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Section IV: Selection and appraisal

4.1 Archival appraisal
4.2 Selection and audiovisual collections
4.3 Archival appraisal of moving images
4.4 Selection policy and selection standards for television archives
4.5 Recommended standards and procedures for selection for preservation of television programme material

 

4.1 Archival appraisal

Helen P Harrison

1. introduction.

1.1 Appraisal is the intellectual decision making activity that precedes selection in common usage. Selection to reduce a collection to manageable proportions is, since the material has already been commissioned, more correctly, referred to as "reappraisal". In theory appraisal should precede, not follow accessioning, but this is seldom possible in audiovisual archives. Audiovisual archives usually deal with material which has been literally "collected" and not transferred to the archive in accordance with comprehensive schedules or as a result of a records management programme. The audiovisual archivist is much more likely to be dealing with material which has already been accessioned, often in haphazard order, and the task becomes one of weeding these accessioned materials into a more manageable, or cohesive collection.

Appraisal has been defined as the process of determining the value and thus the disposition of records, based upon their current administrative, legal and fiscal use: their evidential and informational or research value; their arrangement and their relationship to other records. A secondary definition is the monetary evaluation of gifts of manuscripts. Selection may be defined as the practical and controlled application of appraisal principles to a body of material.

Appraisal may also be aimed at determining the intrinsic value of the material. Intrinsic value is the archival term that is applied to permanently valuable records that have qualities and characteristics that make the records in their intrinsic form the only archivally acceptable form for preservation. This is a very difficult decision to make in considering many audiovisual materials because of the technology.

1.2 The nature of audiovisual materials and the attempts to build archives and collections of these materials are more likely to be based on "selection" of what is available rather than on appraisal of the long term value of the documentation of an institution, such as a business or a government agency. The sound archivist seldom has this amount of material to choose from, he deals in what has managed to survive until the point in time he considers collecting or preserving the material. This situation may change as a result of more adequate records management, but for the present it is very often a question of the archivist being presented with a collection of available material and then asked to make choices on the basis of his knowledge of the existing collection and the purposes of the repository.

Audiovisual records are therefore more closely related to the selection process than to the 'appraisal' process. Appraisal implies a more leisured activity whereby records or collections can be presented as a corporate entity to the archives which may take or reject at its final discretion.

With audiovisual archives the 'collectors' are seldom so well organised or so fortunate. There is a lesser degree of records management involved or evident. Audiovisual items are collected, acquired or presented for possible retention in a more piecemeal fashion. This is especially the case with moving images, but will also frequently apply to sound recordings.

1.3 Everything at some time may have some value. This surely is the dilemma of the archivist. If the archivist takes this attitude from the beginning then he is simply turning himself into a storekeeper. Some archivists and even donors might advocate that everything should be kept, and if it were to cost nothing to acquire, preserve and store archive materials then perhaps this policy of saving everything could be adopted. But to keep everything is a form of madness: archivists, like people, are forced to pick and choose, and audiovisual archivists must often choose from an incomplete record. Others would go to the other extreme "when in doubt, throw it out". What is surely required is something between the two, something which has been called, "disciplined appraisal". Archivists should withdraw from a race to acquire the total record - an impossible task with regard to audiovisual materials, including sound recordings, photographs and moving images, and they should concentrate instead on preserving materials selected in accordance with archival principles. Once again the principles of selection and appraisal are a necessity.

1.3.1 Selection is a necessity because of the volume of the material involved and the very nature of the material. Some sound archives have been in existence for nearly ninety years and the longer they exist the more necessary the process of selection becomes. Sound recordings were produced in the 1880s and 1890s, and the earliest sound archive was that established in Vienna in 1899. The fact that other archives were not established for a further 30 or 40 years has had a major effect on the collection of sound recordings and the necessity for and criteria of selection. Many of the early recordings did not survive long enough to be available to the archives.

Selection has been made even more imperative as a result of the increased ease of recording. With improvements in equipment and ease of handling such equipment to produce acceptable recordings, more and more people are recording material which can be regarded as of archival value.

1.3.2 Audiovisual materials are regarded as more difficult to preserve than paper documents. There is a cost involved, but there is a greater problem involved in locating information within the plethora of information available. Audiovisuals are very slow to work with, at both the input and at the output stage, they have to be listened to or viewed in real time. Unreasonable amounts of time needed in research due to large, confusing or mismanaged collections will often lead to the researcher giving up or looking for alternative sources. Therefore to try to keep everything can be argued to be as self-defeating as to keep nothing.

