to manifest themselves as frontrunners rather than followers. Being connected to other sources of information (other collections, contextual sources), to a variety of often niche user communities, researchers and the creative industries. To embrace the use of standards defined by external instances rather than by the cultural heritage communities themselves. Fully embrace ‘open’ as the default to have maximum impact in society: applying open licences for content delivery, using open source software and open standards wherever possible. Promote open access to publications and so on.

4. Actions that turn the vision into reality

Asset management systems will need to be able to manage various streams of metadata; (1) metadata exported from production systems, (2) expert annotations (3) machine-generated metadata (4) crowdsourced annotations and other sources (5) knowledge extracted from secondary sources related to content.

With respect to ensuring long-term storage, archives need to make fundamental choices between storing content on servers they own, using cloud storage or opting for mixed models. Other choices relate to the type of storage media (tape, optical, solid state, hard drives) and adaptation of standardised working processes to endure digital durability.

The dynamics between the creative industries (producers, broadcasters, distributors) and archives will change. Archive staff and ‘creatives’ will be working more closely together than ever before. These result in ample opportunities, for instance playing a more proactive role in the production process and suggest topics for new programmes based on gems from the archive. This relates to the future role of archives as curators of vast materials of content. Filters need to be applied to provide meaningful access to vast collections. These files can be created by machines (recommender systems), by experts or by a smart combination of both.

Archives benefit from fostering a ‘culture of innovation’ — as a way to effectively manage ever-changing expectations of user groups, and at the same time make the most of new opportunities offered by technology. For this, it is essential for archives to have access to technical infrastructure that allows not only to manage digital assets but also to pursue contemporary objectives in line with user expectations. For instance, using new channels for content distribution, (e.g. YouTube, Instagram) to engage with new user groups; or using technologies (e.g. linked open data, natural language processing) to enrich and optimize work processes; or allow for creative ways to access collections. A ‘culture of innovation’ will also open possibilities to increase level of cooperation with academia, in areas ranging from digital humanities to computer science.

As a result of digitisation, archives and their users are sharing the same information space. To fully fulfil their potential, archives will ensure that their collections are available where users reside. A practical implication of this truism is that the role of the institutionally maintained access point such as a searchable catalogue should not be the only access point to the collections. On the web, content likes to travel and archives will embrace this fact. For instance, by providing API access to the catalogue and through the adaptation of machine-readable copyright labels to facilitate access. These preconditions make it possible for 3rd parties to ‘build upon’ online accessible collections. For example publishers that integrate resources in learning environments. Following this ‘liberalisation’, a new ecosystem emerges, showing that archives can focus their efforts on “super serving” niche communities such as filmmakers, media scholars and amateur historians.

The lawful foundation of archives differ from organisation to organisation. Some organisations are established by law as separate entities (legal deposits), others are part of larger organisations like museums, libraries, universities or broadcasters. In many cases, audiovisual collections are maintained by public bodies and in effect serve public missions, but not exclusively. Commercial footage libraries and other commercial entities (e.g.. search engines and video platforms) are also looking after growing bodies of audiovisual heritage, albeit with other primary motivations than providing access to gain knowledge or to support creative processes. Growing forces of importance are private archives, notably created by the billions of people carrying smart phones that allow for high quality multimedia recording. Personal archiving is starting to be addressed, but is still a huge area of research. Established archives are investigating to what extent they can help ensure long-term access to these collections. Many commercial players are active in this domain, from social networks to cloud storage providers. Given this context, it is key for ‘traditional’ archives to educate their constituents about the value they bring to society through securing the sharing of knowledge, a prerequisite for democracies to function. But also, perhaps more down to earth, to educate and entertain communities and individuals and to facilitate the exchange of ideas between various stakeholders.

Audiovisual archives are in a challenging position; operating as custodians of in-copyright works whilst also managing the public’s expectations in providing online access. Copyright rules need to be modified in order to allow memory organisations to provide access to their collections. A balance needs to be found between giving creators a remuneration for using their works and allowing the guardians of their works to provide access for various user groups. As a fundamental rule, content added to the public domain should stay in the public domain. Memory organisations should adopt an ‘open by default’ access policy, as to lead by example. Also, regulations should be in place to make it possible to provide access to commercially unviable (i.e. out-of-commerce) content. Also, modernisation of copyright regulations should look at Collective Licensing and into other ways that decrease the burden for obtaining copyright permissions. In respect to newly created material, creators should be encouraged to use Creative Commons licenses to foster a culture of innovation and creativity. For works commissioned by public institutions, the use of open licenses could be made compulsory.

Impact needs to be measurable and measured wherever and whenever possible, not only because archives are asked to be accountable for how resources are spent, but also to build solid business cases that will enable future investments, be it in services or supporting infrastructures. Following the Balanced Value Impact Model, we can distinguish between Internal, Innovation, Economic and Social Impact. Impact metrics also need to take into account new types of use. Already, material from archives is shared using open licenses, e.g. on platforms such as Wikipedia. Use on these 3rd platforms need to be monitored if possible or, alternatively, qualitative evidence needs to be gathered. Audio- and video fingerprinting can be used to track content usage over various platforms.

