2. General principles

In countries with as yet little or no sound archival activities there are two main ways of considering the subject, at least in theory. One is to look at sound archivism from the point of view of the medium itself, the other is to consider it from the point of view of the contents carried by the medium. The differences between the medium centred and the content centred approaches need further explanation before their respective advantages and disadvantages are examined.

The medium centred approach starts with the assumption that the preservation of sound recordings is so important and so specialised that the needs of the medium take priority over any other consideration. An archive based upon this assumption will tend to collect as many recordings as possible in order to preserve and describe them professionally and thus save them for posterity. Also such an archive does not usually give priority to research based upon the content of recordings and of other media carrying the same kind of information. The situation is reversed in the case of a content centred approach. Here the medium of recorded sound is just one instrument among many for research or education. It is the content of the recordings, which contributes to the total amount of information available for a given research or educational field, that is the centre of attention.

Anyone who is familiar with the field of sound recordings will immediately recognize that a strict differentiation between these two types of archives would be an over-simplification. In reality nearly every archive is a mixture of the two types with some accentuation of one or other of the two approaches. It is, for instance, obvious that no archive of the first type will totally neglect the contents of its recordings, while no archive of the second category will completely ignore the needs of the medium. However, this broad distinction is helpful for considering a national strategy for sound archives particularly in countries where as yet little or nothing has been achieved.