1. Introduction

Sound archives have various origins. Broadcasting sound archives came naturally into being because of the primary need for developed storehouses of recordings for use in radio programmes. Other sound archives have developed within research or educational institutions which took up sound recordings as yet another source of information in their specialised fields (e.g. music, ethnomusicology, dialectology, political or social history). There are many and varied examples of such specialised archives, ranging from the Department of Sound Records of the Imperial War Museum in London to the Ethnomusicology Archive of the University of California in Los Angeles, and from the sound archive of the Netherlands Theater Institute in Amsterdam to the audio collection of the Indian Classical Music Foundation in Bombay. Many other archive$, however, developed inside institutions responsible for general collections, frequently of a national or regional character, which do not accentuate any specialised field. Thus centres like the Library of Congress in Washington DC or the Public Archives of British Columbia in Victoria have gradually built up extensive collections of sound recordings of spoken word and music alongside collections of books, documents and other media. A few sound archives have come into existence simply because their founders wanted to concentrate on sound recordings as such, regardless of any particular subject or regional interest, and independent of all other media. The British Institute of Recorded Sound in London is perhaps the best known archive of this kind.

Although the categories described above represent the main stream of sound archive activity other types of audio collections are also to be found. There are, for example, lending libraries which primarily specialise in the distribution of published material such as audio discs and cassettes and there are scientific institutes where sound recordings may form part of their monitoring or experimental data (e.g. recordings of the heartbeat made for medical purposes or bio-acoustic recordings used in the study of animal behaviour).

Whatever their origins, however, developments so far give the impression that in many countries sound archives - outside the realm of broadcasting – have been established as a consequence of momentary needs and certainly without much preliminary deliberation about an overall structure of sound archiving on a national scale. Even in areas where some effort has been made to consider whether the establishment of one or more sound archives would best meet the needs of the country as a whole, the outcome has seldom if ever been a structure based on clearly defined and elaborated possibilities and priorities. Some people may argue that this kind of 'structural' course is apt to fail and that a more ad hoc establishment of sound archives provides a stronger and more flexible approach to national needs than any other policy.

Whichever conclusion may be reached, however, it is important that the issue should be seriously and systematically considered. In many countries without any kind of sound archive organisation audio collections of various kinds are nonetheless coming into existence. The first requests for funds to cover their financial needs enter government offices or private foundations. Once this happens the administrators responsible for public or private money may, without adequate guidelines, grant or refuse resources according to the feelings of the moment. They should, however, consider the national need for sound archives and base their decisions on the outcome of such a study, while bearing in mind also the main existing models and options that are available to them.