Over the years I have been in communication with a few of the sound archives, National Libraries in the UK and Ireland; as part of my college course (2007 – 2008) and in dealing with issues and problems with collecting music.
I was asked , by Dafydd Pritchard – NSSAW Manager, if I would like to attend the BISA 2012 training day/conference at Norwich. I readily accepted the offer and together with Dafydd and another work colleague Rhodri Shore made arrangements to attend. It would be held at the Norwich Archive Centre from the 18th to the 19th of May 2012.
Most of Thursday the 17th of May was spent travelling by train from Aberystwyth to Norwich, arriving at Norwich late afternoon. After finding the hotel, checking in and freshening up, and looking out of the window seeing the navy warship looking straight back at me …
We made our way to meet some of the BISA committee members at a local tavern. One positive from conferences such as this one is that you meet face to face people who’ve communicated with or at least heard the names of. At the tavern I was introduced to Jonathan Draper, Will Prentice and Simon Rooks from the BISA committee. After others joined us we made our way to a local restaurant to meet other BISA members. After the meal, since the BISA committee wanted to hold a meeting, myself and Rhodri made our way to a local music venue to enjoy an acoustic evening.
Friday morning after a full breakfast we made our way to the Norwich Archive centre along the riverfront passing boats and barges moored on the river . We had been informed that the Archive was situated behind the 1960’s Eastern European looking building and that the Archive was guarded by a military plane:-
The training day was made up of an introduction, six presentations and a BISA general meeting. BISA website itinerary ….
The introduction was given by the head of the Norwich Archive,
Dr John Alban who described how the present archive, rose out of an horrific fire that destroyed the above ground site in 1994, where the East Anglia Film Archive and the Norfolk Sound Archive are located together in the same building.
The first presentation was given by Jonathan Draper senior archivist at the Archive. Through the use of sound clips and a powerpoint presentation Jonathan illustrated the Archive’s wealth of sound items from World War Amercian Airforce personnel oral history to local shoe making industry history to modern day multi-cultural research documentary into Islam in Norfolk. Jonathan mentioned the archive’s digitisation ethos and the three levels of cataloguing:- collection level, skeleton and the use of volunteers.
The second presentation was given by Richard Ranft of the British Library. His presentation involved an overview of the British Library’s ongoing project of digitising sound items and publishing them online. So far 50,000 tracks had been transferred digitally and he mentioned the problem solving of ongoing issues and hindsight viewpoint of the different archival sound recordings of the closed access memnon produced initial project of 2004 – 2007 and the wider open access, inhouse produced project running from 2007 until 2012. By using sound clips such as the dialects of England map interface and the J.R.R. Tolkien linguaphone; Richard highlighted the tasks involved in digitsing and the challenges those presented ranging from 1:1 master reproduction to sound enhancing and clic removal to the copyright, ethical rights, mulitiple performers and geographical access problems.
The morning was brought to a close with the BISA’s annual general meeting where the ever evolving BISA directory was directed towards being a virtual signpost to member sound collections.
Lunch was a cold buffet within the archive. Most members stayed within the conference room and I took the opportunity to speak to a few of the delegates such as the representative from the Manx National Heritage, the Tobar an Dualchais and RTÉ .
The third presentation was a personal classification of delegate Delaina Sepko’s musical collection using genre and popular music terms/tags. Delaina used examples of American rap artists utilising the National Libraries of Canada Rules for Archival Description. Genres are labels and categories that can produce a frame of reference increasing the locating of an item stressing that genres as musical conventions are not absolute. If two factors are used together 1) the production notes of music such as compositional and songwriting elements as well as 2) discourse of reception and music relationships used by the listener can achieve a better understanding of the scope and content for genre qualification.
The fourth presentation was given by the curator of the UK Data Archive, Richard Deswarte. I have to admit that I did not know of this resource’s existence. Richard mentioned that the Archive has been in existence in some form since 1967 and is funded by government bodies. The main function of the archive is to store and act on numerical and statistical data. The service is primarily used by researchers utilising Qualidata (qualitative research methods such as multi-media interviews, focus groups, oral histories ) and history data service that houses 650 data collections. Richard apologised that there were only about 50 audio items. Although the Archive is based at the University of Essex , researchers nationally and internationally use the service using password account registration.
The fifth presentation involved the work of the British Antartic Survey. Joanna Rae gave an outline of the survey’s two main sound sources:- a) oral history and b) science data audio “whistler” collections. Two interesting sound clips were broadcast involving air bubbles exploding from a block of ice and a seaman aboard the RSS Bransfield at the time of the Falklands conflict. Limited digitisation had been carried out. Yet again challenges and factors impacting the sound archive environment were voiced by the Survey staff .
The last presentation of the day was given by Richard Ranft, this time Richard discussed the European wide aggregator of metadata/search engine project Europeana. The resource was launched in 2008 resulting from a 2005 European digital resource initiative. Today it provides access to 23 million digital items from 33 countries in 29 languages using a faceted search. Of these items only 2% are audio and only 1% are of video. Richard gave a breakdown by country that had linked to the portal. Both benefits and weaknesses of the aggregator were highlighted involving user experience, integrated data (as strengths) whilst metadata inconsistency and differing digitisation standards (as weaknesses). Entry for ingesting items to the portal was controlled by five main aggregators in the UK.
The formal day finished and it was arranged to meet at a local public house for informal discussion and networking.
The second morning was less structured . Janis McAnallen of the BBC gave a powerpoint on the BBC’s metadata information flow at the BBC. This involves taxonomy production and management controlling that flow within the organisation. By using Fabric digital archive system and holding cross departmental review the commanality of data was determined. An example was illustrated using the Doctor Who (brand) – series – programme – version. The relative term, broad term of relationship categories were flagged as positive outcomes of taxonomy and that controlled tags were the preferred labeling of items.The delegate members were split into two groups and given the same task of producing a taxonomy of sounds. This exercise certainly excercised the mind in categorising different sounds of household, human, people, animals and war.
A short presentation given by a staff member from the East Anglia Film Archive gave a worrying thought of the day – regime changes, change of government and the future of archives. This was followed by a tour of the Archive building by Dr John Alban showing the storage areas, the preservation suite and the public user areas.
All in all a very informative two days at the Norfolk Archive. The conference was positively useful on two levels:-
1) The different presentations – form the formal to those less formal. Much information was gleamed.
2) To discusses formally with delegate members at the Archive and then to pursue some topics over informal chat whilst eating at locations around Norwich.
The conference has given me the confidence and reassurance that we, at the Screen and Sound Archive, are not alone in respect that small archives and national institutions are facing the same issues and problems that we face. I will be using the contacts, the information gleamed to enrich my work in the future.