Dear Members of FIAT/IFTA, dear observers, dear colleagues and friends,
It is with a sense of profound honour and gratitude that I begin my second term as FIAT/IFTA President. I’m also thrilled to be able to do that in this wonderful place, at a time that feels like a new beginning, with the members present here and the members following this conference from all over the globe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Confirming the title of this conference, I think we have already seen some wonderful examples of what I would call “archives out of the box” during this conference and I believe that there’s much more to come. Some of you have been asking me over the past few days what exactly we mean by this title. Allow me to illustrate that with a little anecdote.
I remember very well the 9th of February 2004 – and I’m happy to say that there’s someone in this room who was there, so you can ask – when I entered the VRT’s huge building as a young recruit for the radio archive of the Flemish public broadcaster. It’s true that our little group of five wasn’t working at the very last room in the corridor, but we were close. Little to none was our fame, little to none was our leverage. With a bit of luck we could catalog 3000 to 4000 radio items per year; with 5 search requests on a morning we would have had a busy time; and part of our acquisition policy was to search in the dust containers of retiring producers, to see if we could trace some open reel audio tapes left behind.
Time machine 18 years forward and just last week I happened to be at that very same building. The VRT archive now takes up an entire floor, it could book one of the nicest meeting rooms for our meeting, served us with an excellent lunch and when the meeting began, some top managers insisted to be on, others to pop in and make sure to bring us their salute and as aide-de-camps there were some of the brightest minds of the organisation. Because what was at stake, was important for the Future (capital F!) of the VRT-archive.
I believe this little story bears witness to what I said at the conference opening yesterday: as archivists, our position’s changing. While I don’t want to ignore the sometimes painful reality of countries where this evolution is just beginning, we must recognize that – along with the growth of the importance of the archive – the archivist is also emancipating. We are recognized as specialists in information management. We help manage the enormous flow of essence and metadata. We co-curate the OTT platforms, we are increasingly becoming an integral part of production teams, more even! We develop our own, technologically advanced audience platforms. We succeed in bringing our content to target groups that had gradually become unreachable for traditional radio and television channels. And we’re a popular employer for smart software engineers straight out of college, because we’re doing cool stuff with AI. Yesterday in the afternoon we saw some beautiful examples of this, for the umpteenth time.
But let’s not beat ourselves up too much either. Because with big power comes big responsibility. I like to refer back to the five major challenges for contemporary audiovisual archives in the era of “full digitisation” (between quotation marks!), that I’m putting forward since a few years:
- The first one is digitisation: the success stories of the rich and wealthy amongst us must not blind us to the particularly serious situation in the rest of the world. There is still an enormous challenge ahead. The monster called ‘Degralescence’ has not been defeated. It has received the help of its villain accomplices Austerity and Dissension. Yesterday a colleague from the Cape Town University Library witnessed to me in despair that they didn’t know what to do with their M-II cassettes, because in South Africa, it appeared that there was barely a playback device to be found. FIAT/IFTA must continue to play a leading role in this battle, by assisting archives worldwide with advice and action.
- Secondly: Making audiovisual heritage findable: what can’t be found, doesn’t exist. And it’s not just a matter of adding descriptive metadata. As our colleagues of the Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision showed yesterday, we’re talking about biases, fractures in policies, knowledge graphs and data criticism today.
- Third challenge: Copyright and ethical rights: how do we make the best conceivable compromise between opening up our collections as wide as possible, so that they can achieve their full value for society, and legitimately shielding them, for example for ethical reasons, because of journalistic source secrecy, for privacy and security reasons?
- Fourth challenge: digital preservation: luckily we’ve past the stage when some thought that ‘digital’ was a synonym for ‘no effort required.’ But we’ll have to keep on repeating that at least one iron law of the analogue archive also applies in a digital one: nothing is ever preserved, everything is just being preserved.
- Fifth and last challenge: legitimacy: if our importance is recognized, then there might be also some sharks in the pond. Next year will be exactly 50 years since the Chilean army led by General Pinochet entered TVN’s television archive to purge the archive of objectionable material recorded during the coup. You’d think those threats would look different today, but in some countries they don’t. Especially public broadcasters’ archives can be a defiance to those wanting to impose simple solutions for complex problems. This means that when a broadcast archive is in danger, a strong shield for the protection of democracy is threatened.
Ladies and gentlemen,
You might be asking yourself what this strange thing behind my back is. As I’m not much of a painter, I’ve commissioned a painting for us. No worries, I’m not spending your membership fees on fancy art for a lavishly decorated office. It was for free, as I went to this recently opened web-service called DALL-E. I asked this algorithm to create for us: “A painting of a video archive in the brand colors of FIAT/IFTA, in the pointillism style”. This is what it came up with. I hope it can symbolize a little bit what FIAT/IFTA and its members mean to me. It is about something that has been around for a long time, that has completely changed form, but also remains essentially the same. It is something that we shape in a contemporary way, using cutting edge technology, but which is still dominated by a shared idea. It is something that – true to the pointillist style – consists of all small units, lit up from different angles, yet which unmistakably forms a whole.
During my first term as FIAT/IFTA President, I tried to focus on three important points: we must remain distinctive, relevant and believable.
We have tried to distinguish ourselves to our members as an organization with a specific purpose: whether it’s about preserving, storing, documenting, managing, valorising, opening, selling, … we serve media archives.
Furthermore we have tried to be relevant to these media archives. We try to assist our members, whatever their nature, public, commercial, a broadcaster or another type of archive, a partner from the industry or the research world. We serve them with things that matter to them: a professional network and forum first and foremost, with a welcoming, friendly atmosphere, of which you are proud to belong to.
And thirdly we have to be believable: we do what we say that we do. We defend the cause of media archives when push comes to shove. It is not something I like to show off, because these things are more effective when done in discretion, but in recent years the FIAT/IFTA presidency has entered into dialogues with political stakeholders in several countries to express our concerns about the serious threats to an audiovisual archive under their responsibility. It is always a delicate exercise, but I believe that we can make a difference in that too.
In order to strengthen this distinctiveness, relevance and credibility, we have worked in various domains over the past two years. In the back-end of the federation, we’ve tried to implement further professionalisation. We have implemented a clearer division of tasks within the Executive Council, we have strengthened the role of the accountant, we have formally engaged with our Sponsors and Partners coordinator Jacqui Gupta and last but not least, we have recruited a Network and Communications Coordinator in the person of Sebastian Martin. Everyone will recognize that in a very short time he has become a strong force behind the scenes. Not only does he support the Commission Chairs in the wide range of activities they want to develop, which in turn increase their relevance. His work also makes our federation clearly more visible. And hopefully we’ll find some time soon to give you a glimpse of the new FIAT/IFTA website that will be launched before the end of the year.
As a final example of how we work on our relevance, distinctiveness and credibility, I would like to mention that we are engaged in a major exercise around our mission and vision, our core values and our portfolio of activities. Evidently, we also want to involve our members in this exercise in the next step. In this way I would like to prepare our federation for the future with your support over the next two years.
Before letting you go to lunch, I insist on expressing my thanks to the outgoing and the newly composed Executive Council, to all our employees, our predecessors on whose shoulders we stand and to all of you, the Members who have given me your trust.
It is my pledge to you, along with our entire team led by our unstoppable Secretary General Virginia, that we will continue to work for what matters to you. Distinctiveness, relevance and credibility remain our motivators. We have done great things in the past, but the challenges of the future await us. We must face them with courage and conviction. I am counting on you all to work on this together. Because FIAT/IFTA, that’s all of us.