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DigiCULT
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Info
8
for storage in the long term. We current-
ly use CDs (no DVDs yet) and we have
already experienced some degradation of
data. We check the TIFF data both before
and after the burning process and require
that the producers retain a copy of the con-
tent for a short time (three to six months
only), but this is no guarantee against loss
of valuable information in the long term.
Additionally, the data sources are not saved
by the producers. One of the problems
with CDs is that there is no standardisation
between different producers ­ each compa-
ny makes the CD differently and, therefore,
reducing risk on one type may not protect
against data loss on CDs from a different
supplier. This problem has led to the devel-
opment of a scientific community within
France to study the fabrication of CDs and
perhaps one day to solve what I see as the
industry's biggest problem.
I
am very proud of our achievements to
date. We have created over 5 million dig-
ital documents and 4000 hours of audio. We
aim to publish many more of these docu-
ments online (in JPEG format) for public
access and to begin putting audio files on
the Web as well, as none of the audio mate-
rials are currently online. This task is very
time-consuming and digital rights become
a significant issue. In 2003, IRCAM
(http://www.ircam.fr) was asked to create a
Web tool to allow access to audio materials.
The tool is still in development, but initial
work looks very promising. We think that
the work carried out by the Ministry of
Culture in the last ten years has had a pro-
found effect on digital access to our herit-
age and we hope it continues to do so well
into the future.`
Jean-Pierre Teil, Head of the
Constance Programme, Archives
Nationales, Centre des Archives
Contemporaines
`
I started working with the National
Archives in 1977, before which I worked
in computing for the research centre of
computing at the National School of Mines
here in Fontainebleau. The new centre
for archives that was set up at that time
required practical help and experience in
computerising the new repository. I began
the task of using computers to manage the
80 km of shelves of records and developed
the initial software that was used to man-
age our acquisitions: records totalling five
or six kilometres of shelf space every year.
Our archival holdings have grown ever
since, and now nearly fill the storage space
with records occupying more than 200 km
of shelves.
T
he setting up of a new specialised
department to manage the electron-
ic archives began in 1983. It was a dedi-
cated computing centre, with a mainframe
computer, and archivists working along-
side information technology staff to han-
dle the huge amounts of data coming in,
for example, six thousand magnetic tapes
which arrived and were added to the col-
lections. Three years after my work at the
Archives Nationales began, the head of the
archives in Paris launched the Constance
programme (CONServation et Traitements
des Archives Nouvelles Constituées par
l'Electronique) to deal with e-archives. As
this was only 1981, it was a very early foray
into digital techniques.4 In 1984, I moved
from my previous position to take charge
of the electronic archives at the new cen-
tre in Fontainebleau. In retrospect, we can
identify mistakes that were made in these
early planning stages due to our collective
inexperience in dealing with and manag-
ing electronic archives. Electronic archives
are comprised of many oysters, but very
few pearls ­ with hindsight, we should have
perhaps concentrated on how to select the
best `pearls' from all of these magnetic tapes.
T
en years after the work on the new
centre for archives began, we ran our
first experiment: to demonstrate to archi-
vists how to deal with technical meta-
data requirements. By 1989 the centre
employed twelve members of staff, five of
whom worked full-time for the Constance
Programme. This archive service was for all
ministries of the government, but chang-
es to the administrative structure led to
staff numbers being reduced in 1995. The
changes within governmental ministries
Jean-Pierre Teil
View between shelves on one of the five underground levels of the Centre
des Archives Contemporaines. Each level has 40km of storage space. The
stable environment of the underground levels make temperature control
much easier.
©
Daisy
Abbott,

HA
TII,

Uni
v
er
sity
of
Glasgo
w
,

2004
©
Daisy
Abbott,

HA
TII,

Uni
v
er
sity
of
Glasgo
w
,

2004
`Archives have many "oysters",
but few "pearls" ­ the problem
is: how to select the best pearls.'
4 For a 2003 ERPAnet workshop presentation on the
work of Constance over the last twenty years, please see:
http://www.erpanet.org/www/products/bern/
presentations/WS%20Bern%20Presentation%20Teil.pdf.