Archive for the 'Archiving' Category


My short internship at a regional av-archive: experiences and lessons-learned

A few months ago, I decided I didn’t know enough about the day-to-day practice of the various departments of an audiovisual archive. This might sound strange, since I work at the Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision and know the organisation very well after 3.5 years. Of course, due to all the experience I’ve gathered at the wonderful R&D department of Sound and Vision I have a pretty good idea of the general paths of the digital archive life cycle and a lot of knowledge about innovation in the heritage field, but hands-on experience is something I found myself lacking. Secondly, since Summer 2012 I have had the pleasure to work closely with regional archives for the first time in the Amateurfilm Platform project, in which Sound and Vision has teamed up with the Gronings AudioVisueel Archief (GAVA), the Rotterdam City Archives and Limburgs Museum Venlo to make amateur film available online and save vulnerable tapes from the video era (1980s-2000s). This made me curious about the differences and shared practices between regional archives and a national, large-scale archive like Sound and Vision. Harry Romijn – GAVA curator and deputy director of the Groninger State Archives – kindly offered me to join my regional colleagues in the north of the Netherlands for a week to show me the ropes and I jumped at the opportunity. Last March, I travelled to Groningen and was welcomed by GAVA’s wonderful team (Harry, René, Sebastiaan, Gert and Marij). Hereby an overview of my experiences and lessons-learned of a week in a regional archives.

Day 1: copyright affects big and small heritage organisations equally (and it ain’t good)

On my first day, I got to dive right in and got a tour through the cold storage vault that contained – among many other things – materials belonging to the Poparchief Groningen. This archive harbours a vast array of musical history of Groningen, such as awesomely designed ‘80 demo cassettes, concert posters and photos of local bands. Almost immediately we talked about the eternal “what about the copyrights” question all archives and heritage organisations have to deal with: what if the Groninger Archieven wants to make the hours and hours of music in the Poparchief available online? Do they have to clear the rights with bands themselves, or (partly) with collective management organisations (CMOs)? The latter will most likely not come cheap, but also it probably doesn’t make sense to do this, because many regional bands are not members of CMO and are thus not represented and compensated through them. Approaching bands directly and asking for permission seems to be the most direct, but also most time-consuming solution. Extrapolated to the entire archival holdings of GAVA, clearing copyrights to show them online will simply never be viable with the current copyright system, which still is vastly unusable for the digital domain and without clear online exemptions for cultural heritage organisations.

Day 2: handling film, improving a MAM and the local cultural scene

On day two I had the pleasure of meeting Hay Janssen of Janssen Film & Audio Services, who came to fix a Steenbeck film table (Janssen also build Steenbecks).

Friendly Steenbeck

Friendly Steenbeck

I also got to view some awesome 8mm films donated to GAVA by the widow of a prolific local amateur filmmaker, and use a splicer to attach fresh blank leader. After this, the GAVAs media asset management supplier De Ree came to discuss improvements and additions to the system (MAIS Flexis). It provided great insight in what it takes to manage a collection as diverse as GAVA’s (photos, paper, audio, video, film, etc) in one system and the requirements to make sure everything can be described and accessed as efficiently as possible. I was surprised how easy it can be to request these improvements and how open De Ree is to these suggestions, not at all as difficult and bureaucratic as I expected; just a good hour-long meeting in which many things were taken on board. In the evening I was treated to a great and inspiring ForumMediaClub evening at the cultural center ForumImages by GAVAs René Duursma.

Day 3 and 4: cleaning up the database, and the vast difference between amateur video and film

On Thursday,  the diversity of topics and practical experience gained continued. I first cleaned up a part of the controlled term list used to describe the PopArchief, which was followed by comparing GAVA’s contract with the one Sound and Vision uses for donations of collections by amateur filmmakers. In the afternoon, I viewed and registered Video8 films contributed by the public at the 2012 Home Movie Day GAVA organised within the scope of the Amateur Film Platform project. The Video8 films I viewed were contributed by a woman from Hoogkerk, and contains a wide array of footage from the 1990s to the 2000s, ranging from a motor cross competition in Hoogkerk, a 30-year work anniversary and a trip to Dutch amusement park Efteling.

