The fire at Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro in September destroyed many audiovisual recordings, including some of extinct South American Indigenous languages. This is an immeasurable loss to our record of biological diversity and worldwide culture. We urge the scientific community to deposit and digitize recordings in institutional archives, then to replicate and store them to guard against any future damage.
Audiovisual collections preserve human history, allow population monitoring and provide insight into animal natural history. In fields such as taxonomy, diversity and conservation, photos and videos, for example, might be the only way of ensuring species diagnosis for specimens that deteriorate soon after preservation.
Yet scientists can be lax about archiving. For example, only 22% of South American herpetologists have uploaded their amphibian recordings to a shared repository (R. R., unpublished). Some resist doing so because they do not want their data to be publicly available.
Depositing and digitizing analogue media are not enough to safeguard our audiovisual legacy. It is essential to back up deposited media and use cloud-based storage as well.
Nature 563, 473 (2018)