Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Safeguarding of the Audio Heritage

Another journal article:

IASA Technical Committee. Standards, Recommended Practices and Strategies. IASA-TC-03. "The Safeguarding of the Audio Heritage: Ethics, Principles and Preservation Strategy," Version 2, September 2001. A revision of IASA TC-03, issued in February 1997

IASA stands for the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives and was created in the late 1960s as an organization for archives that house audio and audiovisual materials. Its activities include the exchange of information among archives and functions as a forum for cooperative efforts in the preservation of the world's audiovisual heritage. The Technical Committee of IASA deals with "all technical aspects of recording, storage and reproduction, including new recording,
transfer and storage technologies."

In 2001, it released the second version of a document called "The Safeguarding of the Audio Heritage: Ethics, Principles, and Preservation Strategy" (http://www.iasa-web.org/iasa0013.htm) which addresses the principles behind which this work is done, the care that should be taken with sound material as original documents, and ways to create realistic and manageable practices that are consistent with the archive.

The paper begins with a quick overview of the field and the terms in common usage in the sound archives field. It makes a concrete distinction between the intellectual works or content embedded on media, the physical media itself (disc, tape, or cylinder), and the equipment used for playback. One of the principal values of the field is fidelity of the original source recording. It is important in the transfer of material to achieve the best quality signal from the original source recording. To do that, one needs well-functioning equipment--not an easy task to find when you are dealing in obsolete formats, such as lacquer discs, commercial 78s, or wax cylinders. During and after the transfer, the archives' role is to preserve the original document, whether it is its content or its carrier. For that reason, no signal processing such as equalization or noise reduction should be performed during the preservation process. (Obviously, greater clarity can result in the use of these processes, but they should only be done afterwards for access copies).

The Committee makes recommendation on the digital side of the transfer as well. Having a high-quality analog-to-digital converter is crucial to transferring recordings into the digital domain. The archives should have a forward-looking philosophy towards sampling rates and word length (recommended: 24K bit depth, 96 kHz sampling rate), because future technologies could allow for greater fidelity in playback and editing. A lossless file format is preferred, and the current standard is either the .WAV or the .BWF Wave formats. Quality control of the digital products is crucial for long-term preservation and access. It is usually only economical to transfer a recording once, and multiple playback degrades analog tapes and discs.

Institutions should commit to long-term mass data storage and the incorporation of metadata with, or linked to the objects they describe. The consensus is that there is no one permanent answer. What is needed is a long-term strategy of migration and reformatting as the way to preserve and maintain the sound content of audio archives.

For smaller archives, work should be done by priority of the needs of the degrading medium: lacquer discs, acetate magnetic tape, cylinders, etc. What this document does not say is that access is often the priority of information organizations like libraries and archives. Reformatting of popular materials might justify a balance of these priorities.


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