25 YEARS AND BEYOND: THE SEAPAVAA SPIRIT
19 August 2021
In 1996, the Southeast Asia Pacific Audiovisual Archive Association (SEAPAVAA) was born. SEAPAVAA celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2021 with over 90 members comprising heritage institutions, broadcasters, libraries, universities, industry professionals and the like from more than 24 countries. SEAPAVAA represents the work done by its members at various international archiving networks. More importantly, it provides a platform for networking, for the exchange and sharing of best practices, ideas and solutions for the unique complex archiving issues facing the audiovisual industry in Asia and the Pacific.
Between 23-26 June 2021, SEAPAVAA held its annual conference virtually for the first time. Hosted by the Vietnam Film Institute (VFI), a SEAPAVAA institutional member, the e-conference saw over 160 registrants via zoom and Facebook to discuss the theme of “AV Archiving in Changing Times: Successes, Failures, and Challenges”. Besides a keynote lecture and a conclusion panel, a total of 18 papers were presented. There was a lecture by Adrian Wood, a SEAPAVAA Fellow, and a discussion panel made of contributors for an upcoming SEAPAVAA book publication, Keep Memories: Cinema and Archiving in Asia-Pacific. The practice of having an institutional host for SEAPAVAA’s annual conferences has always introduced the culture of the host to conference attendees. Hence, despite going virtual, conference attendees (in-person in Hanoi and internationally online) were treated to traditional dance performances and screenings of classic digitised Vietnamese animation films.
The keynote lecture on “Adapting Digital Archives to Mitigate Climate Change” was delivered by Linda Tadic, the founder/CEO of Digital Bedrock. Her discussion was a crucial reminder for archives to be more mindful of the effect of digital archiving workflows. This call for a greater environmental consciousness is timely amidst a global pandemic and the extreme climate changes sweeping across every continent. The environmental impact is a very real concern for countries in Asia and the Pacific who have already experienced substantial heritage loss because of direct and/or indirect climate changes. SEAPAVAA and the regional archiving industry must work together to make some significant strides toward encouraging better environmental practices and incorporating climate change related risks to management policies and protocols.
Another key point shared by speakers and participants was the human resources challenge. Top of the list of concerns are that in the current transforming digital setting, it has become increasingly difficult to recruit people with the needed skills, to provide the appropriate training, and to retain staff for the long haul. Archivists are now required to be multi-skilled to cope with analogue and digital formats while being nimble to traverse between preservation workflows with different technological systems. The information and communications technology (ICT) skills once thought to be the sole purview of IT personnel are now a mainstay recruitment requirement. Archives struggle between hiring ICT specialists who have little archiving knowledge and employing archiving staff who may not have adequate ICT skills. Presenters and attendees revealed that their colleagues shadow ICT staff but questioned the viability of this as a long-term solution. There are no easy answers, but it is evident the archiving workplace is experiencing a human resource transformation that requires everyone along the chain of command to be willing to learn and an open mind to accept the changes that come with this HR revolution.
Several presentations touched on the benefits of collaboration, from working closely with community archives and volunteers, to developing sharing platforms, obtaining the cooperation of government agencies, and tapping on different archives to help advance and advocate the preservation cause. One of the presenters was a familiar face amongst librarians – Christine Mackenzie, president of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, 2019 – 2021. Her presentation on libraries and the pandemic explored the adaptations that libraries have undergone and noted that collaborations between libraries and archives enable greater access of the heritage materials that are being preserved.
Another important area of discussion in the conference was supporting and reaching out to colleagues of the Pacific islands. A presentation by Aileen Boubou from the Kiribati National Library and Archives highlighted the urgent assistance that archives and libraries in the Pacific needed to prevent the permanent loss of cultural heritage. SEAPAVAA Fellow, Adrian Wood, and founding president, Ray Edmondson, were some of the presenters who spotlighted the Pacific region for greater attention and aid. It is timely that SEAPAVAA’s annual conference in 2022 is planned to be held in the Pacific. Perhaps this would be an opportune time for the archival and library communities in Southeast Asia and beyond to come together to support the institutions in the Pacific region.
On a personal note, every SEAPAVAA conference that I have attended over the last 20 years have always left me with wonderful memories. Professionally, I have grown because of the sharing between SEAPAVAA members. Emotionally, I have enjoyed the warm connection that SEAPAVAA conferences bridge between people from around the world. Strangely enough, I still felt an odd sense of connection even while looking at the familiar and new faces of the SEAPAVAA community on screen. I can only logically conclude that this is indubitably the SEAPAVAA spirit, one I hope many will have the chance to experience too.