From the basement to the heart of the museum

Collections technician Ben Abbott checking the condition of a 16mm film at a winding bench. Photographer: Phoebe Powell

Collections technician Ben Abbott checking the condition of a 16mm film at a winding bench. Photographer: Phoebe Powell

Currently situated in a basement beneath Fed Square, the collection team tackles deterioration and seeks to digitise and preserve important works of art, independent Australian film makers’ works as well as amateur home movies that capture historical moments in time.

While there is much information on the threat of cellulose acetate deterioration (vinegar syndrome), and magnetic tape with its (sticky-shed syndrome), there is also another pressing threat that many do not know about. Hard drives are quite fragile and can fail or become inaccessible after just 5 years. Our digital materials stored on these hard drives could be lost forever without timely intervention. Imagine if you lost your memories overnight? Videos and photos you took in 2001 may now be irretrievable. Even the cloud doesn’t offer full protection, with once-popular services like MySpace losing huge amounts of data recently.

Collections Digitisation Officer Candice Cranmer finds a reel for the Steenbeck. Photographer: Phoebe Powell

Collections Digitisation Officer Candice Cranmer finds a reel for the Steenbeck. Photographer: Phoebe Powell

The inevitable change that comes with rapid technological advancement is a real challenge for conservators. Globally, we are facing ‘a digital dark age’ as our data disappears and the lifespan of our storage methods dwindles.

Alena Schulz, Collections Technician walks through ACMI’s basement workspace. Photographer: Phoebe Powell

Alena Schulz, Collections Technician walks through ACMI’s basement workspace. Photographer: Phoebe Powell

An underground bunker of valuable cultural material

ACMI’s collection contains over 250,000 items, from film and VHS, through to games, artworks and objects and ephemera.

  • Film - 100,000

  • Magnetic media - 50,000

  • Discs - 20,000

  • Photographic stills - 50,000

  • Games - 7,000

  • Artworks - 1,000

  • Objects - 1,000

  • Books, journals, posters, ephemera - 21,000

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Nick Richardson, Collections and Access Manager (foreground) and Ben Abbott, Collections technician (background). Photographer: Phoebe Powell

Nick Richardson, Collections and Access Manager (foreground) and Ben Abbott, Collections technician (background). Photographer: Phoebe Powell

Forging new solutions

Our new Media Preservation Lab (MPL) will position ACMI as a leading institution in the Asia-Pacific for the vital conservation of time-based media.

In our everchanging digital environment, there is urgent need to establish a dedicated space to find new solutions to these problems.

Our focus remains on deterioration of film and magnetic media, but also preservation strategies for born-digital content and art which we will develop nationally and globally with our peers.

The MPL will bring together our national and international counterparts - museums, galleries and tertiary institutions to promote best practice and research excellence in our sector.

Next year, you can come and see the work we are doing. We will hold a range of open days and focus on topics such as videogame preservation and home movies. You can also get an understanding of the preservation processes that we undertake, the risks of hardware and software obsolescence, and view preserved materials and artworks from the collection.

Collaborative innovation

We are partnering with local and international institutions to tackle the issues of digital material loss.

Once in a lifetime

With our redevelopment, we have an opportunity to embed one of Australia’s best media collections within the museum, encouraging public interaction and appreciation, while also enabling important collaborative work within the field of digital preservation.

We will continue digitisation of our analogue collection but we must prioritise digital preservation now, which is why we must bring the work of the collection out of the basement and into the heart of the museum.

You can support the Media Preservation Lab by making a tax-deductible donation.

Artist’s impression of the Media Preservation Lab located in the museum foyer

Artist’s impression of the Media Preservation Lab located in the museum foyer

Anaya Latter