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5.5 Towards standards for audiovisual materials

Helen P Harrison

In the audiovisual world it is more accurate to consider a policy leading or groping towards standards for bibliographic descriptions than a discussion of standards which exist. We have no universally accepted standards as yet but that does not mean we are not badly in need of them. The negotiating stages have proved very lengthy for audiovisual materials, but then we started later than books and the delay is therefore relative.

Not all of the materials need concern us in this context but there is a distinction between what we can call the stand alone materials: - video, film, sound recordings, and the materials often incorporated into a pack or set along with other avm and textual material: slides, photographs, etc. The latter materials are usually published in a recognisable `book' format and can be treated by normal methods of bibliographic description using for example AACR2 or ISBD with suitable amendments for a list of contents. Publishers of packs had to be encouraged to include detailed lists of the contents in the packs for descriptive purposes, for listing in the notes of a conventional cataloguing entry, as well as for the exchange or lending of material - so that it is relatively easy to check that all items are present.

It is when we move into the stand alone materials that the problems of standards are evident.

Visual Materials

Although moving and still visuals are all photographic processes, the end products demand completely different approaches to bibliographic control.

Film and video are blind, you cannot tell from looking at the material without the intervention of a replay machine what it contains. In order to ascertain the contents of a film or video it has to be replayed or projected and apart from the fact that this may damage the material there is a time factor involved. Film, video and sound recordings have to be viewed and listened to in real time.

The very fact that video, audiotape and film are blind means that more has to go into the descriptive entry, especially in the `content' area. Books and periodicals have contents lists, the major av of moving visuals and sound recordings may not. AV contained in packs, sets or kits may be included in the contents list of the pack, but it is seldom included in any detail, even with CDs. Books also have indexes, av only occasionally, and then it is usually in the form of burnt in codes on magnetic tape or laser discs. There is therefore a need in dealing with av to produce summaries, synopses even shotlists when dealing with detailed, concentrated items such as newsclips or stockshots.


But what is the purpose of the exercise? Is a description of contents of material which is supposed to be seen and heard necessary? The aim of descriptive cataloguing and the retrieval of information is to produce a written or readable record of the contents of a piece of audiovisual material which will reduce the necessity for overviewing/listening or use to determine its contents. It should enable the user to obtain or find his way quickly and efficiently to those items which are of particular relevance to him in his search or research.

Indexing audiovisual and textual documents : Is there a difference?

AV materials require more description and therefore more descriptive powers from the indexer. A book has many tools to guide and inform the user as to its content: contents list, visible title page, index and general immediate accessibility to the content. As we have already indicated most av material is blind. One may be able to judge the content from its title, cover or related material, although this information is seldom available with audiovisual materials - they are difficult to browse. Such information has to be created or composed by the indexer.

Still visuals are quite different in this one respect. They are meant to be seen. It is a waste of words to try and describe the content or subject of many photographs. They have to be seen to be appreciated. You can employ a thousand words to describe a picture but still give no real notion of the work itself. So why try. The important aspects in cataloguing pictures are provenance, date, photographer/artist and ownership.

Sound recordings also require the intervention of a replay machine to determine the contents and this requires real time. There is the problem of albums or audiotapes/ cassettes or sets of recordings where a particular track is required among many. All this needs to be indexed in detail to assist the researcher. Compact Discs now have the advantage that they are easier to search with digital counters which can operated by the replay machine to make life easier. But have you noticed how little information appears on modern CDs. Gone are the detailed sleeve notes which records used to have (probably to cut down on copyright costs) and now you are lucky to get the work and the performers.

Bibliographic control of av material.

Almost immediately we come up against the problem of terminology. It always seems odd to speak of bibliographic control in connection with audiovisual materials, and yet we persist. Recently it has been suggested that we use intellectual control instead.

Intellectual control includes content and physical description to help the user locate the material required in amongst a lot more material. Intellectual control began life as cataloguing and classification, and has evolved through documentation, indexing, information retrieval, bibliographical control, and now intellectual control.

In looking for information about books librarians have had several services available, bibliographies, guides to the literature, indexes and abstracts for a long time.

One of the main factors which often make it difficult to progress towards standards for bibliographic description and numbering is the lack of a single national organisation with a responsibility for collecting audiovisual materials, and a lack of a legal deposit system for av materials.

Statutory deposit has two useful results for the documentation of materials. It means the build up of large collections of material and ensures a central point from which to cull information needed by the bibliographers. This in turn may result in the establishment of a cataloguing agency based on the collection. eg. BNB at the British Library and the Library of Congress cataloguing agency in the US. AV materials are not so served. There is no one collector of materials nor is there one supplier. AV materials are not produced by a single trade: a variety of commercial and non-commercial organisations produce materials, rather than the Publishers' Association as a single body for books.

Other factors which make it difficult to locate information about av materials include a lack of standard numbering, and of standard descriptions and adequate cataloguing rules.

