4. Selection of material

Any process of selection will reduce the historic value of the organisation's material and its subsequent potential for reuse. However it is inevitable in most broadcasting organisations that economics enforce some selection of the material available. A broadcasting organisation will tend to transmit so much material daily that selection will be necessary both in choosing what to record or what to keep once recorded. Seeking to record and keep everything can lead to storage problems and make retrieval and use of the material very difficult. If material cannot be found and used by the programme-maker in time to meet broadcasting deadlines, the very existence of an archive may well be called into question. A clear selection policy must be established to prevent these problems since, once set in motion, they are difficult to reverse.

It is most important that those authorised to select, and the criteria used, are established with extreme care to reduce the possibilities of errors of judgement. The value of preserving broadcast material can be obscured by the operational pressures involved in programme production and transmission, especially in the areas of news and current affairs output. Operational pressures are particularly strong during the first years of a broadcasting organisation, when only a small proportion of programme material tends to survive.

The archivist must strive to avoid this pattern, and to establish satisfactory selection and preservation methods as an integral part of the service from its inception. To allow policy to be formulated, developed and systematically applied, it is necessary to establish a set of selection criteria. The following are suggested:

Is the recording likely to be of use in future broadcasts as primary source material? Does it illustrate a particular person, event, social attitude or change, in speech or music? (Selection must strive to consider every possible production context in terms of reuse.)

Does the recording possess significance in sound, over and above the information and/or style of the script?

Does the archive possess similar material and, if so, does the new recording increase the value of the existing collection by providing additional examples, improved performances, or better technical quality?

Is the recording technically suitable for preservation? (Here a balance has to be made between the intrinsic value of the content and the technical quality of the recording.)

Are there copyright, contractual or other restrictions on the use of the recording? If so, is the material of sufficient importance to merit preservation despite the difficulties limiting or preventing use? (It should be remembered these may be temporary and removable at a later date.)

Should the recording be selected as a whole or in part? (An effective policy is to keep in their entirety talks, plays and features, which have been conceived as artistic wholes, rather than to select extracts from them. In the case of public events and sporting commentaries selected extracts are usually sufficient. This may occasionally apply to talks or speeches where a passage is especially interesting or valuable, although the item as a whole is not regarded as outstanding.)

The actual proportion of material to be selected and preserved is difficult to recommend because of the diversity of broadcasting organisations, and of the funds available. A large repeat element and heavy dependence on commercial gramophone recordings will force down the percentage of output which is permanently retained. However, in general terms, something in the nature of 10% is likely to be a useful guide in formulating selection policy.

The timescale in which selection is made is significant. Some material, because of its rarity or known quality, can be identified as of long term value even in advance of transmission. In other cases, where existing material in the library is obviously better, items can be discarded soon after transmission. A large proportion of programme output inevitably falls between these two extremes. To avoid misplaced effort it is necessary to establish an evaluation point which allows sufficient time for an informed and objective decision to be made. However decisions must be made early enough to ensure an effective turnover and reuse of tape.