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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