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Computerized National Film and Sound Archive of Australia Case Study

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Updated: May 9th, 2021

Introduction

Progress in technology development has a significant impact on nearly every sphere of life. During recent decades, technology came to serve the task of heritage preservation through the process of digital archiving. It is applicable to both digitalized and born-digital content (Van Malsen 71). Digitalization of audiovisual collections for preservation has certain benefits compared to physical storage. Thus, digitalized content is more available, which also expands the group of users (Bressan 12).

Also, original material can be fragile or heavy, and digitalized copies help to protect the original from possible harm in case of handling. Moreover, digitalization allows sharing of audiovisual resources among institutions and empowers the creation of digital collections (Bressan 12).

Different institutions apply a diversity of tools and strategies to preserve audiovisual materials. For example, the National Archives of Australia, which collects and preserves government records, and the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia both integrate Mediaflex as a tool for managing and preserving their assets (“National Archives of Australia”). This paper analyses the case of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) and its use of Mediaflex, a system that empowers the management of archived collections, both analog and digital.

Background

NFSA is a ‘living archive that possesses a collection of more than 2.3 million audiovisual resources (“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia”). These resources comprise all kinds of “film, television, radio, and recorded sound formats” and the related content such as “photographs, scripts, lobby cards, costumes and memorabilia” (“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia”). Although the heritage of audio and video content is just more than one century old, it prevails in the contemporary media environment. Thus, audiovisual archives, in addition to collection and storage, accomplish educational, cultural, and historical functions providing access to a variety of digital resources.

Objective

Contemporary audiovisual archives are usually concentrated on the preservation of resources for the future. This process is easier with present-day content, which is already digital. It should be mentioned that archives are significant for the contemporary digital culture because they preserve their products (Amenta 15). However, digitalization is applied to preserve fragile samples created with the use of analog technology.

For example, tape-recorded audio files are digitalized and thus make available using digital delivery (“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia”). At present, the objective of NFSA is to change the legacy collection management system that has been functioning for decades in favor of a more contemporary system Mediaflex. It is explained by the fact that the first system is more oriented towards analog content, while the second one has the potential to manage both digital and analog materials effectively. This shift to a new system was expected to simplify the collection and preservation of audiovisual materials as well as their distribution.

Moreover, it allows collecting diverse types of audiovisual materials and make them available to the audience. Therefore, the major goal the NFSA hoped to achieve was to apply a system that would allow managing the growing digital collection as well as meet the increasing demand for broader access to the audiovisual collection through digital tools.

Strategy

With the collection exceeding two million objects, the NFSA needed an effective system to manage its assets. The materials stored by the NFSA include a diversity of works such as “commercial release documentaries, feature films, and sound recordings; websites relevant to the audiovisual industry; newsreels and broadcasts; television and radio productions of all genres including advertisements” and many others (“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia”). All of the mentioned objects of the audiovisual industry context are of high cultural or historical value and interest.

The shift to a new system that implied digitalization was a continuous process. As the first part of the NSFA plan, the institution started collecting born-digital materials which had no analog copies. Another aspect of this stage was the initiation of the digitalization process of the NFSA’s own assets with the use of specially developed digitalization programs. This part of the plan allowed preserving the objects stored on unstable and fragile media such as tape. In the process of collection of objects in digital formats, the system applied by NFSA proved to be inefficient and unable to cope with the increasing digital collection (“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia”).

Thus, the second stage of the plan included the introduction of alternative systems able to manage the existing digital assets. Therefore, such systems as Digital Asset Management (DAM) and Media Asset Management (MAM) were considered by NFSA, and they proved to have the necessary capabilities for managing digital resources (“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia”). Still, the plan also included the collection of analog resources simultaneously with their digitalization.

It allowed creating unique databases and improving the availability of collections to anyone who is interested in audiovisual heritage. On the whole, the plan includes a gradual decrease in collecting analog items, digitalization of both existing and new analog materials, and rapid acquisition of digital audiovisual assets. However, despite the focus on digitalization, the NFSA paid much attention to preserving and taking care of the analog materials to ensure that in case their digital copies are lost, there would be an opportunity to make another copy.

Execution

The execution of the plan presupposed three major options. Thus, the NFSA intended to create a new system “from scratch” which would allow managing both analog and digital resources using the tools of one system. Secondly, the NFSA preserved the functioning system that it had been using for decades to manage analog assets. Simultaneously, the institution introduced a DAM/MAM system, which empowered the management of digital objects with their following integration of both systems to make them equally functional and effective. Finally, the NFSA came to reorganizing a DAM/MAM system to manage analog as well as digital items.

Speaking in more detail, the institution had a thoughtful approach to resolving the issue of managing both analog and digital assets. The analysis of the problem proved that building an absolutely new system could be too expensive and time-consuming.

