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Archiving More Than Paper

Today’s post comes from Jennifer Pondo, who is currently working as a Project Archivist at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive. Jennifer received her BA in history with minors in Music history and Art history from West Chester University of Pennsylvania and a Masters degree in Audio Visual Archiving and Preservation from the Moving Image Archiving Preservation Program at New York University.
My time at the Tamiment Library Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive has afforded me real life examples of various ways in which a wide range of materials are acquired and handled in an archive. My first exposure to the archive as a student in the Moving Image Archiving Preservation Program was a project creating an inventory of a video collection. Later, as a student employee, I worked on various paper collections and began inventorying a collection of cassette tapes. Although my current role as a project archivist involves processing a paper collection, I am continuing to develop my skills with audio materials.
It seems that many institutions often view their audio materials as a troublesome or daunting aspect of the collection. There is a wealth of information available concerning audio materials and while it can seem overwhelming at first, the value and richness of these materials is well worth the effort. The purpose of this post is to share information which will serve as a resource for archivists looking to get a better handle on their audio materials.
A good place to start is with the Conservation OnLine section dedicated to audio materials. It provides information ranging from overviews of available resources to discreet materials dealing with standards for preservation and best practices for cataloging.
I believe the place to start with an audio collection is an accurate item level inventory. This should include the format, housing (archival quality or not), date, title, any other information written on the item itself or the housing, and an item number. This inventory may seem a bit granular, especially if you are dealing with a large number of tapes. However it will prove invaluable as you set out to manage and preserve the materials effectively. If you prefer to work with a system rather than constructing your own basic spread sheet there are open source collection assessment tools developed specifically for audio. FACET, Survey Instruments for Audio and Moving Image Collections, ViPERS, and Audio-Visual Self-Assessment Programs are some ideas to check out. Some of these programs include fields for visual assessment of the physical quality of the items, and can export and create reports from the information provided.
This basic inventory will allow for better prioritization of activities for any audio collection. It is important to balance the issues relating to format with the content assessment when setting priorities for preservation and access.
The archivist should be familiar with existing standards and best practices for the handling and preservation of audio materials. These should be followed to the best ability of any repository, and should be kept in mind when designing projects for collections that include audio materials.
Age is not necessarily a good indicator of vulnerability. For example; DAT tapes ,a more recent format, is more likely to suffer data loss from mishandling since so much information is placed in such a small area, and their playback decks are more complicated and therefore harder to repair and maintain than, say, a record player.
Standards for the description of audio materials are still being hashed out, so familiarity with current best practices for the creation of records (whether finding aids or cataloging) are still developing. These come from all across the spectrum and include methods for applying DACS while utilizing standards such as Dublin Core, METS, and MARC.
A good venue for asking questions is the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC). They have a wonderful listserv open to anyone. The archive of the listserv is available for searching, and is a good place to start if you have a specific question which may have already have been answered. The group is very willing to help so if you are unable to find what you are looking for, don’t hesitate to post a question to this very knowledgeable group.

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