World Day of Audiovisual Heritage: DPI endeavours to preserve a legacy at risk
The UN's audiovisual archive dates back as early as the 1920s and constitutes the memory of the Organization, from the League of Nations to the construction of UN Headquarters in New York, as well as the footage and programmes, which continue to be produced daily. Archiving such a rich and complex collection is a major challenge.
The Department of Public Information's (DPI) continuing efforts to preserve the unique audiovisual heritage of the United Nations – and, as importantly, to keep this heritage accessible to the world – are critical in making sure the Organization's story may be told in images and sounds to future generations.
In the labyrinth of the Secretariat’s basements, a huge task is being performed by a small team of archivists: to inventory and classify all UN audio, film and video materials before the Capital Master Plan reaches the lower levels of the building. "The history is here and needs to be preserved and be accessible," said Antonio Carlos Silva from the Multimedia Ressources Unit. Part of the work is also to select the most valuable materials to be treated with priority, taking into account the physical conditions of the items and their value to the Organization, and to recommend methods and standards of preservation and digitization of the most at-risk audiovisual materials.
Vinegar syndrome, the acidification of the plastic base of film, is one of the major concerns. With an estimated 7% of the film collection already suffering from acidification, finding digitization and storage solutions has become especially urgent.
To address the challenges of preserving these archives, DPI, along with other departments and stakeholders, is developing a sound digitization programme. In the meantime, partnerships have been forged with the national archives from various member states such as Brazil, France, Greece, and the Republic of Korea, who selected parts of the collection and will digitize them themselves. These institutions will also provide the UN with a high-resolution preservation copy of the selected material, and therefore, of UN historical moments affecting our humanity.