1.3.3 The volume of output makes selection inevitable. In addition to the commercial production of the recording industry there is a large non-commercial output and the output of oral historians and broadcasting. Where far more material is recorded than is transmitted, the unedited, untransmitted material may be potentially valuable for later usage. Specialized subject collections may also contain recorded material or the archivist may have conducted interviews which have been edited for public access purposes, but the unedited material has its own value. We might also consider one area often overlooked, which is selection at the point of origin. This is the situation in which the sound archivist who initiates a recording needs to reflect on why he has to record this material, at what length he should be doing so, and whether or not he should edit the recording and then dispose of the material which is superfluous to the recording he intended or his present requirements.

1.3.4 Selection has been made even more imperative as a result of the increased ease of recording. As tape recording has become easier and the equipment less cumbersome, more and more recording is made possible by a greater variety of people. No longer is it the sole province of a technician to record material for preservation purposes. With improvements in equipment and ease of handling such equipment to produce acceptable recordings, more and more people are recording material which can be regarded as a useful record.

1.4 Post accessioning selection may also be used to reduce an archive or collection to manageable proportions. Unless selection principles are used we are in danger of sinking in a tangle of magnetic tape, under a sea of books, cassettes, videodiscs or computer software. Worse, we might disappear altogether into the computer hardware in search of that elusive piece of data which was not properly labelled.

And herein lies another powerful argument for selection. If we do not select with reasonable care then what is the point of spending resources of time and money documenting, storing and preserving material which is not of archival value?

Indeed it can be argued that it is a dereliction of our duty as information providers, whether archivists, librarians or information scientists, not to select the material for preservation and future use. Too much information can be as difficult to handle as too little; it is equally difficult to access and discover the material which would be most useful. The idea that, with the aid of modern technology you can store everything easily on convenient little cassettes appeals to the research worker, but how is he going to access a roomful, (and it has been expressed in that very term), of audio or videocassettes when each cassette bears from 3 to 6 hours of material; not necessarily in edited form. The research worker too frequently forgets that someone has to expend effort and time entering the information into the database in a retrievable or accessible order.

1.5 The criteria for selection of sound recordings have not been, and indeed cannot be, laid down as hard-and-fast rules, but it is hoped that those who consult this study will find many practical examples and working principles in the pages which follow. Examples of criteria used in different types of archives are included: these should assist sound archivists in arriving at reasoned, practical criteria for selecting material to store in archives for passing on to future generations.

2. archival appraisal and sound archives

2.1 Before embarking on a discussion of the appraisal of sound recordings and other audiovisual materials which contain sound as an integral part, it will be useful to examine the nature of sound archives and implications of archival theory of appraisal. For the nature and contents of certain archives, especially audiovisual archives, will often determine and influence application of the principles of appraisal and selection which will be necessary and used. Although this study will concentrate upon sound recordings there is a marked tendency for the audiovisual materials of the moving image that is, film and video, and sound recordings to be acquired by the same archival repository, especially in view of the increasing convergence of the technologies.

2.2 Audiovisual materials can be housed together or they may be maintained separately, but as with most archive materials the lines of demarcation between audiovisual materials are often not distinct. Film has sound on it, magnetic recording may have sound alone, music and effects, or it may have sound and images, or it may be a purely visual record.

2.2.1 Converging technology is also having a marked influence on the trend to collect a variety of audiovisual materials rather than one type alone. This is especially evident with magnetic recording and with the disc technologies of compact disc and videodisc, which can be used more and more interchangeably to carry sound and visual images, either still or moving.

2.3 Appraisal is a relatively new concept in archives management, and it is an even younger concept in audiovisual archives management. The appraisal of sound recordings has scarcely begun for two obvious reasons. Collections management has only recently become a major factor, for collection per se has been the all important issue up to now.

2.3.1 Sound recordings when looked at alongside motion pictures present less problems in terms of storage space and it can be argued that there are fewer financial burdens in the mere collection, storage and conservation of stock. This latter may seem a trite statement, but it is one of the main reasons for the delays of sound archives in setting up selection or appraisal policies. Until recently it has been possible to store and conserve a larger proportion of the sound materials which have been produced due to more favourable parameters of cost of production and storage space and replay devices than, for example, the production of moving images. Restrictive selection policies have not as yet been forced upon sound archives.

2.3.2 Another reason for the lack of selection policies in sound archives is the nature of the collection of audiovisual materials where legal deposit may be unknown and the archivist ends up by accepting everything offered in the hope that some day he will be able to rationalise his collection. A 1972 ICA report which linked the archives of motion pictures, photographic records and sound recordings, was the first significant recognition that audiovisual materials were archival materials. Other important recognitions of the archival charter of audiovisual materials were the policies of the US National Archives dating back to 1934, the policies of the BBC (1979) of the British Records Association Working Party and of Audiovisual Archive the ICA Working Group on Audiovisual Records.

