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ARSCLIST  May 2007

ARSCLIST May 2007

Subject:

Re: What to Keep and Why....was now why preserve

From:

George Brock-Nannestad <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 29 May 2007 17:53:48 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (207 lines)

From: Patent Tactics, George Brock-Nannestad

this thread is important to persons engaged in collections that they consider 
to have a value beyond the personal satisfaction of owning it - part of the 
ARSCLIST participants and of the ARSC membership. If not of interest, skip 
it.

Latest Don Andes commented on Karl Miller's previous mail, and we are 
fortunate that it was on-list, rather than off-list.

I have a few comments:

the questions we ask using historical facts in whatever way they are 
documented may relate to obtaining a picture of "what took place" on a 
specific occasion, or a series of such occurrences, permitting us to follow a 
specific development over time, across geographic locations, or both. For 
this we need records of transactions that have taken place. Some of these 
transactions do not necessarily directly relate to the occurrences we look 
for, but "what took place" may perhaps be logically inferred from some 
records in combination.

Oh, for the density of the above statements! Let me ease the pain by giving 
an example.

Erik Wiedemann, whose doctoral dissertation [1982] was on the development of 
jazz in Denmark in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, wanted to document the inspiration 
from black musicians, and he also wanted to establish whether there was a 
continuum of development from, say, the 1800s. He wanted to know when black 
minstrel shows had given concerts in Denmark, when black musicians had 
performed on stage or in hotels and restaurants. Newspaper reports from that 
period are scarce and unsystematic. Leaflets and other ephemera are just 
that: impossible to get a proper grip on, even though we have for centuries 
had a rule that every print shop has to deposit one copy of each print with 
the authorities (in the shape of the Royal Library). However, Wiedemann went 
to the immigration authorities in the form of the "aliens police" [my 
translation of Fremmedpolitiet], who had records of visitors, giving precise 
dates of entry and exit for the whole period of interest. He had to learn the 
professional terms used in that period, but then he had access to all the 
information he needed for documenting the movements of foreign musicians. If 
they were just passing, you could still see which country they came from and 
which they were going to. More or less systematically you could see their 
ages. Obviously you could not from this material see what they earned during 
their stay, but perhaps some hotel bookkeeping or tax returns have survived - 
in another archive.

Most administrative archives are ordered according to the way the generator 
ran their business, so in order to be able to use them, you need to now about 
historical administration. 

The essence is: you will never know now what you might need in the future, 
but it is absolutely impossible to store everything, so in a way you decide 
by elimination of material what questions it is possible to answer in the 
future.

Don wrote:
> 
> It's clear that efforts should be made to keep assets, and reasonable
> logic seems to explain why.
> 
> But I challenge the list to bring new information and viewpoints to
> forward the thinking/postings here instead of a simple rehash of "save
> it all". NO ONE has the funds, the storage space, or the ability.

----- here we agree, forced by enormity of the task

> 
> Therefore, I believe we would all benefit from a intellectual well
> rounded discussion about prioritizing assets without drifting too far
> off on tangents.
> 
> When contemplating criteria for assessing an assets "worth" I came up
> with these:

----- these are all good questions

> 
> Historical - Does this represent it's age/time period in a special or
> unique way?

----- possibly this can only be determined by comparison with a huge number 
of contemporary assets

> Cultural - Does this speak to/of a cultural group?

----- there is nothing that does not fulfil the criterion of having had some 
interest to somebody

> Personal - Am I personally interested in this asset or what it
> represents?

----- the question is better put as "will this interest die with me"

> Unique - Is this asset a 1 of 1 or 1 (like a painting) of 1,000,000
> (like a commercial pop CD)?

----- "what is its insurance value" could be one way to determine the 
importance

> Conditional - Is this an exceptionally fine example or is it impossible
> to playback because of damage?

