Earlier this month, we hosted a lively online Q&A on all aspects of human rights video archiving and preservation. Activists and archivists from around the world participated, sharing their practical ideas and knowledge on how to safeguard video collections.The event was very informative for me, even as a trained video archivist working regularly with human rights activists. Digital video archiving and preservation is a constantly evolving practice, which is challenging even under the best circumstances, so it was especially enlightening to hear ideas on about how to preserve and make videos accessible (while keeping oneself safe) in the face of political instability, resource constraints, and within decentralized networks. During the weeklong discussion, the most popular threads focused on:
- First steps to archiving your videos
- Low-cost tools for archiving and preserving video
- Reliable and affordable storage options
- Physical and digital security
- Organizing stored video files
- Using video as evidence in legal contexts
We will keep the full conversation online so that it can serve as a resource. Here are just a few highlights:
The first step to archiving is recognizing that there is a need. As conversation participants shared, individuals and organizations often start thinking about archiving and preservation when they cannot find their videos anymore, or when they discover that their older videos are damaged or deteriorating.
Starting an archiving program involves planning and, within some organizations, gaining buy-in and support. Planning often begins with conducting a collection assessment: an evaluation of the content of the collection, its condition, its existing documentation, and its risk factors. A collection assessment enables you to prioritize content for preservation and estimate costs, such as for storage.
As this lengthy thread demonstrated, there are many free and low cost software tools out there — some enable you to do a single task within a workflow (like Fixity for checking files, MediaInfo for viewing metadata, or AVCC Cataloging Toolkit for basic cataloging); some are useful for playing, editing, or converting video (like VLC, MPEG Streamclip, FFMPEG); and some are media management systems with multiple functions (like ResourceSpace, Collective Access, Archivematica). My colleague Mari compiled all of the tools shared in the discussion thread in this blog post. Some participants rightly noted that many free and low-cost tools are not straightforward to use, or require expert customization or support. We followed up with a discussion thread about good policies and practices for preserving video that do not require specialized software or technology support.
Many activists use external hard drives to store their videos. However, hard drives do not have a long life-span, so it is important to have backup copies on other drives and replace drives every few years. This, of course, can be costly for individuals and small groups.
One cost-saving (and more reliable) option we discussed is using internal hard drives (i.e. hard drives without an enclosure) in combination with a drive dock for reading the drives (like this). Internal hard drives do not rely on external cables or power sources, and have fewer points of failure. They can be easily stored in polypropylene cases (like this) when not in use.
Anti-virus software, PGP encryption, and RAID configurations were cited as a few technological solutions for protecting your video collection from malicious or accidental attacks, unauthorized access, and hardware failure.
However, many participants emphasized that good policies and practices, rather than technology, are the key to maintaining physical and digital security. Some smart and simple tips that were shared included swapping out SD cards (memory cards) frequently while filming, keeping drives with sensitive content offline, clearing unnecessary data from drives before sending them out, keeping track of the security restrictions for your video, and being clear with participants in your videos about the potential risks.
Stored video files need to be organized somehow so that they can be identified and found. In particular, raw footage should be organized to reflect how the footage was recorded, preserving relationships between files that point to their authenticity and context (see here for more information).
On the most basic level, most participants in the thread reported offloading directly from camera cards to individual folders with a consistent naming structure, and organizing folders by project. Some participants pointed out that video formats like AVCHD and XDCAM are more difficult to organize and work with because they have complex internal structures.
In this thread, participants discussed the many challenges facing lawyers and legal workers from the Syrian Institute for Justice, who are trying to document evidence of gross violations of human rights for use in international courts. A representative from the group described the difficulties of documenting and preserving video while facing bombardment, and without access to needed equipment and hardware. His comments provided us with a first-hand look at an extreme situation for which there are no easy answers.
Did you take part or read along during the event? Did you miss out but want us to do it again? Please comment below and let us know what you think!