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Adam Cieslak

Creation of audiovisual materials - a new function of science archives?

Although in Europe there has been a long-lasting tradition of collecting oral accounts of the past and interviewing famous and outstanding persons who witnessed important historical events, many historians still question the credibility and value of such sources. Many scientific centres, associations, libraries or archives preserve such materials; moreover, they enlarge their collections and improve methods of browsing through catalogues. Among the most important one should mention the Oral History Society, National Libraries in Great Britain and Canada, Library of Congress in the USA and many other institutions. The problem of professional preservation of such materials as well as of the increasing number of celluloid film materials and magnetic records was debated by the UNESCO already in 1980. The key output of an international conference was the conclusion that it is absolutely necessary to carry out research in order to determine the quantity of such materials as well as to work out standards of recording procedures and of their preservation by conservation or possible changes of carriers. The theses were repeated and developed during the European Conference on the Protection of the Audiovisual Heritage in 2001. Established in 2000, the Coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archive Associations (CCCAAA) is responsible for the implementation of the methods and ideas. There has been a considerable increase in the interest in audiovisual materials in archives, which seems to be quite understandable in the days of a computerized society based mostly on mass media.

It has become an ambition of all scientific archives to store complex archive materials reflecting the history and activities of a given institution. They are gathered in accordance with standard procedures related to filing and archiving documents produced in particular units and they are supplemented with other materials that may enrich the collection. To this group belong first of all private papers of eminent scholars active in a given institution, photos, video recordings or press cuttings, posters, leaflets, fliers, etc.

It is a surprising fact that in the Archives of the Jagiellonian University, which was founded in 1364 and is the oldest university in Poland, there is only a small group of audiovisual materials. The group consists mostly of photos (ca. 15,000 items) and of a collection of audio tapes and video recordings (only several dozens of items), the majority of which are TV programmes related to the history of the Jagiellonian University, and one 16 mm celluloid film recorded in 1964. Unfortunately, a prolonged lack of cooperation between particular units responsible for the University’s image and the years of neglect resulted in the lack of documents related to the most important events in the life of the University. It appeared that only few items of such materials belong to the Polish TV and to private persons, but they are hardly available for legal reasons.

In order to make up, at least partly, for the loss, the Jagiellonian University Archives established the Audiovisual Documentation Division (ADD). The aims of the division are as follows:

    * to make efforts to complete the collection of audiovisual materials and to prepare an adequate description of the already gathered materials as well as to digitalise it;
    * to complete the project aiming at interviewing the most eminent and distinguished professors of the University and people who participated in the events important to the history of the University ;
    * to record and file the information related to the most important events from the University life (e.g. inaugurations of academic years, honorary doctorates ceremonies, awards, etc.);
    * to collect audiovisual materials connected with given project and, in order to fulfil the educational function of the Archives, to create documentary films in collaboration with TV producers.

The Audiovisual Documentation Division is equipped with modern professional vision and sound equipment, which enables making and editing films, as well as with computers to store and digitalise the data. It appeared necessary to purchase reel-to-reel tape-recorders.

Despite its short existence, the ADD has already some achievements to its credit. It was possible to find a rich collection of recordings of the “Alma” students radio, a broadcast station active in the 1970s in the University and voicing quite independent opinions in the day of socialist censorship. Among other valuable findings one should mention documents related to the Jagiellonian Library’s move to its new building in 1934, recordings from the ceremony during which Pope John II was awarded Honorary Doctorate of the Jagiellonian University in 1983, or Lech Walesa’s visit in 1989. The whole collection, small until the ADD was founded, is going to be re-recorded on electronic carriers.

A very important long-term project is being carried out. It is related to historical documentation based on interviewing distinguished members of the university staff. They give an account of their work at the University, their scientific achievements and their participation in significant events. A list of such eminent persons has been made. It reflects a sort of “a battle against time”, since the age of many of them may create unfavourable conditions for interviews. The recording procedures are similar to TV interviews, yet the interviewed person has no limit of time. The exactness and precision is not a basic requirement either. Therefore, such talks are frequently merged with personal opinions illustrating the given person’s attitude towards life. This creates considerable and unpredictable difficulties in describing the audiovisual material. The whole collection is catalogued using FOPAR Polish standard based on ISAD(G), in a new form with adequately enlarged spaces.

