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)


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