Tour of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)

This article was originally published by Records and Information Management Professionals Australasia (RIMPA) in their newsletter 22 August 2017

What can a recordkeeper learn from talking with a film Collections and Access Manager? A lot, as I discovered during a tour of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), organised by RIMPA Victorian Branch.

A portable television from the mid-1970s

A portable television from the mid-1970s, which might have been taken out on a day at the beach. It may not function, but does it still have value and interest as a historical object? / Photographer: Lydia Loriente

I attended a guided tour of ACMI on Tuesday 15 August as part of a RIMPA Victorian Branch networking event. Around 15 budding GLAMR (galleries, libraries, archives, museums and recordkeeping) professionals were there, including RIMPA Councillors and members, recordkeeping consultants and practitioners, archives and museum professionals, and even a library and information studies student. Nick Richardson, Collections and Access Manager, took us behind the scenes to learn about his role and the services ACMI offers.

 

I had visited ACMI many times before to watch movies and visit various exhibitions. But during the tour I learnt that ACMI is far more diverse in its services to the community and in cultural preservation. It collects and stores moving images, sometimes having the only copy in the world of particular items. People are able to request to view anything in the collection, for research or simply for entertainment. We visited the Australian Mediatheque, which allows people to use free booths to browse for and watch selected videos in the collection, through categories such as advertisements, home videos, documentaries, movies and more.

Old meets newer (but still old!) Reels of film sit below old VCRs / Photographer: Lydia Loriente

I learnt that ACMI has its origins in a media lending library going back over seventy years. Due to ACMI’s history, and the various changes in media storage, ACMI holds moving images on a range of media, from film, to DVD, to VHS. Actually, it has a very large VHS collection! The range of the collection poses challenges for how best to preserve it while also making it accessible. There are over 200,000 items in the collection, which also includes artworks and around 200 videogames!

Compactuses

Recordkeepers working with legacy (or sometimes newly created!) paper-based records would be familiar with a compactus. Here, they’re used to store videotapes. ACMI has approximately 45,000 VHS tapes! / Photographer: Lydia Loriente

As a professional working in mostly electronic, but sometimes legacy hardcopy corporate recordkeeping, it was fascinating to see into the world of another related, but very different GLAMR profession. I found that Nick was facing some similar challenges to recordkeepers. In the same way that Nick has items on a range of mediums, both analogue and digital, recordkeepers often have to manage a range of ‘analogue’ (paper-based) and ‘digital’ (electronic documents, databases) items. While Nick’s team is facing digital obsolescence and accessibility issues from older computer games and pieces of art, recordkeepers can have trouble accessing older file types, especially files that are stored on older hardware, and require the use of older proprietary software or operating systems to access it in a readable/meaningful format.

As someone who was drawn to recordkeeping for the information (as evidence) it contains, regardless of the format or medium, I sometimes get frustrated when recordkeepers or archivists focus more on the object as a historical artefact. So I was pleased to hear Nick talk about considerations around what are they collecting and preserving and why. Is the item valuable as an artefact, therefore it must be maintained in its original condition? Or is the content, the message or the story behind the item just as (or more) important?

Scopitone film projector jukebox

This is the Scopitone film projector jukebox, from the early 1960s. It was made in France but ended up in Australia / Photographer: Lydia Loriente

We pondered this while looking at a rare film projector jukebox in the collection. While it was not functioning, they did have the original reels of film that were used in it. Is it best to try to restore the jukebox to working order, or is it acceptable to modify it by say placing a modern TV screen where the projected image may have once been, and digitising the films? Is the story about the history of the item of interest, including say which café or public space it had spent time in?

I learnt through Nick’s tour that ACMI is facing the same challenges that any GLAMR professional encounters: with limited resources and limited storage space (whether that’s physical or digital storage), what should be prioritised to be collected, preserved, digitised and made accessible?

Posters promoting film preservation

Preservation, including digital preservation, is an issue being faced by all GLAMR professions right now / Photographer: Lydia Loriente

After the tour, there was informal networking drinks, where some of us pondered and debated the issues raised in Nick’s talk, and made new professional friends. Thank you ACMI and RIMPA Vic Branch for a wonderful learning and networking opportunity. I can’t wait for the next one!

 

 

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