1. Identification module.

2. Provenience module.

3. Content and characteristic module.

4. Formal and technical description module.

5. Availability module.

6. Complementary description and information data module.

7. Key words module.

8. Remarks and bibliography module.

The above description is more precise than those applied in libraries and archives, where the so-called oral history materials are held. It is similar to the descriptions of audiovisual materials in television archives or institutions whose only aim is to collect such materials. Since the collection of the Jagiellonian University Archives is relatively small, it seems unnecessary to divide it into sounds recordings, film recordings and video recordings.

The difficulty in describing lies in the necessity of comprising much information about the recording, including technical details. It is also essential to identify the person whose performance is being archived in relation to other accumulated archival sets and especially private documents. The procedure adopted in the identification module requires marking a given interview or a given event with its individual reference number. It is also necessary to determine the date of the recording and its title given earlier by its authors or, if there is no title, to provide it with one.

What is most important for the user is the content and characteristic module. It is crucial to determine the type of relation, which in some cases may be difficult. We may deal with interviews, official speeches, debates, edited reports or just simple recordings of reminiscences, etc. The content module is vital for those who want to use the interview for scientific purposes. Even if the topic of conversation is predetermined, during the talk a given person may pick up different threads, not necessarily connected with the main subject.  That is why it is decided that the content space must be precisely copied directly from the recording, so that later it should be easy to browse though it looking for specific information. Thus, this space should comprise all titles, events, proper names, geographical names and chronological references accompanied with the so-called time code or a given minute of the sound recording. The system of key words used in other archives was found inadequate, due to the lack of standard procedures.

The formal and technical description module states whether the recording is an original version or a copy, which is especially important in case of materials recorded not by our staff. It should be remembered that an original version located in some other place in the archives is definitely of higher quality and preserving additional copies is reasonable only if nothing is known about the original version.

Important information is also included in the availability module. It should include all data concerning the legal status of the recording, especially copyrights, usability and availability.

Proper standard archive procedures – as described above - applied to the collected materials require a thorough review of the whole collection and this creates an opportunity to re-record it on digital carriers. Audiovisual materials, if they are original, are saved on digital magnetic tapes and on hard discs, and additionally on DVDs specially prepared for that purpose. In case of materials with sound recording the first carrier is an original tape on which the recording was made. It is decided that interference in the manner or the content of the recording is not allowed. It means that archive materials should not be subject to any montage procedures. Neither should they be shortened nor their technical parameters (such as quality or saturation) be changed. Minor corrections are made exclusively on copies. If sound recordings are of low quality, it is necessary to apply special software to have it improved enough to hear through.

The Jagiellonian University Archives decided to prevent the creation of gaps in the audiovisual documentation by using its equipment to record all the most important events from the history of the University. This policy was adopted as a necessary precaution. The task of documenting university events should have been fulfilled by e.g. students of journalism or related fields of study. One should not expect from archivists to be experts on recordings. Here appears another question: to what degree can an archivist create archive materials, subjectively assess what is worth saving and what is not, or what is worth our attention at all?

I believe that especially an archivist active in a scientific institution, collaborating with scientists, the archive material users, should have a wide vision of what may be of value, and especially should pay attention to the possibility of completing the documentation weakly represented in the collection. The conviction about historical value of the audiovisual materials is strengthened during their recordings, when an interview brings opinions, information about events that are not included in historical papers or works, and particularly when a special atmosphere of the past days can be evoked.

Together with the establishment of the ADD the Archives seized the opportunity to promote the history of the Jagiellonian University and people related to it. This led to launching scientific research projects. One of them aimed at presenting the Jagiellonian University graduate and an eminent pharmacist who made a remarkable discovery, which was Valium – a drug used worldwide. Another project aimed to show the activities of Institut für Deutsche Ostarbeit, which functioned as a replacement for the University closed during the World War II. After the war part of the collection was moved to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and many years later returned to Krakow, provoking heated discussions. It was also possible to gather documents and reports of witnesses related to the student years of Pope John Paul II, who studied philology and theology at the Jagiellonian University. A number of interviews were recorded in order to document information related to the first inauguration of the University activities after the war (March 1945) and to the students demonstration that took place in Krakow in March 1968. All these subjects together with the gathered audiovisual materials offer an opportunity to make documentary films based on them. Some of them have already been produced in collaboration of the Jagiellonian University Archives with TV channels and also on the initiative of the Archives staff.




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