6. Selection for Digitisation in Research Archives

Research Archives are repositories of recorded sound materials that have been produced, collected and preserved as acoustical sources for a number of scholarly disciplines, e.g. anthropology and folklore; (ethno-)musicology, linguistics; social sciences, zoology, etc. At the core of such collections are original, unique recordings, made by scholars to serve the specific interests of their disciplines. Generally, such recordings are accompanied by documentation about their origin and their contents. In addition to these unique materials, research archives may also hold published recordings or original recordings of sister institutions for reference purposes. Special interest collections, e.g. Jazz or Popular Music Collections, also are part of the Research Archives group. They may consist of a mix of original recordings made by the respective collection, of original recordings of sister institutions, and of commercial recordings.

Research Archives constitute the oldest and most widespread type of sound archives. Having started in 1899, their numbers grew in the 1950s, when magnetic recording became affordable and battery-powered tape recorders made it possible to easily produce field recordings everywhere in the world. The interest of the researchers generating such collections went well beyond the limits of their respective nations. In the course of the last fifty years research archives, specifically of wealthy countries, accumulated considerable stocks of sound recordings from manifold cultures from all over the world. Due to the global progress of western civilisation, they cover a considerable time span over a period of significant cultural change. Research Collections meanwhile constitute an important part of the audiovisually recorded cultural heritage, adding an important dimension of general cultural interest to the scholarly objective they originally produced and collected for. Thus, research archives have become by far the most significant repositories of acoustical sources related to the cultural and linguistic diversity of mankind.

In setting priorities for the digitisation of such collections, unique source materials should be in the first rank. Regarding criteria inherent to the contents of the collections, the principles as discussed under National Archives (Ref. Chapter 5.3.1) apply. It must be noted that the immediate research interest of the individual archive may be in conflict with the general cultural importance of a given collection. Research Archives must understand, however, that they have a moral obligation regarding the safeguarding of their holdings representing early and important historical testimonies of societies from all around the world; even if their immediate scholarly value may be less significant

Not all of these collections, however, are archives in the narrower sense, with an established specific preservation policy. Collections have have often simply been regarded as tools to advance the respective academic disciplines, with preservation issues accorded no priority in the policy of their parent institutions, and no specific budgets allocated to safeguard these holdings. Such policy worked more or less successfully until recently, because in general analogue tape stocks have been fairly stable, and tape players have continued to be available. This will change in the near future: Carriers will increasingly become unstable and irretrievable, and traditional tape replay equipment is about to become obsolete. Unless research archives, specifically the small and specialised collections attached to research institutions, establish a consistent preservation i.e. digitisation policy, there will be a significant loss of invaluable heritage materials. A large corpus of documents of cultural manifestations, mainly of orally transmitted cultures of all parts of the world will be lost in the medium term.

In view of this threat it is important that responsibility is taken to systematically ensure the further preservation and availability of these important materials. In the first instance this challenge should be adequately met by the respective institutions that have produced and kept these materials so far. This can either be done autonomously or by appropriate co-operation between several of such collections.

Where the research collection is for one reason or another unable to meet this preservation responsibility the respective National Archives should take care of these materials, as being part of the respective national production, irrespective of the contents and the cultural and geographical origin of such recordings.