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13.5 Curriculum development for archive technicians

Technical Co-ordinating Committee

1. Introduction

1.1 The range of skills required by an ideal archive technician is very wide. This is because of the number of methods used to make recordings and the number of technical disciplines employed in the construction of recording systems over the years. For example, in a small film archive, the technician is likely to be expected to be knowledgeable about the film processing systems, the chemical degradation of film, the optics of the projectors, the acoustics of viewing theatres, the mechanics of viewers, the maintenance of the electronic and electrical apparatus and, in the spare moments, program the computer for the cataloguers.

1.2 It is unlikely that one person can be an expert in all these areas. A basic understanding of all the processes with a deep understanding of one or two areas is, however, not an unreasonable demand. Larger archives will be able to employ lower graded, specialist staff to assist the senior staff.

1.3 Because of the variation of terms used and qualifications granted in different countries, the word "Technician" has been used as a generic term in this document. This includes titles such as Diploma and Chartered Engineers and levels of education and training such as graduates in science and technology and students with higher level school leaving certificates.

2. Education

2.1 A distinction must be drawn between the wider education given at school, college and university and the vocational training provided specifically for archive work.

2.2 Prospective archive technicians should achieve a good, general education covering the sciences and technology and mathematics.

2.3 Candidates should be able to read, write and speak a minimum of two languages, of which one should be English.

2.4 The standard of education required will vary depending upon the entry level into the archive.

2.5 It should be remembered, however, that qualifications alone do not make a good archive technician. There are practical skills that cannot easily be taught in a school or university environment.

2.6 For this reason, it may be found better to recruit archive technicians with less than ideal academic qualifications but possessing enthusiasm tempered with caution, with the correct ethical approach to the preservation of the materials and with a practical, commonsense approach to problem solving and learning.

2.7 These recruits can then be trained within the archive community to the required technical and ethical standards.

2.8 The subjects that should offered by a candidate will vary depending on the type of archive.

2.8.1 For those intending to seek work in a photographic and/or film archive, the science education should major in chemistry and optics. Sound, electronics and computing should also be covered.

2.8.2 For those intending to work in a video archive, the science education should major on electronics and optics. Chemistry, sound and computing should also be covered.

2.8.3 For those intending to work in a sound archive, the science education should major on the properties of sound, electronics and mechanics. Chemistry, optics and computing should also be covered.

3. Pre-Employment Experience

3.1 For a number of archives, it may be beneficial to recruit technicians with some practical experience of working in a commercial environment that has some connection with the work of the archive.

3.2 For technicians who will be required to use equipment, operational experience will be sufficient. Those who will be required to maintain equipment will, however, need experience in the maintenance department plus some operational experience.

3.2.1 For a film or photographic archive, a period of work in a laboratory to gain practical experience of the commercial processes.

3.2.2 For a television archive, a period of work in the videotape and telecine department of a television broadcasting or recording company to gain practical experience of the equipment and processes currently in use.

3.2.3 For a sound archive, a period of work as a recording technician in a sound broadcasting or recording company to gain practical experience of the equipment and processes currently in use.

4. Vocational Training

4.1 The specialised training will almost certainly have to be organised by the archive. There are at present no courses of higher and/or vocational education for sound and moving image archive technicians at any college in the world. The archive must, therefore, budget both time and money for training new recruits.

4.2 The initial recruitment should normally be as a trainee. A schedule of training in the methods and equipment employed by the archive should be prepared.

4.3 It is essential that time for training is allocated within the schedule of the designated tutor-technician.

4.4 In addition to the practical, on-the-job training, tuition in the basics of cataloguing, the history of the media and the ethics of preservation must be included to help underline the difference between the role of an archive technician and the role of a technician in industry.

4.5 It may be possible to arrange a suitable course in these essential, but non-technical subjects, at a local library school. Also possible off-site at a local college is further theoretical training in computing, electronics, chemistry etc.

4.6 The progress of the trainee should be formally reviewed at least twice a year and the training schedule adjusted if necessary.

4.7 After completion of this training, which may well last two or three years in total, the trainee should be classed as a trained technician and paid accordingly.

4.8 This should not be considered the end of learning. The advent of new technologies and ideas requires all archive technicians to constantly keep their procedures under review.

4.9 Time and money must be allocated to the technical department to permit this continuous training of staff.

4.10 The involvement of technicians in national and international associations should be encouraged as should be the publication of ideas. Only by this interchange can technology play its full part in the preservation of the sounds and images in the care of the archive.

5. The Structure of the Technical Department

5.1 The question of how many levels or grades of technician required in an archive will depend upon the size of the archive. Three levels can be identified clearly:

5.1.1 Technical Manager in charge of the Technical Department.

5.1.2 Senior Technician taking responsibility for an area within the archive's operation and supervising a group of technicians and/or performing the more complex tasks.

5.1.3 Technician carrying out the simpler, more routine tasks.

5.2 More or fewer levels may be required depending on the type and quantity of work carried out by the archive.

5.3 Additional categories such as Technical Porter or Drivers may be required in larger institutions.

5.4 These must be better trained and rewarded at a higher level than their equivalents in book archives and libraries. If a book is dropped, it may be damaged but the print is unharmed. If a disc is dropped it will break and be completely lost.

5.5 It is important that the lower categories be given opportunities to develop their skills and to increase their educational standards to permit them to apply for the higher level positions. This will help generate the continuity of staffing that is so beneficial to an archive.

6. Responsibilities of Technicians

6.1 The Technical Manager Level

6.1.1 In all archives the Technical Manager must be a member of the management team of the archive.

6.1.2 The education level required must be to at least degree standard or equivalent and the postholder must have a good level of practical experience in appropriate fields of conservation.

6.1.3 The Technical Manager must be allocated a budget for staff, for equipment repair and replacement and for training. Without these, the postholder cannot run the department effectively.

6.2 The Senior Technician Level

6.2.1 The Senior Technician should have at least a good school leaving certificate or equivalent in appropriate subjects and several years of practical experience in an archive.

6.2.2 The postholder will take responsibility for part of the Technical Department's work under the overall control of the Technical Manager.

6.2.3 The postholder will be able to supervise a team of Technicians and also perform complex tasks within the archive.

6.2.4 The ability to take part in the decision making process on matters affecting the Senior Technician's area of responsibility is essential.

6.3 The Technician Level

6.3.1 The Technician will not necessarily be in possession of formal qualifications. Many of the jobs performed at this level are repetitive and do not require high levels of education.

6.3.2 If brought into the archive as a trainee, the postholder must be taught the practical skills required.

6.4 In many small archives, there may not be sufficient work to justify a structure with all three levels. If this occurs, the Technician level is the unnecessary level.

7. Conclusion

The Technical Department is essential to the work of the archive. The skills and experience that the technical staff bring to the archive are diverse and require proper training at all levels. Because of the lack of colleges and university courses teaching the required skills, the archive technician is sometimes seen as being less of an archive professional than say, one of the cataloguing section. It is impossible to separate out the technicians role in a sound and image archive. As with the other departments, it is woven into the structure and operation of the archive. For example, without the cataloguing section, it is impossible to find the required material; without the technical department, the material will not be usable. The two departments are in a symbiotic relationship.

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