It is a term widely used (or abused) by web site designers to denote a web site with a
considerable amount of informational or audiovisual material available to visitors, often - but not
always - of an historical nature. Few people, however, understand the true meaning of the word
"archive", nor do they comprehend the true purpose of an archive, therefore this glossary
article will clearly define what an archive is and what it is not. Using the definition
presented, the article will then explain how the Australian Television Archive fits in with the
definition.The article is divided into the following sections:|
1. General DefinitionPut simply, an archive is:
a collection of tangible or non-tangible objects whose primary purpose of existence is to
A rather simplistic definition, we must admit, however, we believe that if a collection of
anything cannot be aptly described with the above definition, then that collection is
NOT an archive.Let us focus on each of the highlighted words in the definition:
2. Conventional ArchivesArchives - in the conventional sense - have existed for thousands of years. The first conventional
archives began to appear when various civilisations erected permanent settlements and invented for
themselves methods for transcribing spoken words. With societies becoming increasingly complex,
the powers that be felt the need to keep records of the activities, transactions, taxes etc. of their
own society and other societies they had dealings with to help maintain order. Information was
transcribed in a number of ways (e.g. cuneiform, hieroglyphics, hieratics, hanzi, etc.) onto
different media (e.g. rock, papyrus, paper, etc.) and the type of information collected varied
between societies and over time. As the amount of information collected was immense, storage
facilities were built to house the media, to be constantly maintained by authority-appointed
officials. It is thanks to the tireless efforts of the early archivists that archaeologists and
historians have learnt so much about civilisations past and - ultimately - present.While society and times have changed, the purpose of a conventional archive has not - conventional
archives still collect, maintain and preserve documents of an historical nature. However, the types
of documents found in a conventional archive have changed: initially one would have found documents such
as laws, ordinances, bills, vital statistics, etc (one would still find these documents in modern
archives!). Thanks to the likes of Caxton and Gutenberg, more and more books began to make an
appearance and thanks to the likes of Edison, the Lumieres, Zworykin and Baird, one can now find
film reels, video and audiotapes in archives. The security and restricted access policies that
existed in the archives of civilisations past also persist - perhaps to a greater extent - in the
archives of today, thanks to advancements in technology.3. Archives and LibrariesIt is a common mistake by many people to mistake an archive for a library, or even to go
so far as to erroneously use the terms interchangeably. Although conventional archives and
libraries are quite similar, they do have their fundamental differences in their aim and purpose.
We can adapt our earlier definition of an archive to define a library (due to their similarity)
- collection of tangible or non-tangible objects - archives can be a collection of just about
anything - not just books, dossiers and the like, although these are the sorts of objects one
would find in a conventional archive. Even something as humble as, say, an igneous
rock can be archived (a typical object, perhaps, in a geologists' archive). The objects themselves do not have to be in any particular order, however, there must be a considerable
inter-relation between them - in other words, there must be a common theme - a theme that somehow
tells a story about the past. The rock, for example, could be a part of an archive of artefacts
retrieved from the site of the former Roman city of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mount
Vesuvius in the 1st Century CE - the rock could, through dating methods, help confirm the written
accounts of the event at the time. The objects do not even have to physically exist within the spatial realm - they may reside
purely within the realm of thought. Ideas, stories, all kinds of oral traditions passed from
person to person, generation to generation - in this sense, society itself acts like an archive.
This type of archive has, in fact, existed in just about every civilisation since time immemorial,
and it is through these oral traditions that we have learnt so much about other societies, past
- primary purpose of existence ...preserve history - Preservation - the first word
one should be thinking of when hearing or reading the word "archive", for it is one thing to
keep, store or hoard a collection of objects, yet it is another thing entirely to preserve
a collection, that is:
In short, ensure that the objects in a collection still exist for now and for posterity. A detailed discussion of the importance of history is beyond the scope of this article -
suffice it to say that by maintaining the records of our history through archiving, not only do
we learn from the rights and wrongs of the past, we
also gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of who we are today, where we came from and
what we have achieved.
- If an object is in a bad condition, recover, repair or restore the objects to an
- If an object is in an unstable condition, record or transliterate the object onto a
stable medium if possible (this includes writing down stories normally transmitted orally,
- Make sure objects in the collection remain in good condition.
a collection of tangible or non-tangible objects whose primary purpose of existence is to
acquire, store and disseminate (on a largely loaning basis) objects in its collection.
As you can see, both archives and libraries collect objects. But it is in the manner in which
those objects are accessed that the fundamental difference between the two lie.One of the most important functions of a library is to disseminate - to give people
largely unrestricted access to the materials contained within the library's collection for
informational or entertainment purposes.
Libraries might have their access restriction policies, however, in many cases a simple registration
with the library operators will permit access and (possibly) loaning of materials (reference
libraries are a special case of libraries that prohibit loaning).On the other hand, due to a conventional archive's preservation policy, access to the archive's
materials by the general public is restricted, for the integrity of the materials must not
be (further) compromised. Organisations and individuals that maintain archives usually have
strict access rules, including but not limited to:
and, most importantly,
- How may the materials be handled by the accessee?
- How long - if at all - may the accessee have an archive material in their possession?
- If possible, can copies of materials be made for external use?
We must be careful with our definition of a library, however, as sections of libraries can (and do)
function as archives, where access is restricted - perhaps some objects are too important or
precious to be loaned out, so these objects are kept securely away from the general public.So, in essence, all of those websites that purport to be archives are best described as
libraries - after all, they acquire, store and disseminate text and/or multimedia information!
4. Is the Australian Television Archive an archive?Based on what has been said, one can come to the conclusion that while the Archive itself is
a true archive, the Archive site however, is in fact a library.The Australian Television Archive is an archive for the following reasons:
- Does the accessee have a legitimate use for the materials? (in most cases, "solely for
entertainment purposes" would not qualify as a legitimate use)
The Australian Television Archive Website is a library  for the following reasons:
- It is a collection of videotapes, audiotapes, film-reels and equipment whose primary purpose
is to preserve televisual history.
- Materials within the Archive are routinely maintained by repairing materials and equipment and
transferring audiovisual materials to more stable formats.
- Access to the physical Archive is restricted and is left up to the discretion of its maintainer.
- It is a collection of informative articles and multimedia clips whose primary purpose
is to allow the collection, storage and dissemination of such materials.
- Parts of the website do have restricted access, however, a registration and contribution policy
is in force - following the conditions set out by the website owners will allow access.
 Pretentious, so-called intellectuals would prefer to use the French words raison d'etre in place of
purpose of existence. French - much-admired, much-used tool of authors of English-language essays with little
substance everywhere! If you ever come across a site (other than this one - c.v. below for justification) that
calls itself an "archive", please point the webmaster to this page - together, we can reclaim
that word which has been incorrectly bandied about all too much on the Internet! Despite referring to the Archive site as a library, the name of the site shall remain
unchanged, for the site acts as an online representative of the Archive - we think there would
be confusion if we gave the two separate entities a different name. We are very careful,
in fact, never to refer to the site as "the Archive" but always as "the Archive site" - we
deem the distinction between the two to be very important.