The Challenge of Archiving Sound + Vision in the 21st Century

Where is the wis­dom we have lost in knowl­edge?

Where is the knowl­edge we have lost in infor­ma­tion?

So won­ders T.S. Eliot’s cho­rus in a pageant play he once helped write in 1934. Nev­er one to let moder­ni­ty tram­ple glee­ful­ly over tra­di­tion, Eliot asks us to consider—long before it seemed necessary—what the sea of infor­ma­tion we now swim in might be worth with­out good maps to guide us and wise nav­i­ga­tors to chart out the course. We live in a time in which every­thing can be cat­a­logued, pre­served, backed up, and made open and search­able. This is a won­der­ful thing. But Will Pren­tice, Audio Engi­neer and Con­ser­va­tion Spe­cial­ist at the British Library’s Sound and Vision Divi­sion, points out a spe­cial prob­lem with archiv­ing in the dig­i­tal age. Echo­ing Eliot, Pren­tice says in the short film above, pro­duced by British music mag­a­zine The Wire:

The 20th cen­tu­ry was about audio­vi­su­al mate­r­i­al, our mem­o­ry of the 20th cen­tu­ry is heav­i­ly audio­vi­su­al, but our sense of the 21st cen­tu­ry is going to be a dif­fer­ent kind of audio­vi­su­al… archiv­ing is not going to be so much about what we can bring in, but about what to exclude.

As much as we mod­erns hate the idea of dis­crim­i­na­tion in any form, when it comes to media, past and present, it’s often a nec­es­sary good. In thought­ful inter­views above, see Pren­tice, Pop­u­lar Music Cura­tor Andy Line­han, and Wildlife Sounds Cura­tor Cheryl Tipp dis­cuss their roles as archivists of vast troves of audio­vi­su­al infor­ma­tion in their Lon­don library.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Brew­ster Kahle and the Inter­net Archive Will Pre­serve the Infi­nite Infor­ma­tion on the Web

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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