----- if you have a choice between two assets that were once identical it 
would appear simple to select the former only. However, that is not the whole 
story. The wear pattern on the latter will tell us a lot about its replay 
conditions, i.e. the apparatus avialable; the social class of the proprietor, 
etc.
 
> Value - Is this thing worth money for what it is? And how much in a
> reasonable market (i.e. Ebay)

----- Ebay is not a reasonable market, unless you employ people to work it 
systematically.

> Exploitability - Differs from value, in that there may be revenue
> streams generated from the material, if there are minimal
> legalities/barriers for repurposing.

----- this is a truly professional assessment that would have to be 
controlled by policy

> 
> (Obviously the list is inverted for corporate Archives, as mine.)

----- ha, there is some truth in that!

> 
> Don Andes
> EMI Music
> 
> P.S. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel here so if someone knows of a
> accepted method that libraries/archives are currently using please let
> me know.
> 

----- well, the National Archives in the US had a set of guidelines ca. 1980 
that were very perceptive and systematic. I cannot lay my hands on them just 
now, but I do know that they were reprinted in a special collection on 
Selection, edited by Helen Harrison on behalf of the (then) International 
Association for Sound Archives ca. 1983.

However, here is a quote from a recent report:

Building an Electronic Records Archive at the National Archives and Records 
Administration: Recommendations for a Long-Term Strategy (2005) pp. 41-42:

[may be found by googling]

"........... several technology trends compel a rethinking of selection, 
appraisal, and description in two major areas:
	
·	First, the granularity of appraisal should be larger. The appraisal of 
physical records was driven in part by a need to reduce significant storage 
costs in an archive. But with ever-declining storage costs, the opposite is 
the case with digital information. Investing time in reducing a set of 
records by 10 percent or 40 percent or even 60 percent costs more than it 
saves, because these decisions require human intervention and professional 
judgment and research. Also, records are more interconnected when they are 
digital. The information or evidential value of a set of records considered 
in isolation may not be obvious, but one set of records may be crucial for 
understanding or using another set.

Rather than examining sets of records carefully and marking only a select few 
for retention, it may become more expedient and more appropriate to retain 
larger "chunks" of records, The committee is not advocating a "save 
everything" approach, but a rethinking of selection criteria. For example, it 
may be better to preserve entire classes of electronic records (e.g., all of 
the records from certain offices, all of the records covering function X in 
both the federal and regional offices, and so on) that would not have been 
feasible for paper records, even though some records with little permanent 
value may be intermingled. NARA appears to be moving in this direction in the 
Records Management Redesign initiative, with its emphasis on functional 
appraisal, which implicitly is more broadly granular.

Consider a specific example. For the material that will be included in the 
U.S. Department of State´s new SMART system, NARA currently has more than 
2,000 retention and disposition schedules for series of records with various 
retention periods. It might be much more cost-effective simply to keep 
everything from this system, or to replace the current fine level of 
appraisal and disposition with one that has fewer than a dozen schedules.

·	Second, archives should place less emphasis on manual record description of 
records and on creation of finding aids and more on automated tools for 
improving access. The characteristics of electronic records permit new access 
methods that can decrease the burden on archivists to describe records and 
create finding aids. Agencies can supply records in a structured format and 
attach metadata. Full-content search on the records and associated metadata 
can supplement-or even supplant-manually generated finding aids. Finally, 
agencies themselves create search and access tools for some of their records. 
Such tools might be maintained by the originating agency (perhaps as part of 
the sort of agreement to distribute archiving responsibility, as discussed 
below) or adapted for use by NARA.

Another way to think about the trade-offs discussed here is that it may be 
advisable in many cases to make access for end users (when and if it occurs) 
potentially more difficult (by increasing the total volume of records to be 
examined and describing records in less detail) in exchange for making ingest 
cheap (by reducing the burden on the archivist to select and describe 
materials). Of course, as tools such as full-content search improve, the 
burden on the end user will be reduced."

I think that the world is waking up, and all is not yet lost.

Kind regards,


George

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