Hours and hours of Video8

Hours and hours of Video8


Besides videos, I had the opportunity to view films recently brought in and not yet digitised from the ‘30s-’50s. This was stunning material, featuring a stop-motion animation in colour from 1949 to footage secretly filmed by the maker during WOII. I continued this work (registering video, viewing film) on my last day, which flew by.

René checking the beautiful 1949 stop-motion film

René checking the beautiful 1949 stop-motion film

Lessons learned: bigger is certainly not better, and the importance of local knowledge

All in all, I had a tremendous time and I can’t thank all the GAVA crew enough for showing me so much in only four days. I really got to experience all facets of the work and activities of a regional audiovisual archive and how they differ from a national archive like Sound and Vision. For instance, due to more modest budgets, GAVA are much more creative and flexible when it comes to digitising film and video. If amateur filmmakers or their heirs bring in footage, they are asked if they might be able to pay for part of the digitisation costs, so the process can be expedited. Another solution to saving costs is to digitise B-collection film and video to a lower (but still quite high!) resolution than the A-collection material to save on storage. My main lesson however was that although Sound and Vision is one of the biggest and professional archives in Europe, the regional archive have such a broad and deep knowledge of their history, that they are vastly better equipped to describe and understand amateur film and video. Whereas I could see the general interest of a film (period, stock used, quality of the shots), the GAVA staff knew exactly what they were looking at – streets, buildings, people, local car number plates. All in all, I couldn’t have been at a better place to get the hands-on expierence of the day-to-day working of an audiovisual archive, and insight in the differences between a regional and national archive.


My year in texts – part 1

For the last 8 years, I’ve been archiving most of my text messages since I’m too lazy to keep a diary and this has proven to be a worthy substitute.* I do this by typing the texts over from my phone in an Excel document. I’m sure there are better ways, but this manual labour has one important benefit – I learn the texts almost by heart and it makes it easier for me to  remember the bigger and smaller events in my life.

This year I want to do some actual text data crunching. So for the whole of 2010 I’ve been meticulously typing out all of my received texts, the date it was sent, who sent it, and in which order the texts got to me each day, so I can order them cronologically. Now, there are flaws of course. I could have for instance used an official time-stamp structure (since the time texts are sent can be important contextual information). Maybe next year. Also, I haven’t categorised the people who sent them (e.g. friends, family, colleagues) or the nature of the texts themselves (e.g. informative, love, absolute bollocks). And the final flaw is that I do not archive the texts I send out. For a complete archive, this would of course be best, but it would be impractical to do this, and also like I mentioned before, I’m lazy.

Coming January, I want to make an overview of:

  • The number of texts received in total, and the busiest months / days / weeks
  • The number of texts received per person
  • The average / median / mode of the length of the texts, also per person
  • Then, I want to see if I can draw some conclusions about my personal relations based on all this data.

I’ve now archived all my received texts up to 7 December 2010: 1,228 in total. This is not a very large number compared to the slew of texts sent by teenagers of course, which in the U.S. averages to 3,339 a month according to a recent article on Mashable [1]. However, compared to European [2] stats I seem to be pretty much in the top scale, and also quite Irish.

Admittedly, these are stats of texts sent, not received. However, I have a subscription for 100 texts a month which I slightly exceed each time, so the amount I receive will most likely be similar to what I send.

Ok, the number crunching will start in the coming two weeks or so. Any things I need to add to the bullet points above, like text categories or topics? Let me know, and I’ll consider it :-).



* Also, it demonstrates my obsessive-compulsive data-hoarding archive-loving nature, but let’s not get into that.


Setting up our digital family archive – part 1

This weekend, I met up with some members of my family (my dad’s side) to do something we’ve been talking about for year: digitising and structuring our family archive. We started talking about how to set up this digital archive, and decided to at least create various databases with information:

– Pictures

– Documents (from the archive itself, such as passports, drivers licenses, etc)

– People (one entry per person, taken from the already existing database)

– External information (newspaper clippings, family recipes, etc)

– Locations (important places where family members lived or have moved to)

– Entities (such as the company my grandfather worked for, the family preserves factory)

We talked about how to organise all this information, how to link it to each other, and how to involve other people from the family collect stories and annotations on things that we don’t know. More research is needed, but it’s an exciting prospect to actually create a very specific community in order to ‘crowdsource’ information, and we hope to get more and more people involved from other branches of the family that we don’t know that well. Who knows what might turn up!

