You are here


Where citation and preservation join

A cornerstone of 'scholarly communication' is the ability to cite sources of information. The issue of citation of audiovisual resources is recently being looked at by a UK study which has been highlighed across audiovisual social media: the EUScreen blog, a Linked-in blog which I can cite but you can't read unless you're a member, the IASA email list (to cite the email, I'd first have to find an IASA email archive), the AMIA email list and a discussion on Twitter: @bufvc #AVcitation. The study has developed guidelines for audiovisual citation. I volunteered to try out the guidelines in early February, and from those trials there will be final guidelines published later this month (March, 2013).

Testing the guidelines highlights a major issue with audiovisual content: Where is it?

A citation specifies 'a thing' like a journal or newspaper article or a book in the old days, but now 'a thing' includes broadcast news, Internet content and a range of social media (like the emails that I couldn't cite). A citation says what 'the thing' is, but not where it is, or how to get your hands (or eyes and ears) on it.

Defining 'what' in an academic context used to be easy: the name of a journal or book, plus authors, date of publication and name of the publisher. The 'where' was also easy: a researcher in a university went to the university library, and behind all those research libraries was a national library. Legal deposit legislation meant that the content being cited would be somewhere in the research library system of the nation where 'the thing' was published. For many decades Europe's national libraries have been backed by what is now TEL (The European Library), with an online union catalogue covering all the national libraries of Europe. Even better, a huge amount of whatever these national libraries have digitised in now available through Europeana (which can be considered an extension of TEL towards the complete cultural heritage domain).

There is very little audiovisual content in these national libraries, and almost no broadcast content [citation needed!]. Newspapers are still seen by the library world as defining 'the news' despite the obvious fact that printed newspapers are in sharp decline, replaced by broadcasting and online news.

If a researcher -- anyone with a serious interest is a researcher [my opinion, so no citation needed] -- wants to cite a television programme, it looks simple enough. The programme was at a given time and date, on a given channel. But it's now very likely that the programme was not viewed when originally broadcast. If it was viewed on the BBC's one-week catch-up service -- is that the citation? If so, it disappears within a week! And television programmes can also be viewed years after broadcast when issued as a DVD. Similarly with films: viewed in cinemas at various times in various places, viewed on DVD, viewed on a re-mastered or even 'reversioned' DVD or now BluRay disc and finally viewed online -- possibly in many versions and places. Citing a catch-up service as a source of a TV programme is like citing a local newagent's shop as the source of a news magazine!

For serious use of broadcasting, I think the critical issue for 'scholarly communication' is factual material: news and current affairs programming, where broadcasting covers the same ground as newspapers and news magazines. Following the guidelines from the study we can probably agree on how to say what 'the thing' is, but Where is it? This is where citation and preservation join: a main reason for not citing broadcast news and current affairs content is that there is no permanent collection to point to. There is no library. The material has not been published. Putting a marker on broadcast content is like planting a flag in quicksand. Audiovisual preservation isn't just about the obvious need to preserve things in order to have them, it's also about the not-so-obvious need to have a permanent place for things, so you can point to them.

The citation guideline study itself is organised by a British group that may not be well-known internationally, but which is vital to media access -- and preservation -- in the UK university sector: the British Universities Film and Video Council (BUFVC). They have many functions, but one is to capture all UK television broadcasts and ensure that lecturers have access to those materials. Not just access for a week, as in the BBC iPlayer, but permanent access so that 'scholarly discourse' can take place about broadcasting and other film and video materials.

The output from broadcasting isn't generally seen as a scholarly resource. Obviously media studies and television production courses use such content, but it isn't so obvious that every area of teaching and research, from nursing to quantum physics, could use broadcast content that was relevant to those subjects.

As to quantum physics, there are interviews with most of the nobel laureates in physics, plus programmes ranging from cosmology to relativity and the big bang. If you are in a British University with a BUFVC membership, you can find out about these programmes (search the metadata) and you can also view and get copies of the actual programmes (view the content).

As to nursing, the BBC (to name but one) has run programmes over the decades on the UK National Health Service, and specifically on nursing, and on leading figures in nursing such as Florence Nightingale and Edith Cavell. The BBC has a collection of content on the NHS.  It's not so easy to search for broadcast content. The BBC doesn't make its catalogue public, but the BUFVC has an extensive catalogue -- which is even better if you're a member because otherwise it limits searches to the last fortnight! The BUFVC has the right to record and disseminate (to member universities only) this broadcast content because of a particular UK law: the Educational Recording Act.

Broadcast archives, and audiovisual archives in general, are a long way behind, regarding scholarly discourse. A standard for citation will be most welcome, but the biggest problem is a standard place to keep and find the content. The French (INA) and Dutch (B&G) are leading the way and EUScreen is aggregating video content for Europeana. I look forward to being able to access (for serious research) Europe's audiovisual output in the way that I can now access the textual output of Europe's publishers and academics.

EUScreen isn't only aggregating content. They are preparing tools for putting material where it can be cited: they will soon be "releasing the first version of a plug-in for the open access academic publishing platform OJS that makes it easier to embed video and audio materials." [Citation: personal email from Erwin Verbruggen of EUScreen]. What I don't know is where the preservation will be for content using the OJS platform -- because the media could still be published by a click-through to something that could disappear, rather than being in any kind of repository. I hope people realise that ALL the content 'in' Europeana, for instance, is reached by click-through to a url supplied as part of the metadata submitted to Europeana (which is itself just a big pot of metadata). Whether that click-through works is in no way assured, and the preservation of the content itself is in no way assured. I am reminded of Keat's epitaph on his gravestone in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome: "I am one whose name was writ in water".

The problem with quotes found on the internet is that they're not always accurate. - Abraham Lincoln.

These deep context worries ask "am I citing something that has permanence?". There is a wider context to citation: a citation is core metadata. Librarians invented all this, with the original title, author and subject information. By the 1960s librarians had created a 'machine readable' standard for bibliographical metadata: MARC. By the mid 1970s they were making union catalogues (for groups of libraries, like a whole state or nation) and providing 'online public access' terminals, OPACs -- where back then online meant directly connected to the electronic catalogue and had nothing to do with Internet. One of my continuing frustrations with working in an archive was seeing "IT experts" come in to make decisions about the archive, but with zero knowledge of all this background (something Jim Lindner referred to in his PrestoCentre blog of 9 Feb 2013).

Now we are in an Internet age, and the way to get the most from metadata is to make its structure or interpretation 'machine readable' as well. This is the linked and open data concept that is the foundation for getting meaning from metadata, rather than just getting sequences of ASCII symbols. There will soon be the first Worldwide Web conference on linked data as applied to audiovisual content: Linked Media (LiME 2013). The workshop is co-located with the WWW2013 conference held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 13th of May 2013.

The other fundamental issue for citation of moving images (after having something permanent to cite) is technical: audiovisual content has a time dimension that text simply doesn't have, and so needs shot-level metadata and access -- and shot-level or even frame-level citation standards, followed by annotation. But that's a topic for another blog.