At the WITNESS Media Archive, we collect, document, preserve, and provide access to human rights videos.  Each component in this archiving endeavor contributes to the creation of reliable and authentic records in support of advocacy, prosecution of justice, truthtelling, and historical understanding.  While our aims remain the same, the work of the archive is always changing as standards, best practices, and theories evolve to meet the needs of the materials, user expectations, and other external circumstances.

Last weekend, I attended the Open Video Conference in New York City. “Open Video” can be loosely defined as a movement to promote free expression and sharing in online environments.  Toward these ends, the Open Video community works to develop an ecosystem built on open licensing, open standards, and open source software.  This world can potentially have a great impact on how video archives obtain, control, and preserve their holdings and make them available.

One of the sessions at the conference was explicitly devoted to examining the changing face of archives in the Open Video context.  Entitled, perhaps inaptly, “Preserving Audiovisual Heritage: Archives Show and Tell” the session focused on aspects of access and user participation.  The diverse group of speakers offered their perspectives on the current provision of access to archives, and suggested how cultural institutions might incorporate new tools that enable greater video re-use and user input.

Some of the initiatives highlighted included IsumaTV’s projects to digitize Inuit and Aboriginal media and put high-speed servers in low bandwidth Northern communities;, an online archive of documentary footage based in India; the Active Archives Video Wiki, a collection of open-source software for uploading, transcoding, and collectively annotating video on the web; the Commons Lab at the MediaLab-Prado in Madrid; and Public Videos, an online stock footage distribution platform.  I encourage you to check them out!

While the initiatives presented are promising — and indeed inspiring– questions remain in my mind about how to integrate these participatory and open approaches within a truly archival framework.  That is, how to make videos available under open licenses, or accession user uploads, or incorporate collectively generated annotations and transcriptions, while maintaining the security, authenticity, and reliability of records that are the basis of an archive’s credibility and trustworthiness. Moreover, can Open Video address issues in the archive beyond the realm of access, such as long-term preservation and persistence?

I believe that these are issues that can be resolved through ongoing engagement and conversations between the Open Video and archiving communities. Our values are complementary, not opposed.  In the meantime, however, I am also reminded of the first tenet in’s “10 Theses”: Don’t Wait for the Archive.  What do-it-yourself archiving solutions will media-makers deploy to meet their own preservation and access needs while we institutional archives figure things out?

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