Problems of selection in research sound archives (Rolf Schuursma)

An archivist is usually the opposite of a selectionist….

This was the first sentence of a paper, which I presented to the Annual Conference of IASA in Jerusalem in 1974 (Phonographic Bulletin, No. 11, May 1975, P.12-19). The paper was called “Principles of Selection in Sound Archives” and it is perhaps symptomatic that the focal point of the present contribution has moved from principles to problems. Since 1974 I have been involved in various efforts to cope with the ever growing amount of sound and film records in the Netherlands, and again and again the term “selection” has appeared as a kind of incantation - a miraculous keyword - which should open the road to archival happiness. In fact, selection means a lot of problems, which mainly have to do with a lack of funds and, most particularly, with a lack of staff. This paper does not attempt to provide the final solution to our troubles. It is meant as a stimulus for discussion and a starting point for critical questioning about archival policy. It is primarily restricted to the problems of spoken word collections, but some observations might also refer to archives of music recordings, and even film and TV archives could easily recognize some of their own deliberations and solutions.

This paper will summarize statements made in the 1974 conference about selection criteria, and the then draw attention to the process of selection and the effectiveness of selection.

In the context of the paper, ‘record’ means the carrier, including the audio-information. ‘Recording’ means just the audio-information itself. So a gramophone record or an audio tape is a ‘record’, containing for example a ‘recording’ of an interview with Bela Bártok or a performance of one of his string quartets.