7 Jun 2020

Saving those precious old tapes - Nga Taonga's race against time

From Standing Room Only, 12:47 pm on 7 June 2020

Iconic old New Zealand audio and video tapes have a chance to be saved, after the government provided $31.8 million in funding.

Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision chief executive Honiana Love said the funding to digitise the Crown's audio-visual collections came just in time to save historic material from the 1960s to 2000.

A diverse range of broadcast news, documentaries, films, music and oral histories are currently stored in at-risk formats, such as VHS and Betacam tapes.

The old tapes would deteriorate and the machines needed to play them would not be readily available for long, so the tapes needed to be transferred to digital media before 2025, Love said.

"There are huge collections that encompass our country's history," she said.

"We've got a sweet spot for the next five years to make sure we capture as much of this material as we can before it disappears.

"We were feeling very concerned about this, which is why we've gone back to the government - this is the third time we've gone back to ask for this money.

"We're so pleased to be able to get on with it now."  

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A one inch tape player at Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision. Photo: Nga Taonga sound archives

The collaborative project to save the old tapes won the biggest slice of money for the arts sector in the latest Budget.

But the funding will only pay to preserve about 75 per cent of the Crown collection, with collections deposited by private individuals still not able to be digitised.

The tapes include audio recorded by RNZ and video from Māori Television and TVNZ in the second half of last century. These offer a record of cultural events, defining moments, and issues that have concerned New Zealanders through the decades.

Love said they were trying to prioritise which material needed to be saved first, based on its importance and the state of the tapes.

"What I'm most concerned about is just the iconic collections that are being held that if we lose them, we can never replace them," she said.

The work will be carried out by Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision, the National Library and Archives New Zealand.

The project will employ at least 17 more people at Ngā Taonga and possibly create as many as 40 jobs in total

The Budget also provided funding to Archives New Zealand for the next stage of its new building next to the National Library in Wellington.

Love said they were "really excited" the new building would go ahead, freeing up space for Ngā Taonga, Archives New Zealand and the National Library.  

"Our three organisations... have now been living together for almost a year."

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Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision chief executive Honiana Love says she is concerned iconic audio-visual material could disappear, if it is not transferred to digital media in time. Photo: supplied

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