5. Selection for Digitisation in National Sound Archives

5.1 National Archives

A sound archive is defined as a National Archive when, by law or in fact, the institution has the responsibility of collecting and preserving the national production.

National archives should consider the selection criteria for the digitisation of sound carriers in three steps.

  • The first and urgent step is based on two criteria:
    1. institutional assignment and responsibilities;
    2. technical emergency.
  • A second stage should determine the intrinsic cultural value of the contents, according to:
    1. their cultural, scientific or academic significance for the institution ;
    2. their rarity.
  • A third stage would evaluate the benefits and costs of making the digitised content accessible.

5.2 Basic criteria

5.2.1 Institutional assignments and responsibilities

The institution may be tasked with the preservation of national, regional or special heritage collections.

Such an institution has three ways of increasing its collections

legal deposit: the types of documents to be collected are defined by the Law

acquisitions: defined, or not yet defined, by a Documentary Policy

acquiring the production of research activity, as a moral obligation if there is not a Research Archive, with a preservation policy.

The legal or statutory task of an archive is the main criterion of prioritisation. Legal deposit usually involves a commitment to the conservation of all documents received in this way.

NB: Some Legal deposit Law definitions can be more comprehensive than others: e.g. documents produced in the country only, or documents produced or sold in the country.

NB: Preservation of sound documents implies the production of copies (copies for access, copies for preservation). Ultimately, long term preservation can only be achieved by subsequent copying of contents from one generation of system to the next. Although preservation is generally legally prescribed, copying for the purpose of preservation is not always exempted from the provisions of copyright law.

5.2.2 Technical emergency

National Archives consider that technical reasons should be predominant when determining digitisation priorities. These issues are dealt with in some detail in chapter 3 of this paper.

5.3 Secondary criteria

5.3.1 Cultural, scientific or academic significance of content

In their everyday work, sound and audiovisual archivists usually acquire documents according to their own evaluation of the contents. A Documentary Acquisitions Policy is defined for this activity. Choices for digitisation follow similar judgements and will be formalized and justified in the same way. The Preservation Policy should accord with the Documentary Acquisitions Policy. Archival research collections have to be evaluated as a whole, according to the basis of archival management. The various contents of a collection that reflects a researcher's or an institution's activity (e.g. spoken and musical recordings, or different subjects) should not be divided in high and low priorities.

5.3.2 Rarity of the item

Equivalent recording in one's own collections

A number of questions should be asked. Has the recording been reissued and if so, in an analogue or a digital version? Who owns it? Should the re-issue be acquired and regarded as the preservation copy on the grounds that this would be cheaper than copying the original? Or should the original recording be regarded as irreplaceable by the reissue (e.g. because of the way it has been transferred?)

Same recording in other collections

Again, questions arise. Do other archives possess the same recording? Can users easily have access to it? There is a need for published or on-line catalogues of potential duplicate material, which clearly indicate the digitisation status of documents. There is also a need for a real culture of cooperation between archives (see1).

5.4 Benefits and costs linked with access

Among all issues examined here, cost is the factor which illustrates the different scale of possibilities in the digital as opposed to the analogue domain. Digitisation and Internet facilities allow increased access from outside the archival institution, and has the potential to generate new services. Yet copyright severely restricts the spreading of digital files.

5.4.1 Benefits: current and potential users

As archives have the mission to work for an audience, current use has to be taken in consideration, as well as the potential demand enabled by digitisation. Current use may be low because of restrictive access policies, whereas digitisation allows much broader access off- or on-line. Accessibility is a factor which can generate new fields of research.

All of the following services can be off line, by delivering or publishing a CD-ROM, and they can now be on line, via the Internet:

exchange of documents between national archives

delivery of documents for research and education purpose

delivery of documents to final users, for private use, on demand

publishing from collections

All these services require regulation, by Law or by special agreements for copyright. This has to be cleared before considering criteria for digitization.

5.4.2 Costs


Un-digitised, but already catalogued holdings can be rendered easily accessible to the user. Cataloguing is an important cost and extension of access to a wider public needs appropriate editorial work.


Restoration can be necessary to make audible (thus accessible to a large audience) the contents once digitised. This operation can multiply the costs of digitisation.

5.5 Some concluding considerations

Digitisation planning should be liable to revisions, in order to take into account enrichments of the institution's collections. This dimension is important, for wider access made possible by digitisation can be an important factor of donations and deposits.

The Preservation Plan is not completed by digitisation: It is necessary to continue to observe the development of digital formats, ageing process etc.


1. An example for a policy of collaboration between various sound archives:

The German/Swiss-German branch (D-CH) of IASA is working on a project called "Historical label discographies", a discography of labels of historical sound carriers [Firmendiskographie historischer Tonträger (FDHT)]. This interesting work requires the collaboration of international institutional members and includes, apart from various archives of institutes, archives of broadcasting companies, national archives, and also important private archives.
If such discography is completed with identifications of exemplars kept by members, it can be used to evaluate rarity of items. If technical description is provided, it can be used to select the best one.