I fondly watch the grainy movie on my HD-television. On the screen, the room has 70s wallpaper with a psychedelic orange/brown motive. A group of children watches excitedly as Saint Nicholas comes through the door. A baby is put in his lap.
The baby is me, and my grandfather is Saint Nicholas. It was the last time he was able to be “Sinterklaas.” I owe it to my mother that I am able to watch these images. She had the home movies from when I was a baby digitized. Dozens more rolls of film can be found in her attic. Not just of my childhood, but even of her own. Thousands of feet of film, including gems like the Saint Nicholas movie, but also images that give you motion sickness because my grandmother would not hold the camera still. To digitize all of these will cost a fortune. What are we going to do?
Although I work at an archive, I am not an archivist. But I have learned a lot from my colleagues. Preservation starts with a good selection policy: what do we preserve forever and what may be destroyed? What do we keep entirely and when do we keep only a sample?
I think I will apply a similar selection policy to our movie collection. Thankfully my mother still has the projector, so we can watch the movies over the coming holidays. We will use my camera to make digital images from the projection screen. It probably won’t be brilliant, but good enough to see what we have. We will hire a professional to digitize the movies that evoke the most memories. For the mediocre movies, we will keep our own digital version and the rest will probably be lost over time.
Once we have decided which files to keep permanently, the next question presents itself: how will we ensure that the movies can still be watched a few generations from now? Just think about it: who is still able to open a WordPerfect document on a floppy disk? This is another area where I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues.
Digital preservation requires that files are stored in an open standard, not in a proprietary format that is dependent on a single supplier. Periodically, you should check whether the chosen format is still current, and if not convert the file to a new (open) format. Make sure that the information is transferred to ever newer carriers: from floppy to DVD to hard drive to the cloud. The 3-2-1-rule is a good rule of thumb: make three copies, on two different carriers, and keep one at a different location.
Our movie collection will be OK, I believe in this approach. And once we’ve finished that, next year we will start working on our photo collection.