Standard numbering systems are difficult to apply to certain of the avm when you consider the volume of the material eg. slides and photographs, although publishers of these materials may issue standard numbers for sets or portfolios. There are also difficulties of deciding when an item is published or not: does publication mean that the item is available for publication, purchase or hire, and what then do we do about material which is capable of being recorded off-air.

Standard Cataloguing Rules

The lack of adequate cataloguing rules or internationally accepted standard descriptions for the stand alone audiovisual materials meant that specialist libraries were forced to devise suitable standard rules to cope with the materials held. Specialist codes were produced for cataloguing particular collections, especially of moving images for example: British Film Institute, National Film Archive, the Library of Congress, Motion Picture Division, the Aslib Film Production Librarians Rules, The Museums Association in England has a Documentation committee (MDA) which produces guidelines and standards for description, although these are usually for still visuals and museum objects. The International Associations of FIAF, FIAT and IASA have their own ideas for descriptive cataloguing.

Levels of description

Ideally standard rules should allow for minimum and maximum levels of description and be used according to the needs of the cataloguer or bibliographer.

The user may just want to know that the material exists.

The enquirer may want to know what has been transferred to film/video, or he may need a full description of the item. This necessitates a full description in the form of a synopsis or sequence list or even shotlist.

The depth of description is another fruitful area for exploration. Should it be by collection, series, title, sequence, shot or frame.

What of the differences of presentation; feature films, documentaries, series, serials, newscasts, newsreels or newsclips. All require a different approach and a catalogue covering more than one type of material needs to be able to tailor the indexing to the different materials. For example a feature film may only require technical and production details, and credits plus a brief summary of the plot. A documentary or education programme will need a description of the content, its pedagogical significance, its setting, even its bias.

Some discipline is required - but which is the best? Should we have hard and fast rules for control of av, and if so can they be universally applied. It is much more likely that a pragmatic approach is needed and systems will have to be adapted to suit the conditions and environment in which the documentalist finds himself. This question is also a matter of economics and resources.

Another aspect of bibliographic description occurs in the catalogue of a particular institutions' holdings, eg. a National Film Archive. Here the item in hand has to be described as such copies may have bits missing, or additional to the normal distribution copies. It is important for the researcher to know which copy each archive has and also important to include all of these elements in case the archive should contemplate producing a published catalogue or if it intends to include the material in a union catalogue of holdings.

Minimum entries with the maximum of information which can be provided within these parameters is the aim, but is it feasible?

Exchange of bibliographic information is the first aim of the catalogue or publishers listing but we cannot forget the physical exchange of material. This is perhaps where books and periodicals are easier to cater for, but av is meant to be seen and heard, that is the way the information is transmitted - by sound and vision.

Data Elements of Description

The range of data elements of audiovisual materials is different enough to that for books to indicate that existing book-oriented standards will not suffice. Before looking at some of the cataloguing rules it is useful to define those elements which are thought to be essential in detailed description of audiovisual materials. Audiovisual materials are compact and extremely efficient information carriers. The resulting work in documenting them and particularly of describing their contents is time-consuming and expensive. It should not be an exercise to repeat too often.

The format, system and carrier of avm is of crucial importance to the successful replay of material in different situations. Thus the technical description or specifications, in varying degrees of detail is an essential part of a bibliographic record.

Essential elements

Production Company
Technical specifications
Content analysis
Location number

Title. Moving images are usually known by their title, especially fiction material. However the title may be a catchy or misleading one. There are further problems with title in that fiction film is often released under different titles in different countries. Some moving images of course do not have titles as such, for example stockshots, newsfilm which have `descriptive' or supplied titles rather than actual titles.

Other avm are identified by a Number - eg gramophone records, which in large collections are filed by record company and serial number. Record companies issue by number. The TITLE of a record is not always helpful, and consider an ALBUM TITLE which is even worse if you have 50 tracks on a CD or Disc.

The TITLE of recording is also not always helpful. eg. Sonata in G Major without a composer, or instruments is useless.

This all flies in the face of most bibliographic description which in conventional mode is by Author/Name.

Production details. Producers and Distributors are very important as are details of hire, purchase, loan, even off-air recording conditions.

Date. This one of the more controversial aspects. Does this refer to the year of production - some av takes years to produce, the date of recording - which can bear no relation to the date of transmission or distribution (release) in the case of film. The date may appear as a year, or more precisely as a day, as in the case of newsclips. Photographs also may be dated more precisely than a year.

Credits. Can be very lengthy especially for a feature film or television documentary.

Technical specifications. Physical description is essential to enable the user to know what replay device he will need, if any, and whether the material needs to be transferred to another format before it can usefully be used in the country of acquisition. In addition the technical description should contain information such duration, sound or silent, number of tracks in an audiotape recording, colour or black and white. The list is seemingly endless and makes it difficult and confusing to construct something like a multi-media catalogue. Audiovisual materials are more likely to appear in published catalogues as separate media, eg. a film or video catalogue, a sound recordings catalogue.

