Archival Sampling

Finally another technique and selection tool, which could be utilized more often, is that of archival sampling. This is a valid technique in archival appraisal, which is often easy to apply to voluminous groups or collections of permanently valuable sound recordings. The classic definition of archival sampling is “Sampling of archives consists in the selection of some part of a body of homogeneous records (files) so that some aspect of an organization’s or government’s work or the information received or developed by that organization or government may be represented or illustrated thereby” (Lewinson, “Archival Sampling”). Sampling is appropriate and has been used by archivists for years on large series of paper material, case files, registration and application files, correspondence files and so on. The same sampling philosophy and technique can be more widely used as selection criteria for recorded sound materials. For example large series of transcripts of radio broadcasts or recoded monitoring of radio broadcasts, or large series of recordings put out by broadcasting organizations such as Voice of America or the BBC. The aim of this technique is to carry out an archival (not statistical) sample on a body of material when the total volume is very large compared with the importance of the content and the degree of research interest in the subject matter, or put another way, “If it is inconceivable that all can be kept, but undesirable that none should be”.

Sampling is something which is already being applied in the broadcasting area. The Public Television Archives of the Public Broadcasting System has a selection criteria which states:

“With regard to program series, the Archives will generally preserve the first and final episodes and such other episodes as are necessary to document changes in plot, setting, characterization, technique, etc. In the case of daily series, a full week of programmes will also be selected. Where series run for more than a season, each season will be considered as a separate entity in order to ensure a full record of the programs over their full span of time.”

It is also interesting to note that the Public Television Archives have ten-year appraisal and reappraisal reviews for long-term value and significance. If material fails the review after ten years it is de-accessioned.

The CBC, Museum of Broadcasting, and American Radio and Television Archives at the Library of Congress are all using and considering methods of selection of broadcast programming. The BBC Sound Archives typically selects and retains only 2% of its yearly output 1. What has been done for broadcasting can be applied in all sound archives.

1. [Note added in 2010] Digital storage now allows the BBC Sound Archives to retain 100% of output.