2.3.3 IASA, which might have been expected to lead the field in administration of sound recordings, has not as yet produced guidelines for collection, appraisal or selection although the recent publication, Selection in sound archives begins to address this problem area. This is an indication of the extent to which concentration has been placed to date on acquisition. The problems with this narrow emphasis is that the real burden of costs will fall on future archivists unless adequate attention is given to the activities of records management, appraisal, accessioning, bibliographic control, and conservation.

2.4 The extent to which collection or acquisition has been carried out without adequate attention to these other considerations and activities is reflected in the literature. The present study attempts to remedy this situation by examining guidelines and principles already developed for other types of archival materials, especially for audiovisual materials. Problems of the integration of sound archives with other types of archives also have to be taken into account. For example, should one select material in all genre that is relevant to the collection or the collecting institution, or should one select only the most appropriate genre that is being used - and how does one arrive at this decision? There are also questions as to who should be doing the selection which need an answer. The purpose of the repository, that is, its function, will undoubtedly have an affect on the appraisal policy.

2.4.1 There are inevitable constraints placed on any archive which make it necessary to adopt selection policies. These constraints may be purely basic and arbitrary ones, such as space or the high cost of storage, or they may be constraints imposed by the available resources in terms of people, time, and the financial burden of preparing the material for storage, conservation and subsequent access. Further discussion is needed of the concept of intrinsic value of sound material and the permanent and interim value of such material.

2.5 As archivists of a fairly new technology sound archives must define a "sound archive". An initial reaction may be - instinctively - that a sound archive is different from a conventional (paper) archive. A sound archive may have the same policies, philosophy and similar aims in the preservation and collection of a particular slice of human activity as any other archive. This slice may be the large one of an era, century or decade, reflecting the cultural and social life of the times, or it may be restricted to a smaller slice which records particular aspects of a special place, a restricted period of time, or particular subjects on one or more materials. But the acquisition policies, the principles of arrangement, organisation, access, security, conservation and preservation of audiovisual materials are different to the extent that they require modification or adaptation of traditional archival practices. There are differences in degree in the application of archival principles to textual and non-textual materials, and these differences are not confined to the material of which the record is made. Many of the fundamental differences relate to the content of the record and how it is acquired and organised.

2.5.1 There is another type of collection closely allied to archives, and it is this type of collection which is probably more appropriate to consider as an audiovisual archive. This is the collection of last resort. Audiovisual archives are so often in this category that we should begin to merge the two types. Collections of last resort represent the attempt to conserve copies of material in usable condition - at least for reference purposes - and they seldom retain archival originals or masters in the accepted sense. Many audiovisual archives fall into this category whether they acquire sound recordings, film or video. Audiovisual archivists are familiar with having to transfer material from one obsolete or deteriorating format or medium to a usable format, and then deciding what to do about the original material. A collection of last resort is very often the best that can be achieved. The original material may have to be destroyed, although not necessarily, but like nitrate film many of the audiovisual carrying materials have a self-destructive nature and will deteriorate without any intervention from the archivist or curator. What should be saved from the material is very often the subject content of the material and this, in an audiovisual archive context, is what should really be emphasised. The preservation of the content for reference is the objective, rather than preservation of the badly degraded, decomposed or technologically outdated original.

2.5.1.1 The original should not always be destroyed of course, and need not necessarily be destroyed unless it is in a dangerous condition. There is always the possibility that developing technology will improve restoration techniques, especially with sound recordings and materials recorded on an originally stable medium. Such materials can be retained in their original format in the hope that new, or developing, technology will shortly reach the stage at which the material can be saved and rerecorded on to a more permanent format for the archivist, or in a more acceptable format for the listener. One of the traditional implications of the word archives is that the original documents, or documents as close to the original as possible, should be preserved.

2.5.1.2. With audiovisual archives it is seldom if ever possible or practicable to preserve the original document for reasons of wear/tear/damage, unsuitability of format or obligations, or because of the information it contains which is of value beyond the reasons for its original creation. This is the traditional view of archives. Most of these are "paper archives", but film and video, sound recording or photographic archives are not necessarily "official" archives in the same sense. They are much more likely to be archives of our current or recent culture. Given the technology involved in audiovisual archives and the material which results, this cultural heritage is mainly of the late nineteenth and twentieth century, and educational audiovisual archives are among the youngest of these institutions.

2.6 Selection is a form of decision making and is usually based on a set of principles or guidelines. In many cases these principles have never been published and such is the case with sound archives. Selection is arguably the most important and at the same time the most difficult of all the activities of the archivist or curator, especially those dealing with audiovisual materials. It is an essential element of the archival process, and imposes a discipline on the collector almost from the beginning. A collector may not normally consider selection immediately, but the very consideration of what to collect or how wide a range of material one includes in a collection is one of the first principles of selection. As individuals we are constantly making selections in everyday life, and most of our everyday decisions are forms of selection. Decisions are taken almost unconsciously according to whim or circumstance. But selection takes decision-making much further than this, it is usually based on a set of principles or guidelines. Collectors of sound recordings are allowed to have their own predilections or whims, and this is not to denigrate their purposes, for without collectors the material may not have been saved. However, collections grow and very soon some process of selection, or weeding or discarding becomes necessary.

