Category Archives: Digital Futures

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)


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?