Students, teachers, and others would have access to a vast archive of public television content in digital format, if a new proposal from the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) comes to fruition.

The association has called for the creation of an “American Archive” that aims to preserve public TV programming so that students and teachers can tap into the programs for educational purposes. Though the project is still in its conceptual phase, APTS is working with the Library of Congress to help turn the idea into reality.

The American Archive would allow educators and students to choose content from which to create unique, digital learning materials capable of being presented in a variety of formats. In addition, historians, journalists, and documentary filmmakers could take advantage of the archives thousands of hours of raw footage for research purposes or for creating new educational works.

Supporters of the idea say digitizing these resources will allow the public to reap the benefits of its years of investment in public broadcasting. Although sorting out the intellectual property rights to all of the content remains a challenge, APTS says it is working toward a comprehensive legislative solution that would cover future as well as archival content.

“Public television and radio stations have a long history of documenting our national heritage–like museums and universities,” said John Lawson, APTS president and CEO. “We see our efforts in this regard as an extension of our duties as cultural heritage institutions.”

Thats a key reason public television stations and the Library of Congress are working on laying the technological groundwork to make content available to the public through the American Archive, Lawson said. He said APTS would undertake the creation of this digital library with its station partners, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and the Public Broadcasting Service.

To make the American Archive a reality, public television executives will ask members of Congress to repurpose digital funds for the development of the archive.

Since 2001, Congress has funded the buildout of the digital infrastructure for public television and radio, and it already has allowed a portion of those funds to be used for the creation of digital content.

New House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey, D-Mass., said he supports APTS in spearheading the project.

“Coupled with the internet and broadband networks, … public television will be able to avail itself of new means to reach viewers, as well as innovative ways by which parents, teachers, and kids can access the treasure trove of content that public television possesses,” Markey said. “That is why I am very excited and supportive of the proposed American Archive project.”

The project is consistent with public broadcastings core mission, he added.

“Because public radio and television stations have such a rich tradition of documenting our national story, it is natural to want to harness the power of digital technology and telecommunications to preserve public broadcastings audio, film, and video history, and to make it available to the American people,” Markey said.

In addition to digitizing content, funding would support cataloging, storing, and preserving existing and new content on station-based servers and would leverage the capabilities of the new public television interconnection system. It also would create tools for the public to search for and access content through the internet and other communications platforms.

Unlike history books, which are widely available in libraries and on the internet, the great majority of public broadcastings audio, film, and video history sits in collections that are locked away and unavailable to the American public, said an APTS representative.

Markey said he would work with public television stations to change that. “As issues arise regarding the cost of digitization or intellectual property rights, I am eager to work with public broadcasting to find solutions,” he said, “so that this project can become a success and a model for other institutions, such as museums and universities.”

The idea for the American Archive is based in part on a model created by the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), called the Creative Archive. This BBC project makes archival content available for downloading under the terms of the Creative Archive License–a single, shared user license scheme for the downloading of digital video, audio, and still images.

Links:

Association of Public Television Stations
http://www.apts.org

Library of Congress
http://www.loc.gov

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.
http://markey.house.gov

Creative Archive License Group
http://creativearchive.bbc.co.uk