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Anna Krzeminska

Acquiring audiovisual materials and utilising them for science: the experience of the Polish State Archives

The national archives network in Poland includes 30 territorial state archives (along with their branch offices) and 3 central archives. Each of them stores archival materials that can be classified as audio-visual.

There are approx. 14,818,000 inventory units of such materials collected in them, which are made up of photographs, films and sound recordings. Photographs absolutely predominate in this group in terms of quantity (99%). One of the archives – the National Digital Archives (whose name was the Archives of Audio-Visual Records until recently) is particularly predestined to keep audio-visual materials and its resources include almost 14 million photographs, 30 thousand photos and 2.4 thousand films, which are over 94% of all the audio-visual materials in state archives.

Polish state archives acquire audio-visual materials from various sources. First of all, they receive them from institutions that produce materials of this type, qualified for perpetual preservation, in the course of their activity. In addition, the audio-visual materials find their way into the archives as gifts from private individuals or through purchasing.

The biggest and most important producers of audio-visual materials are two institutions: radio and television. Not all the radio and TV stations that operate throughout Poland are subject to the archival supervision, and thus obliged to ensure particular protection for the documentation they produce. Only the joint-stock companies, i.e. Polish Radio and Polish TV as well as regional radio and TV broadcasting stations, or so-called public media, are obliged to do so. However, by virtue of particular legal articles and special contracts of lending for use, these units can store their audio-visual materials in their own in-house archives. It results in the situation that such materials are not recognised in the state archives record. This significantly affects the amount of audio-visual materials in the historical archives and the universality of their availability for users, as the access to audio-visual materials in the in-house archives is subject to particular regulations, while the state archives make their resources available on a general basis (in accordance with the Act on national archival resource and archives: “The archival materials are made available to the organisational units and citizens for  scientific, cultural, technological and economic needs. Making archival materials available for the aforementioned needs is free of charge”, Art. 16, item 1).

To a large extent, the producers of audio-visual materials are also cultural institutions, in particular theatres, operas and philharmonic orchestras that immortalise their performances and concerts on film, as well as the community centres, museums, galleries. In addition, audio-visual materials are produced by the publishing houses issuing newspapers and magazines, centres of documentation, authorities of the national and landscape parks, design offices, schools, government and self-government administration offices in the form of recordings of collegial bodies’ sessions, as well as promotional materials of cities, towns, regions and events of any type. Recordings of court sittings should be regarded as a special type of audio-visual materials. According to the Minister of Justice they are to be obligatory and, upon archiving, used during the possible disciplinary proceedings.

In addition, audio-visual materials have been produced, which should be regarded as rather specific practice, in enterprises and industrial plants. The subject matter of such materials includes both the production activity and social life of workers (accounts of joint recreational trips, collective activities for the social good – so-called community actions, participation in the state and plant celebrations and ceremonies). A significant amount of audio-visual materials was also produced in connection with the activity of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR). These are materials of particular importance for Polish history in the second half of the 20th century.

Generally, the creators of audio-visual documentation in Poland can be divided into three main groups: 1) entities that produce mechanical documentation within their statutory and professional activity; 2) institutions in the cultural, educational and scientific field; and 3) business entities.

The diversity of the institutions that produce audio-visual materials makes their subject matter multifaceted and, in consequence, useful and usable in science.

However, on account of the speed of the development of the technology surrounding sound and motion picture, archives contend with numerous problems related to the protection of audio-visual collections and the possibilities of making them available. Therefore, their use for science is not as common as for other types of documentation, such as file, geodetic or cartographic.

Audio-visual materials are special information media, especially with reference to films, where we deal with the dynamic picture in combination with the words uttered. Their scientific value is undeniable. Science can be defined as searching, for something new too, acquisition of new knowledge and skills. However, to make new discoveries one should learn about what is already known in the specific field. This knowledge can be drawn from observing the reality surrounding us , but the genuine scientist always refers to sources. And the sources are collected in archives. Audio-visual materials are sources, which include information on various fields of knowledge and hence their use for science can be very wide. To the largest extent, they serve humanities and transfer knowledge about the past in different aspects (political, economic), social relationships, culture, art, tradition. The illustrations of any aspects of everyday life, and also visual or audio recordings of important political events, are of key significance.

The utility of audio-visual materials for science is equally great. Thanks to the practice of making such materials, which was common in Polish manufacturing plants, we have now unique photos or films, which present manufacturing devices and processes. The description in the form of file documentation itself does not fully reflect the effect that can be seen in a photo or film. The preserved materials related to non-implemented improvement schemes can plant the seed for  further research and experiments for the scientists, thus leading to new discoveries and inventions.

In Poland, the industrial plants were operating in different lines of business. These were plants active in the heavy (steelworks), light (textiles), mining (coalmines), armaments, shipbuilding, and farm and food industry. Hence, the quality of the audio-visual materials that have been left, may affect the researching potential in various scientific disciplines, especially those that serve the society in the field of consumer production (e.g. the recorded beer manufacturing processes in Radom brewery – J. Saski i S-ka. Steam Brewery in Radom, or the pictures of functional articles, e.g. torches, being modernising in the successive production series.

The audio-visual materials gathered in the Polish archives may also be used for research in the field of biological sciences. With fast progressing environmental degradation, recording the ecosystems and unique natural phenomena allows the extent of this destruction to be assessed and optimum environmental protection methods to be developed, as well as the list of species that are threatened with extinction due to their sparser and sparser occurrence to be created. Recording the picture of fauna and flora may be helpful when observing the occurrence of possible mutations and changes.

 Audio-visual materials may also serve medical sciences, e.g. for recording the operations carried out. To a large extent, they document the technical progress and are thus a valuable source for scientific research.

In the context of audio-visual materials, the carrier the picture or sound has been recorded on is also of  immense significance for science. This element is one of the criteria for the assessment of the value of documentation to be subject to perpetual preservation. This allows observing the development of audio-visual technologies, picture and sound recording techniques and the frequency of changes in this field.

Large amounts of audio-visual materials produced in various institutions resulted in the necessity of working out the rules of selection. One of the criteria, the realisation one, relates to the type of carrier, technical means of expression, and interpretative features of sound and picture. The other criterion concerns the content-related value, which means the assessment of thr value of the content and form. In this case, historical and programme-related aspects are taken into account, i.e. the assessment of the document for its importance as the material for or component of radio and TV programmes. As regards the assessment of the value of audio-visual materials, Polish archive law says that such documents should be assessed for their authenticity, uniqueness and representativeness; moreover, the repeating sequences, being the school and instructional programmes (until the time of their usefulness) should not be preserved unless they are of historical importance.

The increase in audio-visual materials and their great value as a source and scientific materials have caused the Polish archives to take new actions to provide as good a protection of this source as is possible and create the optimum possibilities for using them for science, as the range of their users is still expanding. Although the biggest group of users still includes researches in the field of humane and social sciences, the archives are more and more frequently visited by the researchers and practitioners of other professions. These are, among others, architects and building designers for whom audio-visual materials may be of great significance as they show the appearance of facilities to be rebuilt or restored in an explicit, visual manner. The most frequent form of making audio-visual materials available in state archives is their presentation to disseminate knowledge of the past in its various aspects through publications, press articles and the art of exhibition – which concerns photographic materials – and more and more frequently through films and on-line presentations of collections. The Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act, which covers the protection of the author’s personal rights, exclusive right to dispose of the work, royalty for making use of the work, represents certain limitations with reference to making photographs, films and records available. However, the archives try to serve the wide audience and thus create its image as the institutions, which serve the future by preserving the evidences of the past and influence the development of science and all the aspects of human life with their collections.