Therefore, the NFSA concentrated on the other two points of the implementation plan. The study of systems available in the market led to a conclusion that some DAM/MAM products were affordable and could satisfy the need to manage both analog and digital objects (“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia”). Thus, the institution made a decision to acquire a DAM/MAM system for managing their archive.

Aftermarket testing, the use of MAM system for digital assets, and preservation of the existing system for analog ones with their further integration proved to be too complicated. Therefore, the only possible option for the NFSA was to acquire a new system for both types of audiovisual items. A tender was opened and, after some time, its winner got an opportunity to replace the system at the NFSA. TransMedia Dynamics (TMD), the company that won the tender, suggested applying one of the MAM products, Mediaflex.

Realizing the lack of the resources to digitize all-analog items of the NFSA and being aware of the necessity to preserve analog items and keep them available any time, TMD suggested developing a new design of Mediaflex for the NFSA to make it applicable for both digital and analog assets (“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia”). The NFSA accepted this approach and received an effective system to collect, preserve, and handle both types of audiovisual items. The new system was suitable for managing digital items and also addressed the necessity to handle analog items, which was frequently ignored in other systems. A peculiarity of Mediaflex was its employment of both physical and intellectual description of an item.

The system applies a multi-layer approach, which resembled the one used in the NFSA for analog resources. Moreover, this feature resulted in greater flexibility of Mediaflex, which was useful for the institution due to a diversity of items that needed preservation. It was particularly important for audiovisual content that had more than one version and allowed more rational storage.

Results

The implementation of Mediaflex as a system to manage archive items at the NFSA proved to be a successful solution, which led to the following results. First of all, the major outcome of the case is the acquisition of an effective system to collect, store, and manage archive audiovisual items by the NSFA. The fact that Mediaflex was adjusted to meet the needs of the NFSA made it suitable for work with all the diversity of items that were supposed to be archived (“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia”).

However, the new system was beneficial not only for the NFSA but for the country as a whole. Being a national heritage collecting institution, it acquires diverse information and has to process it. Therefore, a multi-functional system was a great contribution to the process of collecting and preserving all the significant items and allowed saving both material and human resources. Another result of Mediaflex implementation was the simplification of the loan procedure.

Thus, it became easier to provide the necessary materials to external clients due to more effective management of the loan process. In addition, the new system empowered the search engine provided by the NFSA. It is called Search the Collection and is similar to Google allowing the public to find the necessary materials (“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia”). Thus, Mediaflex simplified the import of data about collections to the search system and made the search results more relevant.

The major positive outcome of Mediaflex implementation was the digitization of workflows. Mediaflex supports DIVArchive, a hierarchical storage management product, which was integrated into the system used by the NFSA before (“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia”). The benefit of Mediaflex in this aspect is that it is applicable to all phases of the digital preservation process. These phases include extraction of the analog item from its permanent storage location, the creation of the preservation copy, and its placement in the Digital Repository. Finally, Mediaflex was adapted to provide support for “mass migration methodologies” (“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia”). It allowed the mass transformation of analog format items such as audio or videotapes to digital files.

Conclusion

On the whole, the issue of digital archiving is a complex one and implies well-developed technologies. The variety of tools and instruments suitable for digitalizing audiovisual items allow archiving institutions to choose those that correspond to their primary goals. The major challenge faced by the contemporary achieves the necessity to store a continuously increasing volume of assets as well as organize digitalization of the existing items to preserve them and make them available for broad audiences.

The case of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia is an example of a careful approach to the selection of a system able to meet the needs of the archive. Their experience proves that contemporary technology provides opportunities able to manage both analog and digital resources. Moreover, an effective system simplifies digitalizing processes as well as enhances access to the stored materials.

It is particularly important for such organizations as the NFSA because apart from its initial function to collect and preserve audiovisual materials significant for the country, they fulfill educational and cultural functions. Thus, archives need management systems that support all of those functions. The choice of the NFSA resulted in many benefits for the institution because it empowered the process of digitalization of analog items as well as organized collecting and preservation of digital assets. Therefore, the experience of the NFSA is applicable for other institutions fulfilling similar functions in archiving and preserving audiovisual items.

Works Cited

Amenta, Laura. Building a Future from the Past: The Sustainability of Digital Archiving Processes in Audio-Visual Cultural Heritage Organizations. Master Thesis, Utrecht University, 2014. UU, 2014.

Bressan, Federica. The Preservation of Sound Archives: A Computer Science Based Approach to Quality Control. Dissertation, University of Verona, 2013. UOV, 2013.

“National Archives of Australia Audiovisual Asset Management and Preservation System.” TransMedia Dynamics, n.d.. Web.

“National Film and Sound Archive of Australia Case Study.” TransMedia Dynamics, n.d. Web.

Van Malsen, Kara. Planning beyond Digitalization: Digital Preservation of Audiovisual Collections. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Computerized National Film and Sound Archive of Australia." May 9, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/computerized-national-film-and-sound-archive-of-australia/.

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