BISA Conference 2012

Event: British and Irish Sound Archives’ Annual Conference

Venue: The Archive Centre, Martineau Lane, Norwich, NR1 2DQ (directions, map, hotels)

Dates: 18-19 May 2012


Friday, 18 May

09.30 – Registration and refreshments

10:30 – Welcome by Dr John Alban, County Archivist of Norfolk

10:45 – Aspiration to Action: Establishing a Sound Archive, Jonathan Draper (Senior Archivist, Norfolk Record Office / Norfolk Sound Archive)

This presentation will introduce the work of the Norfolk Sound Archive (which forms part of the Norfolk Record Office, the local authority archive service for Norfolk), using recordings from its collections. This presentation will look at some of the problems faced when sound forms a small part of a larger institution's activities. It will look at the solutions found when resources and technical support is limited.

Jonathan Draper is a Senior Archivist at the Norfolk Record Office and has responsibility for the Norfolk Sound Archive, which he helped to establish in 2003. Jonathan has always had an interest in the preservation of modern media. He undertook a three-month internship at the British Library Sound Archive in 2010 where he furthered his knowledge of the issues faced by sound archives.

11:25 – Putting your archive on the web, Richard Ranft (Head of Sound & Vision, The British Library)        

In 2006, the British Library published online 12,000 tracks from its sound archive. The work, funded by JISC, involved selection, digitisation and cataloguing of many analogue recordings, finding and negotiating with rights holders, and building an expandable technical platform and interface for its intended audience, the UK higher education sector.  A second JISC grant during 2007-2009 more than tripled the number of recordings made accessible, and efforts were made to increase the proportion of recordings that could be made publicly accessible. Since then, more recordings and website enhancements have been added by the Library. There are now 50,000 tracks of rare, unpublished and out-of-print recordings: music - ranging from classical performances in the 1900s to rowdy pub sessions in the 1970s - spoken words and dialects, natural and environmental sounds. A new front end to the website ( was launched in 2012 to allow greater public interactivity with the site. To illustrate that challenges in making archival audio more widely available, I will describe some of the technical, legal and ethical hurdles faced in unlocking and sharing this selection of recordings, most of which were created and archived long before the world wide web was invented.

12:05 – BISA’s Annual General Meeting

12:45 – Lunch, a cold buffet will be provided

14:00 – Sound Records: genre and popular music in Rules for Archival Description, Delaina Sepko

Popular music does not need to be safeguarded like original maps or account books.  An individual can acquire one of its ubiquitous recordings any number of ways that make it unnecessary to go to an archive to access such music.  If preserving the physical item is not the aim of archiving, then what is?  Genre - information about production and reception - is fundamental to understanding popular music and this presentation demonstrates that it is this information that needs archiving.  As a result, archivists working with this material need to engage with genre.  Drawing on genre theory, the first section will explain its relationship to popular music and introduce two of its key aspects: creation and discourse.  In the second section the Rules for Archival Description chapter for sound recordings is used to represent three popular music releases to demonstrate the standard’s strengths and weaknesses when applied to this material.  Finally, this presentation suggests how genre should be used in description of popular music. 

Delaina is currently a PhD student in Humanities Computing at the Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute (HATII), University of Glasgow.  Her research investigates the impact of technology on the preservation of music and she is particularly interested in the processes of acquisition, description and access.

14:40 – Audio and Multimedia Resources at the UK Data Archive, Richard Deswarte

The UK Data Archive, based at the University of Essex, is the curator of the largest collection of digital data in the social sciences and humanities in the UK.  It has over 8000 datasets relating to society both historical and contemporary.  While the vast majority of its datasets are numerical quantitative survey data, the Archive has slowly been acquiring both audio and audiovisual data, normally the result of academic research projects.  This paper will highlight the audio and audiovisual data held at the Archive and the plans to make it more available to researchers and other users.

Richard provides strategic and daily line-management for the running of the History Data Service team and its collection of over 650 historical data sets.  He also manages the day-to-day functioning of ESDS Qualidata.  An historian of modern Europe, he has professional interests in history and computing, digital history, digital humanities, the semantic web and e-learning.

15.20 – Refreshments

15.40 – Whistlers and Memories: Sound Recordings at the British Antarctic Survey Archives Service, Joanna Rae

The sound collection at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Archives Service is an unusual mix of more traditional sound archives and science data in audio format.  These require differing approaches to appraisal, cataloguing and digitization, which will be illustrated in the presentation.

The bulk of the traditional sound archive comprises the products of the ongoing British Antarctic Oral History Project (BAOHP), initiated in 2009 to preserve the memories of those involved with British scientific endeavour in the Antarctic. The project has created a new and unique collection of over 200 audio and video recordings. It has revealed some surprising and entertaining insights – from a near mutiny aboard a research vessel, through inter-institutional conflict to underlying organizational cultural norms. The BAOHP is a collaboration between British Antarctic Survey (BAS), UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT), BAS Club, and Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI). The project built on the work of a much smaller BAS oral history project, begun in 1985.

We also hold over 5,500 open reel audio tapes recording upper atmospheric phenomena called ‘whistlers’ - very low frequency radio waves – made in the Antarctic and elsewhere between 1967 and 1995.  These contain raw science data that can be analysed to reveal information about the structure of the ionosphere and magnetosphere through which they pass and how this has changed over time. We work with science data managers who manage the modern equivalent of this dataset. 

There is some useful cross-over between the series, providing contextual information about the science data. These include interviews with scientists involved in the research and the original guidance issued by a US collaborator in 1957 to those who started the first whistler observations at a British research station in Antarctica.

Joanna has worked as an archivist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) for almost 30 years. Her work has covered all aspects of archive services, but she has developed a special interest in film and sound archives and the processes involved in their preservation and access. Involvement in the Oral History Project has been a particular joy because of the chance to share expertise and meet so many amazing people. She worked with the Modes User Association to develop the archive application of the Modes cataloguing software and is now involved in the migration of that to the new, xml-based, Modes Complete. In 2007 Joanna worked in the Antarctic, at BAS's Rothera Station, on a project to appraise and archive the historic records held there - a marvellous experience!

16:20 – Europeana: Europe’s cultural heritage portal, Richard Ranft (Head of Sound & Vision, The British Library)

Europeana ( provides a powerful, multilingual search engine to over 23 million digital items, including nearly half a million sound tracks, held by museums, libraries, and sound and audiovisual collections. Did you know that just 1.5% of the sounds discoverable through Europeana come from the UK and Ireland? Ever wondered how your institution can get involved? Richard will explain how Europeana benefits institutions holding audio archives which already have some online content on their own websites.

17:00 – Close


Saturday, 19 May

09:30 – Workshop on sound archive taxonomies, Janis Mcanallen

Janis Mcanallen, Senior Media Manager and Metadata Analyst at the BBC, co-authored and delivers taxonomy training in BBC Information & Archives. Through principles and real examples, delegates will be stimulated to think critically about the taxonomies used for their own and external collections. The session will cover developing a taxonomy strategy, the benefits of taxonomies, and include a  practical taxonomy bulding excercise based on a sound collection.

11:15 – Tour of The Archive Centre, Norwich, which will include the East Anglian Film Archive

12:15 – Close