25 September 2023

Magnetic records attract time warning

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The National Archives of Australia (NAA) has used the international World Day of Audiovisual Heritage last Saturday (27 October) to highlight the urgency of salvaging records and material stored on magnetic tape before they became unreadable.

Director-General of the NAA, David Fricker said priceless family archives were at risk, such as video footage of children growing up.

“As a nation, Australia faces an equally unthinkable prospect: A substantial component of our 20th-century audio-visual cultural heritage, documenting our growth as a nation, will disappear by 2025 due to deterioration of the magnetic tape on which it is stored,” Mr Fricker said.

“As the keeper of the memory of the Australian Government, the National Archives holds the largest collection of audio-visual records on magnetic tape in Australia, and is tasked with preserving this material and making it accessible for future generations.”

He said that from Countdown and Playschool television series to security surveillance, Antarctic exploration, Indigenous customs and language, secret military operations and censored movie footage, the NAA’s collection of magnetic media represented the unique and irreplaceable memory of the nation.

“Across the world, experts agree that magnetic tape which has not been digitised by 2025 will be effectively lost forever due to degradation or technological obsolescence,” Mr Fricker said.

“The solution is preservation through mass digitisation of the magnetic tapes.”

He said that of the NAA’s holdings of around 950,000 film, audio and video items, 28 per cent was on magnetic media.

“The National Archives estimates it will cost $25 million to save this priceless heritage material,” Mr Fricker said.

“Knowing that this precious collection is at risk, it is difficult to overstate the urgency to act now to preserve and keep accessible these records that belong to future generations of Australians,” he said.

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