Do we need a project like
PrestoSpace is a Cultural Heritage project financed by the European Commission
through the Sixth Framework programme; its major objective is to develop an
integrated solution that will permit any kind of audiovisual archive to face
preservation and digitisation programmes. The audiovisual archives (which in
their widest definition include broadcast organisations, film corporations,
libraries, museums, research institutions and corporate archives) represent an
overwhelming volume of material estimated as 100 million hours of audio, video
and film, only for Europe. This article presents the problems and implications
for our present and future.
Keeping the testimonies of our past
The concept of library is one of the most ancient ones. Since writing exists,
knowledge has been inscribed in books, and books have been kept in libraries in
order to protect them and to make them accessible. It may well be the Great
Library of Alexandria that was burnt in AD 272, the Bibliothèque Nationale in
Paris, or just the library around the corner; the concept is always the same. The
differences are in the size of the collection, the conservation scopes and who
may access the books. Some libraries tend to be exhaustive, trying to keep all the
published books, such as the national libraries of many countries. Others are
extremely partial, keeping only the published items within a certain domain.
An archive is a collection of records, documents, books but also other contents
or even objects, handwriting, administrative papers, letters, anything that may
represent human activity and be considered by somebody or by some institution
as being worth keeping.1 Documents in an archive are generally unpublished
records, as distinct from libraries (that keep books) and museums (that keep
collections of objects).
The twentieth century brought a new kind of object to be preserved, which were
recordings of captured sounds and images and were called audiovisual objects.
Our senses were unable to decode them directly, an intermediate system was
needed to access the contents. To make things worse, the media on which this
information was recorded was often (and still is) fragile, conceived for
production with no durability scope.2 The production activity (mainly associated
Cameraman Timo de Wit (VARA) heeft de camera op een groentekist geplaatst om een laag shot
mogelijk te maken, 18-12-1951
[collectie: Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid]
1 The concept of what is important to keep has evidently evolved with time. The tendency is to keep more
and more information concerning human activity, as you may not be capable today to evaluate the
importance of what you are keeping and time may add unexpected value to your belongings. This concept
is applicable also to collections; people collect anything as long as the collection is exhaustive and large
(pieces of metal from Champagne corks, match-boxes, telephone cards, etc.).
2 In fact, paper was not conceived either to last but just to record information. It proved to be a very durable
material, as well as ink, and this permitted the existence of libraries and archives.