Introduction (Helen P Harrison)

Selection is arguably the most important and at the same time the most difficult of all the activities of the archivist, curator or librarian, 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 selection in everyday life, and most of our everyday decisions are forms of selection - shall we take one course or another; go here or there; work, rest or play. 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 although such principles may never have been itemised.

Collectors of sound recordings may have their own predilections or whims and this is not to denigrate their purposes, for without collectors there may never have been the basis for libraries and archives of materials.

However collections grow and very soon some process of selection, or discarding becomes necessary. The very volume of the production of sound recordings begins to demand a selection process and this is the point at which problems begin to be apparent.

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 or 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.

Where the archivist (and for archivist one should read archivist/librarian in the context of this introduction) meets his problem is in the sensitive area of selection. A collector can be subjective in his approach, but an archivist should be seen to be objective and a selection policy or set of principles is needed here to provide a framework for collection.