Will Prentice: Internships in Sound Archives at the British Library

  • Sound Archives – vast quantities of material that requires a degree of specialist skills. They have limited lifespan, & the availability of equipment and experience to use it is a real problem.
  • Disappearing/obsolescence. Few opportunities for archivists to gain the necessary experience. 20 yrs  left for all analogue media to have machines to play them, less for DAT/minidisk.
  • AV archiving marries skills of archivist and audio engineer – not totally compatible. Archivists preserve material – they do not rewrite to make it sound good (the role of sound engineers).

The Internship:

  • Target audience: archivists that hold audio collections and in need of relevant audio skills and experience.
  • 3 yr programme funding; scheme currently at end of yr 2.
  • Applicants must have responsibility for audio collection – need for skills to be applied so that they are not lost or forgotten. Active use is the gain.

The scheme offers bursaries for spending 10 wks in London on internship. However, funding drying up. Based in British Library Sound Archive studios. Internees are given their own transfer studio, and are taught in pairs. Programme flexible to suit needs of internee to reflect their collections. Flexible, modular (8 in all), carried out in same order and the timescale is flexible. No certificate at end of intership.

Range of internees is varied some are good with IT or audio, some are completely inexperienced with technology – this presents a huge challenge. Some internees may come from places or countries with no it infrastructure so the programme need to provide for this. Hence no certificate. Hands on training – tactile showing internees the media and the equipment.


  1. Overview of audio recording theory and archiving principles – tactile sense of dealing,  setting up machinery, etc. TC03, TC04
  2. Overview of the use of a transfer channel for capture of audio material to archival standards
  3. Compact cassette tape
  4. ¼” analogue tape reel to reel
  5. Microgroove vinyl – reproducing condition in which recording was played
  6. Coarsegroove shellac discs
  7. Instantaneous (aluminium, lacquer) discs
  8. Digital media: minidisk, DAT & optical disc

Response to training

  • Year 1: 7 interns, 103 application packs issues, 19 applicants – worldwide response but number from UK.
  • Year 3: 2 places already filled, 4 more to be advertised in October 2009.
  • Issue with work permits laws in EU so can no longer receive applicants from outside EU.

Beyond yr 3:

  • Funding dependent
  • Hope for minimum of 4 individual internships per year
  • 6 interns a year is not a wide through-put, would like to offer a range of training.
  • Plans to have a Summer school (up to 25 students) – widen accessibility of programme and build confidence in attendees to take further and maybe do individual internship
  • DEPENDENT ON FUNDING – no HLF funding available.

Further information:




(Martin Devereux, The British Postal Museum & Archive)


Photos on Flickr

Photos of the conference are now on Flickr and we’ll add more as we gather them from the various delegates who brough their cameras. We won’t publish names of delegates in the photographs, except for the Society’s officers and the keynote speakers.

Janet Moat: Dopes, Quads and Plushes; a personal history of documenting the movies

Janet Moat, now retired British Film Institute [BFI] gave a history of collecting material that documents the movies.

Janet began by saying that although film is arguably the most accessible of art forms, film archives are conversely the least accessible of all archives.

The BFI is the national repository for film and has vast holdings of archive mostly acquired via voluntary donation. Growth of collection increased from the 1950s onwards,  and film donations were made by industry personnel. This process of random deposits led to an unsystematic collections process. From the 1970s onwards – film library and archive became dual collections.

The 1970s were the end of an era for many filmmakers/producers – and they began submitting personal papers in greater quantities. A film’s paper archive might include a sourcebook –but the most recognisable document is a script. Janet said that scripts are adorned with data, often illustrated or with notations (about budgeting, etc.). Dope sheets,  a document detailing who and/or what is required for each day of filming, might also survive. Sometimes film cells would be clipped to sheets and conservation of these could be problematic (especially for nitrate film). Quads (30”x40” posters), plushes (soft toys for marketing), and sheet music might also be deposited.

In order to make sense of the collections and to beging building coherent collections Janet looked to the US for techniques on management of material and found that arrangement followed the film production process. The final documentary stage of this process included gathering books about/supporting the film, and any critical reviews the film received. The BFI started to follow that practice – paper-based records would be kept together but the poster collection remained separate.

