Conference Report: Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA)

By Jessica Breiman

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National Archives Staff Cleaning Motion Picture Film, National Archives and Records Administration, 12168506

From November 9th – 12th, 2016, over 600 archivists gathered in Pittsburgh for the annual Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference. This was my second time in attendance at the conference; AV archivists are still unusual at most institutions and the conference provides an invaluable opportunity to learn from colleagues and gain knowledge of best practices in the field.

The conference was framed by discussions of diversity in the profession, the association, and the annual conference. The opening plenary gathered together panelists from other organizations, such as ARL, SAA, and ALA, to discuss ways in which their organizations have prioritized diversity and inclusion. The Diversity Committee put forth a statement on diversity and then moved to disband their committee in favor of integrating diversity discussions and initiatives into all AMIA activities; what remains to be accomplished is a strategy for taking action based on this statement.

Of particular interest to me were sessions on copyright and small institutions working to provide access to a wide variety of material; audiovisual archives often get bogged down in multilayered copyright concerns. One audio recording may have several different copyrights, including that of the music performer, the music composer, the music arranger, the recording’s producer, etc.

In “Overcoming Rights Paralysis: Practical Approaches to Providing Access,” two speakers from prominent institutions spoke about how their organizations approached the balance of respecting copyright and providing access to their materials. Greg Cram, copyright librarian at New York Public Library, noted “a digital library that ends in 1923 is insufficient.” With a team of 2 people, NYPL has been able to make great strides in determining copyright of items; over the course of the past several years, they have been able to make 187,000 items available for free download on the NYPL website; however, of 504,000 other items, 33% still have undetermined copyright holders.

NYPL has currently only been working with photographs and documents; Cram briefly discussed the complexities of AV objects which NYPL has not yet dealt with. Their approach is also to be determined, and indicating all the layers of copyright within an object will be difficult to accomplish in public-facing object metadata.

Jay Fialkov, general counsel for WGBH, spoke about the WGBH Public Broadcasting Archives. This archives primarily publishes audio and video objects from their archives and that of partner public broadcasting stations. WGBH’s approach includes separating items into different types (documentaries, oral histories, etc.) and analyzing items at this general level for publication. Watching every audiovisual item to analyze for copyright was impossible, given time and staffing constraints. WGBH views their publication of these items as falling under the Fair Use exemption of copyright law, akin to the recent ruling on the Google Books project. WGBH’s Open Vault project requires viewers to agree to the terms and conditions of using the site, which provides an additional layer of protection for WGBH.

It was also fascinating to learn how other organizations work with archives. In one of the final sessions of the conference, panelists from Kartemquin Films (producer of documentaries such as Hoop Dreams and Hard Earned) and archivists from MediaBurn (an independent film archives) discussed their partnership to preserve and make accessible all the film and audio elements that go into Kartemquin productions, including A and B roll, rough cuts, oral histories, and other footage. Most small and documentary film production companies don’t have a built-in archivist or archival plan; they operate on grant funding and small budgets that don’t allot for this kind of staff. MediaBurn provides both digitizing services and the access point for over 3000 hours of camera original footage. MediaBurn also provides enhanced metadata services, identifying themes and subjects of interest in massive quantities of footage and organizing footage to as such.

With professional audiovisual archivists still scarce in the Mountain West region, the AMIA conference continually offers professional education that cannot be obtained in other venues. Additionally, every AMIA conference brings more conversation and action regarding diversity in the profession. Though slower than other archival organizations to adopt initiatives in this regard, I am hopeful that AMIA will ramp up efforts to create opportunities for diversity in national and international participants.

Most conference sessions were organized into different “streams”: AV Content and Digital Preservation stream; Do It Yourself and Community Archiving stream; Environmental Issues and Archives stream; and Framing the Horizon: What’s Next in Moving Image Archival Education stream. For further information, see content and a Storify of tweets available on the conference website.


Jessica Breiman is the Assistant Moving Image and Sound Archivist at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library. She joined the Audio Visual Archive within the library’s Special Collections Division in 2012 and now oversees digital collections and digital initiatives within the AV division. She obtained her master’s degree in Library Science from Emporia State University in 2013.

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