from rick's insightful presentation during 'economy of the commons', amsterdam 2008

from rick’s insightful presentation during ‘economy of the commons’, amsterdam 2008

Watch the presentation here.

De Balie just released Rick Prelinger’s contribution to the 2008 conference of Economy of the Commons. In his talk, Rick (Prelinger Archive/Prelinger Library and Internet Archive) outlines the evolution and importance of institutional archives in the past and turns to the present and future to question “what will enable archives to survive in a confused media and cultural landscape.”

Archives by tradition predominantly preserve and conceal rather than reveal. And according to him this needs to change and is changing. Public libraries which have an “ethic of access and a tradition of openness” are a good source of inspiration. Besides, more and more people are creating their own personal archives. This trend puts new demands on traditional institutions. “Don’t wait for people to come to the archive!” New archives (contemporary ones) go where the people are.

In order to keep the meticulously assembled and treasured collections in archives alive, the archive will need to open up – at least to some degree – and reach out to the public to invite involvement and usage. He advocates for both: to invest in preservation and digitization. The latter to make the material vastly accessible to the general public. Touch is essential: the ability to engage with digital objects in a profound and unconditional manner. Culture is preserved by being used and interwoven with contemporary developments, thinking and desire.

Talking for profit.
Rick introduces his two tier system of free and fee based access to his archival material. In fact he describes a dynamic publishing or dynamic access model. For free you get the whole chunk—an entire pdf or movie. If you pay, you get a contract, security, and the material delivered in high-res quality and its components (the elements the original material is made of). This is especially interesting for re-use, partial use and experimental application. “Segmentation adds considerable value,” he says.

Talking private collection: The Prelinger Library.
A community has built around his collection, the Prelinger Library in San Francisco. A physical space where its members can engage with the material. Rick calls it a procreation friendly environment, where the members (and anyone can become one, really) extract, copy, remix, create, distribute and share. Interventions are the norm: readings, social collecting, home movie day, etc. They also host small residencies where scholars and artists can work with the collection and integrate it in their work. Every Wednesday the collection opens to everyone. This regular time-space window allowed for the community to form naturally.

A few side notes.
The entire contribution on Sustainable Images for the Future (a part of Economy of the Commons) might provide interesting entry points – even from the perspective of 2008. Presenters were (among many) Kenneth Goldsmith (ubuweb), Rick Prelinger, Images for the Future, Filmmuseum Amsterdam, etc. For the latest economy of the commons visit here:

The dossier on De Balie’s archiving initiative can be found here:

During the conference (the one in 2008) I first learned about Images For The Future, an ambitious project, run by four Dutch organizations to preserve, restore, digitize and provide a vast amount of audiovisual heritage of the Netherlands to its citizens. Their claim: “The digitized material will be made available to education and to the public as broadly as possible.” Back then, they were considering business models that would make the archiving process self-sustainable (e.g. view/listen on demand) and the hope was, by providing material relevant to the Dutch the material would be activated and integrated and gain and sustain interest to the general public.

Christina Kral


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