2.6.1 The collector may be working within his own parameters of cost and space, and it is his own decision as to what is kept and what is disposed of by exchange, sale destruction. Others may question his decisions but are not in any position to criticise unless they do something positive to assist in the retention or preservation of the collection in part or whole. A collector can be subjective in his approach, but an archivist should be objective, and a selection policy or set of principles is needed here to provide a framework for collection appraisal and selection.

2.6.2 Some form of records management is essential to impose an order upon the record and make it manageable and accessible to future users of the archive, whether these users are researchers, browsers, those with a commercial concern to reuse the material, or interested members of the general public. Selection is thus a necessary process and should be considered from the outset. It need not happen immediately but with any volume of material the need for it will quickly become apparent. Selection, like management, is not an exact science; if it were then the archivist might have exact criteria and theorems to guide him. Nor is selection solely an art. it can be argued as more of an art than a science, but it is preferable to consider selection as a craft, practised to achieve certain ends with suitable criteria or guidelines to meet these ends.

2.7 The basic principle of selection for an existing collection it to preserve that material which has significant evidential or research value, and then the purpose of selection is to ensure a balanced, representative collection of material relevant to the nature of the subject matter and purpose of the archive concerned. This means different archives will have different selection policies according to the intended use of the collection. There will, almost inevitably, be grey areas where the material could be considered of use to the archive in conjunction with the rest of the collection. Rigid criteria are thus going to be of little use to the archivist; criteria must be flexible and take into account related areas of interest.

2.8 Some archives have a selection staff which concentrates on the areas of acquisition and selection. Some archives use a system of selection committees, usually an "ad hoc" arrangement whereby committee members are made aware of likely items of interest, or debate the merits from a listing supplied by the archive staff. Such systems normally depend on the subsequent availability of the material and upon the cost of acquisition. Much material escapes the net through this method of selection, but it does have the merit of consultation. Selection by consultation and committee may be fraught with difficulty when sectional interests appear and conflicts occur between people from different disciplines. In a book on Archive Administration written in 1922, Sir Hilary Jenkinson noted: "The archivist is concerned to keep materials intact for the future use of students working upon subjects which neither he nor any one else has contemplated. The archivist's work is that of conservation and his interest in his archives as archives, not as documents valuable for proving this or that thesis. How then is he to make judgements and choices on matters which may not be his personal concern. If the archivist cannot be of use, can we not appeal to the historian - he may seem the obvious person to undertake such a task. As soon, however, as the historian's claims in this connection are investigated it becomes clear that the choice of him as arbiter of the fate or archives is at least as open to criticism as that of the archivist. Must he not be regarded, where his own subject is concerned, as a person particularly liable to prejudice? Surely there will always remain the suspicion that in deciding upon a policy of archive conservation he favoured those archive classes which furthered his own special line of inquiry. The very fact that a historian is known to have selected for an archive is fatal to its impartiality". All too frequently people eminent in their own fields want everything kept, "in case they need to study it". Selection should thus be done by the archivist and not by outsiders with pecadilloes and sectional interests. Specially appointed staff in the archive can see the wider implications, and if thoroughly versed in the aims and objectives of the particular archive are in a good position to select. To be effective, however, they must be carefully chosen, and they should have a set of criteria with which to work.

2.9 The development and variety of sound recordings and sound archives has already been noted. The variety of sound archives extends from the national archives which collect widely, to the regional archive concentrating on conserving material from a particular area, to the specialised archive dealing with anything from ethnic minorities to wildlife recordings or phonetic collections which deal with dialect. The typology of sound archives indicates the different varieties such as music archives, ethnomusicology, radio sound archives, national archives, academic and those in universities, local history collections, and oral history collections which may or may not be of archival propensity. What is oral history today may become archival material tomorrow.

2.9.1 The development of interests is reflected in the membership of the International Association of Sound Archives, which has over 400 institutional and personal members. This is a small number by some standards, but it is a much larger number than the members of some other audiovisual archive associations, due to the different subject interests and purposes of sound archives as well as the personal membership category. This variety of collecting institution for sound recordings must be taken into account when dealing with appraisal. The national archive will collect material associated with national events, perhaps the commercial output of recordings, perhaps government archives; the radio sound archive collects material primarily for the purposes of reuse and for reuse potential within the relevant broadcasting company. The specialist subject archive will collect according to its subject interest. For example, the Imperial or Australian War Museums will collect material pertaining to conflict or wars with which the national forces have been concerned. The type of institution will have to be considered in dealing with exchange and international cooperation, and also when trying to prevent wasteful duplication of effort.

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