Keeping our story: Preservation of audio visual archives in Ghana.

Author:Mensah, Monica
  1. Background

    Audio Visual (AV) archives exists for the preservation and continuation of the materials as a cultural heritage, and are vital elements of an institution or a nation's collective memory, documenting the past, present and future as well as its achievements over the years (Zinyengere 2008). An AV archive is a unit or department of an organization which is statutorily mandated to provide access to the AV heritage through collection, provision and promotion of access to the AV collections (Edmondson 2004). They include sound recordings, film and video, graphic materials, electronic resources, three-dimensional objects, maps, and microforms among others.

    Preservation of AV collections has been recognized as a challenging but necessary armament for maintaining the past in the present. According to Addo (2014) an inherent challenge that faces a nation or an institution world over in establishing an audiovisual archive is how to preserve the varied collections that comes into its custody through field recordings, donations and purchases. In particular, the handling, preservation and provision access to AV collections are much more complex and expensive as compared to paper archives. This Matangira (2003) indicated has resulted in the difficulty in developing AV archives in African. According to Mnjama (2010) despite the fact that AV materials play a vital role in the maintenance of cultural heritage, they are very often neglected and usually accorded less attention as compared paper based records especially in developing countries.

    Over the years, several authors (Lihoma 2008; Mnjama 2010; Gracy & Cloonan 2015; Smith 2016) have attributed the neglect of AV preservation in most institutions to a combination of several factors such as; lack of the appropriate equipment needed to inspect and view such material, a lack of qualified personnel to care for and maintain both the materials and the equipment, limited resources for engaging in AV preservation and reformatting activities, and the absence of sufficient description of these materials.

    Nevertheless, despite the looming reality that it is impossible to preserve AV forever, it does not follow however, that custodians and preservation managers cannot do anything about it. What is achievable can be done. Indeed, the gathering of the AV collection in one place and putting them in storage to extend the collection's lifeline is already an act of preservation (Abrigo & Abrigo 2016). Matangira (2003), Mnjama (2010) and Chigarrio (2014) observed that different countries face specific preservation challenges as far as the preservation and maintenance of AVs are concerned. As such, the preservation of AV collections needed to be explored in the Ghanaian context with the view to address possible solutions facing the preservation of AV archives in Ghana. Specifically, the paper sets out to investigate the authority, standards and practice for the preservation of AV archives in Ghana, as well as competencies of the staff involved in the management of the AV archives, and the challenges to the preservation of AV archives in Ghana. This study is significant as it will contribute the extent to which AV archives are preserved in Ghana. It would also serve as a wakeup call to management of AV archives who do not consider good preservation practices high on their agenda to rethink their positions. Finally, this study will fill the gap in the literature as the search for literature on preservation of AV archives produced very little in terms of relevance in the context of AV archives in Ghana.

  2. Literature Review

    Implications for preserving Audio Visual collections

    Preservation strategies are usually undertaken to determine the preservation requirements required for the AV collection and to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the building, policies and guidelines, storage environment, and disaster management issues (Mnjama, 2010). Depending on the state of the document, AV materials feature in three main forms, namely: Conservation, Restoration and Digitization (Oomen et al. (2009). Conservation involves explicit policies and procedures applied to avoid delay and reverse deterioration or damage to documents (Abankwah 2007). Laas (2011) put forward that conservation can be achieved through proper handling, packing and shelving, control of environmental conditions such temperature and humidity, and condition monitoring. Restoration refers to the means of repairing, and, or treating damaged materials and bringing them close to their original state as possible for useful access (Evens and Hauttekeete, 2011; Forde, 2007). Digitization is a vital aspect of collection care in audio visual archives (DeGracia, 2009; Edmondson, 2004). It comes with much importance as Abankwah (2007) postulates that it protects historical collections and analogue records from further deterioration. It also salvages endangered collections and prevents deterioration that accompanies repetitive handing (BruceCathline, 2013).

    Challenges of preserving AV collections

    AV literature has shown that existing and persistent deterrent factors in AV archiving are the challenges associated with the preservation of collections that come into their custody. According to literature, existing and persistent deterrent factors in AV archiving are the challenges associated with the preservation of collections (Astle and Muir, 2002; Wright, 2014). Zinyengere (2008) as cited by (Mnjama, 2010) rightly stated that, in most African countries, AV recordings are endangered due to several factors, such as legal statutes towards AV materials, obsolescence of playback equipment, staffing, the lack of training and funding, societal perception towards archives, technological awareness and the preservation, climatic issues, and access to recordings, legal statutes towards AV materials, staffing, lack of training and funding, obsolescence of playback equipment, perception of society towards archives, climatic issues, technological awareness and the preservation and access of recordings.


    Digitization serves as an effective tool for preservation of AV collections (Akinwale, 2012; Anderson, and Maxwell, 2004; Asogwa, 2011; DeGracia, 2009; Mudzaki, 2013; Puplick, 2009; Rowley & Smith, 2012). A globally acknowledged fact is, all AV collections from the twentieth century are in analogue format (Feather, 1996; Jones, 2001; Monageng, 1997; Zulu, 1994). Analogue contents on vulnerable magnetic materials are being migrated onto digital medium for both access and preservation. Professionals recommend that all AV archives will probably need to be digitized for preservation as non-digital options are disappearing ("General Guide," 2006). Film restoration is expensive, however the quality, when digitized makes it cheaper, quicker and easy to store (Laas, 2011). This in the view of Laas (2011) and Lihoma (2008) presupposes that digitization is gaining popularity in the field of AV archiving and must be adapted by preservationist in order to regulate cost. Directly linked to preservation as explained above, digitization of AV collections aids in their preservation (Abankwah, 2007; Zulu and Kalusopa, 2009). AV collections are rare and fragile; therefore helps to preserve them by reducing the frequency of their handling (Feather, 1996; Forde, 2007). Forde (2007), Oomen et al. (2009), Pickover (2009), and Puplick (2009) demonstrate that among AV archivists, digitization reduces the continuous handling of documents and promotes their longevity. Most cultural heritage institutions such as AV archives are confronted with the challenge and limitation of failing to satisfy the information requirements of all of their prospective patrons (Schuller, 2008; Van Malssen, 2008). Considering the worthy prospects, digitization is often presented as a remedy to the challenges and limitations of traditional AV preservation and access information; however, there exist disadvantages of digitization that could cause AV preservationist serious regrets. It is therefore important these difficulties are sorted and possibly controlled before digitization is attempted (Zulu & Kalusopa, 2009).

  3. Overview of AV archives in the University of Ghana

    The University of Ghana, the premier university and the largest university in Ghana was founded as the University College of the Gold Coast by Ordinance on August 11, 1948 for the purpose of providing and promoting university...

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