National Archives to save 30,000 audiovisual records with $3 million investment

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday October 28, 2020

The National Archives. Photo by John Gollings

The National Archives of Australia is investing $3 million to preserve “priceless” and “at-risk” historical audio and video recordings.

National Archives director-general David Fricker on Tuesday warned that the records would begin to “irretrievably deteriorate” by 2025, and the skills and equipment needed to digitise magnetic tape would be more difficult to find.

He said more than 30,000 audiovisual records would be digitised with the new funding.

“At a time of growing budget pressures, the National Archives has taken the decision to make this significant investment in saving magnetic media records, which otherwise could be lost forever in the next five years,” he said.

“This $3 million investment will increase our digitised audiovisual collection to more than 120,000 items, almost halfway to preserving the most critically at-risk material.”

The organisation noted that its audiovisual collection from federal government agencies and public broadcasters spans nearly 100 years.

National Archives assistant director of audiovisual preservation Caroline Ashworth said the investment would fund the first year of work under a five year program to “future proof” the most critical items in the collection.

“We hold collections of great significance and importance to First Nations people across Australia, including testimonies from the Stolen Generation, Native Title land claims, Royal Commissions and Enquiries,” she said.

“We also have audio and video content covering science, technology and the environment, from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef, Woomera to the Snowy Hydro scheme, national weather station data to Australia Post advertisements from the 1980s.

“Here at the National Archives we are doing everything we can to conserve these materials and memories for our nation and its future generations.”

Last week Senate Estimates heard that the National Archives spent more than $1 million on legal fees in an attempt to prevent the public release of the palace letters. The letters were released in July following a four-year legal fight and decades of secrecy.

Read more: Insecure funding and lack of preparedness for digital transformation hindering Australia’s archives agencies, review finds

In a recent review of government records and information management in Australia and New Zealand, independent reviewer Dr Vivienne Thom — who was recently given the task of reviewing ASIC’s processes — argued that governments must provide proper resourcing and ongoing funding in order to uphold accountability and transparency.

“National, state and territory governments should ensure that government agencies are properly resourced to comply with their record-keeping obligations including the storage and preservation of temporary digital and non-digital records,” Thom’s report said.

In welcoming the report, Fricker said the National Archives must “demonstrate that while there are real costs in creating, managing, storing and preserving records over time, there is a good return on this investment”.

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