After determining this crude set-up and the various metadata fields needed per database entry we selected a first set of pictures and documents that we would scan first. We felt this first batch should contain at least those pictures and documents that mean a lot to many family members

My family is very active in preserving its history already. We have done extensive research on our family tree and there is even a wonderful publication that contains written accounts of our family history, in which the various interesting characters and stories are collected, together with pictures and documents. However, there are literally crates of pictures, drawings, written stories, love letters from my grandparents, and the booklets made for their funerals, just to give some examples.

And while going through these remnants of my family’s past I realised why it is so important to undertake such a time-consuming task. I found my father’s hand-written speech he gave at my grandfather’s funeral. There were pictures of my grandparents in their younger years. Drawings of me that revealed my love and obsession with biology from a very young age. Accounts of my grandfather’s friends who wrote stories about his character when he was slipping away in the darkness of dementia. Pictures of all the grandchildren growing up through the years. These were just some documents and pictures that already brought back a flood of memories and emotions.

It just goes to show how much you can learn about your background and history, but also about what connects us all as humans: people and events shape us in ways we tend to forget or that are just latently present in our conscience. The ‘evidence’ which is left behind can be a powerful trigger needed to reflect on just what brought you here, wherever that is.


Haroun and the Sea of Stories – Salman Rushdie (1990)

I recently finished reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (1990). The book is about Haroun and his father, the famous storyteller Rashid Khalifa, who set out to save the ‘Sea of Stories’. I won’t spoil the plot, but one part of the book stuck in my head. Since it so beautifully captures what I feel is one of the most important essences of archives, namely, the wealth of stories that are waiting to be found, I’m going to post it in full.

“[Haroun] looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead, but alive.”

Go on and read it, it’s beautiful.

Link to the book Open Library


My MA thesis – Barbarians versus Gatekeepers?

So, I’ve finally gotten around to posting my thesis “Barbarians versus gatekeepers? Tagging as a way of defining the emergent Living Archive paradigm”. The focus of  my thesis lies on archives that have audiovisual collections, since it was written at the final requirement needed to complete the Master Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image at the University of Amsterdam. However, I do think that the findings presented in the thesis also touch on the theory and practice of many other cultural heritage institutions. I’ve posted the summary below, and here you can find the link to a PDF version of the whole thesis. Many others know much more about the subjects covered, and have written more eloquently about tagging, and about the shifts in archive theory due to the rise of the Web 2.0 / online social media environment, but hey, I’m still pretty proud of it :).

Continue reading ‘My MA thesis – Barbarians versus Gatekeepers?’


MA Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image

I spent the last 1,5 years studying in the wonderful Master programme Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image at the University of Amsterdam. Almost done, just some final small touches to do on my thesis on the effects of crowdsourcing on archive theory. Tonight, I advised some prospective students about the programme, what it entails and what opportunities it gives you. It’s safe to say I had an amazing time and met the most wonderful people and cannot imagine work in ‘the field’ without a sound theoretical background. When I finish my thesis, I’ll post it here, now I just felt like gushing about how great the programme has been.

Also, since this blog has very fast turned into a very weird mix of thoughts on archiving and new media on the one hand and my daily goings-on on the other (not mutually exclusive of course), here’s a song I’ve been playing over and over again the last few days: Modern Drift by the Danish band Efterklang. I have had the great fortune to see them live twice, and it’s a shame and a beautiful thing at the same time that they are not more famous. A lot of love for these guys.


The value of authenticity

I recently wrote a post called Information Ageism. In it, I discussed the importance of providing context for archival materials. This activity might just be a key aspect for archives, since it further enhances their status as knowledge institutions and it enriches their collections. Also, since archival professionals are so familiar with their collections, they have the authority and expertise to provide context that is relevant. Now, authority is a huge subject and also very debatable in the light of many interesting crowdsourcing projects (which I will talk about more in the future). Regardless, archives do still have important in-house expertise that is of great value. This cannot be ignored or put aside. Related to this is the topic of authenticity. Archives work hard to make sure that their holdings are authentic, and that they are organised and presented in authentic ways.

Continue reading ‘The value of authenticity’

Living archive


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