Content analysis. This can be at several levels, from a brief summary or synopsis to a full sequence list or shotlist. The subject is certainly necessary, but there is a wide variation in the amount of detail which it is possible to include in different types of catalogue. In the case of many av a summary/synopsis is needed even to explain the catchy title. Gramophone record sleeves do this admirably, but you cannot always reproduce such detail in a bibliographic entry.

Location number may be required, especially if we are referring to material in a specific collection, via a national archive or library catalogue.

As many of the cataloguing and descriptive standards for audiovisual materials have been based on specialised collections another example can be drawn from the Manual of Archival Description which aims to provide standards for the control of finding aid systems in all `archives' including photographic, sound film and video archives. MAD2 examined the suitability of AACR2, and while a number of common concepts and points of similarity were found, the needs are sufficiently different to justify two codes of practice.

MAD 2 contains lists of data elements for several special formats including photographic, sound, film and video archives. Although these are probably too detailed for bibliographic exchange purposes these lists can be used as MAXIMUM or MACRO data lists.

An area in which the exchange of information is very important is that of broadcasting, especially television, and an example of data elements was developed by FIAT, the International Federation for Television Archives. Their Minimum Data List has two purposes:

1. To make sure that a certain minimum amount of information will be found in a television archive which can be used in the exchange of information between libraries.

2. To serve as a norm for newly established television libraries.

The terms are as follows:

Title. Denominations given to a production by its producer

Given title. Denominations given by the archivist/librarian when the proper title is missing

Subtitle. Secondary title: title of each part of a series production. Part title.

Other titles. Any other title identifying a production, including original title.

B. Producer. person who organises and directs the operations necessary to making a programme.

Copyright. Designation of the person(s) or organisation(s) holding the rights to make use of a production.

Other names. All names (if possible combined with functions) referring to the realisation of a production.

C. Date of transmission. Date of first public transmission by air or by cable.

Date of shooting. Could include several dates covering shooting over a period of time

Place of shooting. Place(s) of shooting the programme.

D. Medium. Nature of the carrier on which the production is made (film, videotape etc). Also any comments on quality

Running time. Duration of the transmission period used for a production.

Sound recorded. Nature of the procedure of sound registration (eventually including mute or international sound track)

Colour and/or black and white. System of colour eg. Technicolor, Ektachrome, PAL, NTSC, SECAM

Format and Standard. Gauge of film, tape width and line standard (525, 625 line etc.)

E. Content Summary of the subject described in a production

Keyword Each description judged to be significant, to give access to the production mentioned.

F. Production number. Unique number given to a programme for administrative purposes

Archive number Unique identification number given by the library/archive

Cataloguing rules.

Bibliographic control depends to a great extent on standards embodied in cataloguing rules, and the bibliographic description of av materials started at something of a disadvantage. None of the existing rules were adequate. General collections looked towards the International Rules, and at first lighted on AACR, which despite amendments in AACR2 are still not sufficient, although used in many general libraries. ISBD (NBM) is a developing standard which could suffice for many. In addition the numerous different types of libraries and archives which contain av also have their own special requirements for bibliographic description.

Standard Numbering.

Standard numbering plays an important role in identifying print material uniquely, eg ISBN and ISSN, but it has not achieved widespread acceptance in the av world. If material is published by book publishing houses the chances are they will come up with an identifying number, eg slidesets with notes or in packs. But most av are not `published' in this book sense of the word. They may be `distributed', `screened' or transmitted in a broadcast situation.

Attempts to provide ISBN for audiovisual materials have foundered on these rocks a few times, but attempts have been made. Of course the situation on legal deposit of av materials makes it difficult to regulate and control the situation. No legal deposit means no central collecting agency which could assign standard numbering even if it could be made to work.

One area of av which has been trying to introduce standard numbering is the record industry. A Music Industry Code MIC was proposed to the American Standard Institute as far back as 1970. The ISO (International Standard Organisation) which had already produced ISBN and ISSN was assigned to produce a scheme for an International Standard Recording Number. This ISRN however refers to the carrier, not to the recorded items which can be reissued in many other configurations. By 1974 ISO decided that an ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) was required for the recorded items. The ISRC is designed to identify each recorded item, whether this is a symphony, an opera, or a single hit tune. The code once allocated can follow the item through its various metamorphoses.

The ISRC is International Standard ISO 3901. The code itself consists of 12 characters, is alphanumeric using Arabic numbers and the Roman alphabet. It includes five elements:

1) country
2) first owner
3) year of recording
4) recording
5) recording item

The IFPI, International Federation of Phonogram Industries has been appointed the International Registration Authority.

The ISRC is also used to monitor the use made of the recorded items and the next problem comes in collecting and distributing the income. Identification of the product is vital for the record industry. It has perhaps less relevance to the librarian at present in exchange of bibliographic information, although IFPI would be interested in any ideas to use the code in this area. It is such a mammoth task to collect the data and run the scheme that the more uses it can be put to the better.

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