The BFI also acquired Granada’s cinema chain archive. This was a treasure trove of information – photographs of cinema buildings, publicity, serials, etc. A vanished world and a significant social history collection.

Dealing with voluntary donations – links to industry was strong initially but remained a reactive process. This meant acquisition was poor and relied on the selection of material by the depositor. A more proactive process was not welcomed by potential depositors who were uncertain of the BFI’s motive and a lack of belief in archival process. Buying archives was not something with which the BFI wished to be involved. The acquisition policy was to tell the story of british cinema and film through the documentary evidence. Gaps existed – studios had closed before archive set up. Consequently there is a low rate of survival of material.  Regional broadcasters – bankruptcies – material obtained via this manner.

Digital futures – digitising material copyright remains the single biggest issue with film archives. Clearing copyright takes time and resources. Who are your audiences? How do you provide access to a variety of users, is digital the be all?

The Society of Archivists Certificate in Archive Conservation: an introduction

The conservation strand of this year’s conference has been particularly strong. In particular, it was really interesting to hear from some of the current trainees on the Society’s conservation training programme.

Not only is it a good opportunity for us to hear about what techniques, tools and methods are being used in a wide range of workshops, it highlights the importance of passing on these skills and the roles played by trainees and instructors in an active office.

The scheme has been going on for 35 years now and survives on the goodwill and voluntary nature of the participant instructors. The course provides 1-2-1 specialist instruction and prepares conservator trainees for the demands of a multo-disciplinary profession.

Following an overview of the history of the certificate and how the programme is run we heard case studies from 3 of the current trainees.

Claire Armstrong (Nottinghamshire Archives) began by describing a paper repair project she’d recently completed using many of the skills she’d acquired from the training she’s received so far. As well as describing the work she’s undertaken Claire also highlighted the reasoning and discussion that precedes any repair work and continues to support the decision-making process as a repair is made. Claire also discussed the need to evaluate practical concerns, such as balancing limited time and budget, as well as ethical considerations, for instance; whether or not to replace a lost marbled cover on a stationery binding.

Rowenna Jones (Gwynedd Archives Service) provided a run-down of her work on a parchment document and, again, the skills and techniques she’s gathered during the traineeship. Rowenna focused on the three main subjects of documentation, tools and storage, as well as describing the skills and materials that had been involved in the repair.

Katie Jordan (West Yorkshire Archive Service) reported that she’s recently attended a placement with instructor, Jeff Cargill (Hertfordshire Archive & Local Studies) to learn skills associated with the repair of seals. Katie gave a brief resume of a project she’s been preparing for her portfolio which has a significant number of applied seals. She explained the decisions she’d taken to repair the damaged shellac seals and then described the 2 conservation treatments she had used to consolidate and stabilise the seals. Katie also commented on the pros and cons of each method and the range of tools she’d found useful.

As a trainee myself, this morning was particularly informative and it was great to hear from other trainees what they were gaining from the process and what they were putting into practice.

Catherine Dand (Borthwick Institute, University of York)

Martin Taylor: Fewer, Bigger, Better – Hull History Centre

Martin acknowledged that this recommendation attracted the most comment. Many colleagues saw this as a threat to smaller local authority archive services. The service delivery model would rest on active partnership working.

Hull History Centre will be the end result of such a partnership. Hull has a great deal of civic pride as well as being identified as the worse place to live in the UK. Hull has many significant archival and local studies collections including Andrew Marvel’s correspondence, the literary archives of Philip Larkin and the Liberty Archive. All stored in buildings not fit for purpose in storage and access terms. The partnership was actually formed in 2000 and the history centre will actually open in 2010 – it is not a short process. Success rested upon:

Political Support: although there has been a shift in the political ruling party, there is general cross-party support for the project and has been driven forward by all ruling members. Member attitudes are crucial as mergers and partnership working can be contentious and need to be sold to the local electorate.

Senior Officer Vision: this was also vital. Lack of funding as well as chief officer support meant that the past problems were not addressed although identified by the then city archivist. The project could only move forward when senior officers had the will to act.