5. How SOIMA contributes to reaching the ten-year vision

SOIMA supports reaching the vision though several actions:

  • It will continue to foster a unique and powerful network of professionals around the globe. The network will grow through various actions. ICCROM continues to play a central role in coordinating activities of the network. Now and in the future, a strong emphasis will be placed on providing fit-for-purpose education and training and facilitate knowledge exchange. SOIMA will continue to be an inclusive community, reaching out to archives in developing countries and archives operating in better resourced contexts;
  • It will further promote the democratisation of access to audiovisual sources, highlighting that preservation and access are intertwined. Access should go (1) beyond expensive technology so that cost does not become a barrier (2) beyond particular communities so that people are engaging beyond traditional boundaries of identity and work-sphere (3) beyond the current geo-political schemata of privilege so that everyone’s heritage has a fair chance for preservation, storage and transmission;
  • It will engage practitioners, policy makers, researchers, private and the public through active online presence, organising events and participating in events organised by others;
  • It will work with relevant bodies (UNESCO, Europeana, DPLA, CCAAA, etc.) to raise awareness on the need for copyright reform towards legislators. In parallel, members in the SOIMA network will actively share the parts of collections they can make accessible online and create a portfolio of best practice that helps to support the awareness raising;
  • Next to copyright reform, SOIMA will support advocacy on other pressing issues such as the urgency of content migration, measures ensuring long-term access of digital objects, and archives’ environmental footprint. It will continue to highlight the economic impact of archives with the creative industries and society at large. It will develop and understanding of the opportunities public-private partnerships can bring;
  • It will study how technical advances such as 3D printing can overcome hardware obsolescence and how open standards in the area of audio and video encoding and storage can result in a vendor-neutral ecosystems for asset management. Given the different levels of resources available to the members of the SOIMA communities, solutions proposed by SOIMA need to be open, maintainable and affordable.

6. Monitoring Progress

Through conducting workshops across the globe, SOIMA has made an important contribution to empower archives. With the shared vision and the action plan, the network will continue to play an important role in empowering professionals as they are adopting their work processes and services in ever-changing contexts. The SOIMA website, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts will be used as platforms to report on progress. It is envisioned that the series of courses will be continued.

Next to this, ICCROM plans to organize a programme review meeting in 2016 with an aim to strengthen existing partnerships with institutions such as Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision, KIK-IRPA, National Archives of Brazil, AVPreserve, and NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program, develop a strategy to engage new partnerships and networks in order to promote multidisciplinary exchanges to safeguard sound and image heritage. The organization together with core partners will set new targets in order to monitor progress.

Annex — About the SOIMA 2015 Conference

The conference was based on the collective experience of ICCROM’s multi-partner programme on Sound and Image Collections Conservation (SOIMA), which organized five capacity building initiatives (four international and one regional) in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America during 2007–2014. Building on SOIMA’s global insights from bringing together 89 sound and image professionals from 55 countries to date, the 2015 conference made a strong case for looking beyond professional and institutional boundaries, actively listening to each other and sharing strategies to ensure a safe and creative tomorrow for sound and image heritage. SOIMA promotes the sound and image heritage held by diverse and lesser-known cultural and research institutions, as well as individual collectors.

The conference was divided in four themed tracks:

1. Memory, Intangible Heritage and Creative Expressions

Why is it important to safeguard sound and image content residing in cultural, research and individual collections? Submit your abstracts to highlight the diversity and richness of these collections. Through real examples, demonstrate how sounds and images help preserve the world’s intangible heritage (languages, music, traditions, knowledge, etc.) and promote social cohesion, justice and development.

2. Sustaining Sound and Image Heritage

Sound and image heritage is confronted with multiple threats that include deterioration, technological obsolescence, natural disasters and conflicts. In an overall environment of reduced funding, would it be possible to manage risks to this heritage? How to overcome perpetual backlogs both in documentation and digitization? How to ensure preservation of the digital content for the next 50 years? With ever-increasing pressure for providing wider access, how could we respect as well as manage intellectual and cultural rights? Which business practices could help? Submit your abstracts and share strategies that can help address common challenges.

3. Creative Use and Access

Sounds and images are outstandingly versatile and powerful in communicating messages, stories, truths, emotions and probably much more. With imaginative minds, the original sounds and images can be used in different ways or contribute to entirely new creations and purposes. Various cultural and creative industries have been coming up with novel uses and creations involving sound and image heritage. Share examples that represent innovation from diverse angles, which represent artistic, pedagogic or perhaps entertainment qualities. Which challenges were overcome during the creative process? What is the relevance of the creative outcome?

4. Education and Training: Current Needs and Future Possibilities

Multidisciplinary training opportunities for sound and image preservation and access are few and far between. Longer duration degree programmes exist, but mainly in Europe and North America. How to multiply professional training and offer it in different languages? Which skills and competencies are needed for meeting the challenge of a quickly disappearing heritage? Which modes of learning would be most effective? Share your ideas, experience and success stories with us.



Head of Research and Heritage Services Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Researcher at VU University.

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Johan Oomen

Head of Research and Heritage Services Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Researcher at VU University.