Partnership: the city council and university formed the partnership to develop the history centre although it was not the first time the two organisations had worked together – it was possible to build upon an existing relationship. The agreement said that the new centre will provide a seamless service to the public run by a management board. Running costs will be split and records will still  be deposited with the most appropriate partner. Staff will continue to be employed by their current organisation. The agreement is for 25 years but can be broken with two years notice on either side. The History Centre will have a separate visual identity to the parent organisations.

Advantages to the public will bring everything under one roof. There will be joint outreach services and it is possible to take advantage of economies of scale.

Beverley is nine miles form Hull and is home to the Treasure House an East Riding cultural partnership. Could Hull and Beverley have worked together? The two authorities have had a fraught relationship since about 1440 so would have been politically impossible ten years ago. Records are iconic and representative and moving them away from the locality would lead to an outcry.

A local politician is supposed to have said: “I’d rather see my records burn than let them go to Beverley”

Resources: current economic climate means that local government will face challenging times and the new service may face cuts immediately. The new building will be more expensive to run. The support of the constituent organisations and high profile make the History Centre a more robust service than it was before. The Olympics in 2012 will take funding away from cultural and heritage projects so capital funding may not be there in the future.

Martin hoped to welcome colleagues to the Hull History Centre in 2010.

Nick Kingsley: Archives for the 21st Century Consultation

Consultation on this TNA strategy from May-August 2009. Received 625 responses. Over 1400 people viewed the document.

87.4% agreed that strategic direction was needed at this time. Some concerns about the timing of the strategy in the current financial climate.

70.5% agreed that the document identified the right challenges. Of those that had issues, it was mainly that certain elements had been left out rather than any objection to what was in it. These will be looked at in redrafting.

The ‘fewer, bigger, better’ was controversial – 50.7% agreed there was value in this but many wanted clarification as to what exactly was meant. Regional archive centres had not been intended. More people left comments on this than any other question. Concerns centred on community engagement and the user experience and the ability of local authorities to manage services in partnership and across boundaries.

84.7% agreed with developing active participation in partnership with other cultural and learning services. The caveats were that loss of identity shouldn’t occur and that there had to be clear benefits for all partners.

85.4% agreed that strengthened leadership and a responsive skilled workforce were essential to raise the profession’s profile. Some disagreed that there was a current leadership problem and saw the question as an attack on the existing workforce. Some felt the question implied that the current archival workforce was under-performing. The ability to release staff for training was more of an issue than budgets.

94% felt it was importnat to develop a coordinated response to managing digital information and access.

93.5% agreed that it was importnat to ensure comprehensive access to archive catalogues and content. Strongly felt that catalogues should take precedence.

73.8% agreed with the model of excellence set out in the policy. Some felt it was too bland and applicable to any public-facing organisation. Some unwilling to aspire to excellence as made funding vulnerable.

Other comments: 40% of respondents left comments. Desire for legislation was strong and also for the extension of the designation scheme. Some identified a patronising attitude to older people which sursprised the TNA.

Legislation: respondents felt that making archives mandatory and statutory was essential. The 2003 investigation showed a lack of cross-government support for such a course. There were also funding concerns in imposing a new duty on local authorities.

Fewer, Bigger, Better: possibly sent out the wrong message and this will be clarified in the final document. What was actually meant was together, bigger, better.  Really meant thatsome services could operate in partnership such as sharing an outreach officer.

 Traditional v Digital skills Latin and palaeograpghy still important as without them records cannot be interpreted. The challenge of digital records cannot overshadow the need to develop the traditional ones.

Cataloguing: this was seen as a major issue and not one to solve easily though cataloguing grant schemes could help.

Nick also noted that the responses were interesting and sometimes surprising.

Questions on Records Management

Is Freedom of Information the nearest we are going to get to archive legislation?

The panel could not look into the future but hoped this would not be the case. The FOI Act intended to give rights rather than govern practice.

What role did archivists play in information governance?

Often no role at all and those that did not have a defined structure to work within tended not to push themselves forward into a role. In many cases they did not see information management as having anything to do with archives which was  worrying.

The relationship between requestors and the local authority?

Requestors wanted a person to talk to and a dialogue with the information managers. They felt (rightly or wrongly) that they would receive a fuller answer or better service if this happened.