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Module B. Unit 9.

 

"Identify a collection in your repository which includes non-standard items: explain the reasons for their presence and analyse the problems which they pose in terms of description and exploitation.”

One of the core collection areas of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre is, and has been since the Centre's founding, in recorded sound. Indeed, we are currently considering whether to crystallise and develop this area further as part of a dedicated Sound, Film and Video Archive within the Centre as such.

We hold a variety of recordings and recording formats, from standard audio cassettes to open-reel dictation tapes to gramophone discs. Some are part of larger collections of private papers and consist, for example, of interviews, conference recordings, recorded letters, and miscellaneous recordings of readings, music, or entertainments. Some were produced by students in the course of their research. A small collection comes via the BBC, as audio cassette copies of the raw DAT recordings from which a radio programme was edited. By far the largest single body of material, however, is the Archive's own oral history collection, which now consists of something over 130 audio cassette tapes recorded by myself with various groups and individuals, most of them therapists or friends and relatives of therapists, a small number having been recorded with former patients/clients. For the purposes of this paper I am concentrating on this particular collection. [1]

The Archive's oral history programme has played a key role in the life and development of the Archive. It has been influential, for example, in attracting several collections and at least one grant to the Archive: That is, there has proved to be a purely utilitarian reason for pursuing the recording. In the first instance, however, the programme was established to achieve a different end. Although responsible for developing the Centre as a repository and resource for the "therapeutic community" movement, and though I had spent a number of years as a member of the therapeutic team in a particular therapeutic community, I did not feel that I had a very full awareness of the boundaries and core concerns of the field, and I did not feel that I had anything like the understanding of the history of various communities and individuals to be able to direct the creation of the Centre. Having taken a doctorate in Folk Life Studies based to a substantial extent onrecorded interviews, and having learned to respect the recorded discussion as a powerful means of learning while gathering information, I turned to the tape recorder as a means of learning something about the nature and scope of the task I was meant to be directing.

In the course of gathering information in this way it became clear that the mass of what might be called the archival record of therapeutic communities (the earliest of which would appear to date to the time of the First World War) does not exist in traditional archival forms. Many places were so busy working and surviving under extraordinarily difficult conditions that paper records in any full sense were not created. Many of the records which had been created had fallen into the care of individuals or successor institutions which did not have appropriate archival facilities (or, in some cases, interest), and had been lost, damaged, or destroyed. Records had been destroyed by accident and by misadventure, and through ignorance and war.

It became clear that the "archives" of many places existed only or mainly in the memories and experiences of those who had been involved with them. I took the view that individuals who had been involved in such places, or known people who had, were effectively living records which I as an archivist had a responsibility to locate, gather together, and preserve, and of course then make available to scholars and other researchers. Although called oral history, the task behind the collection might more accurately be called "oral archiving", generating an oral record alongside conventional archives, or where little or no archival material exists. I encouraged myself with a folk derivation of the term “archives” from “archae”, seeing an archive as a holding place of social, personal and organisational memory as such, and not simply of formal administrative records or the contemporary records of personal affairs.

There have been other reasons for developing the collection. In most cases the conventional institutional archives which have come to us have been fragmented and in disarray, with their original administrative structures no longer either coherent or reconstructible. In recording interviews with former secretaries and others involved with management it has been possible in certain cases to gain a picture of the original administrative/management structure and to feed this back into the cataloguing. These recordings will also give future archivists and researchers a stick against which to measure the cataloguing decisions taken, while possibly indicating areas overlooked by myself in which records may have been diverted, destroyed or lost.

The recording process has also thrown up a network of leads some of which have led to the discovery of the whereabout of archives and papers. It has helped to publicise the work of the Centre among various communities of interested persons, and has helped - I think - to spread the knowledge that documentation is important, that papers and other materials should be saved. It has also, in effect, taken the Archive and the archivist out among people it would wish to serve, but who, because of distance, age, or unfamiliarity would be unlikely to find their way into the Centre. [2]

The main problems thrown up by the programme revolve not so much around description - each tape falls into a natural chronological sequence, each is transcribed, and each has an accession/progress log sheet and a transcriber's log sheet (see attached) which keep track of the recording and its transcript, hold details of the equipment used, give key word indication of the subject of the recording, and so on - but in 'exploitation' or use of the tapes and their transcripts. In particular, many of the recordings involve highly personal and/or therapeutic matters, and in whole or in part can be highly confidential. I am quite prepared to advise interviewees on material which I feel should be closed or access to which should be restricted, and it is quite simple to prepare a transcript or copy tape for researchers in which these are taken into account. What is proving more difficult is getting a written as opposed to oral response to these suggestions, or requirements generated by the interviewees themselves. There is therefore a certain amount of danger that the programme will generate a mountain of tapes and transcripts which cannot be consulted or quoted by researchers because the interviewee/copyright holder has not returned a signed agreement form or indicated in writing their wishes concerning access. Past a certain point - as would be the case with conventional archives - one would have to consider whether a collection to which virtually no access is possible is one to which the Archive as such could continue to commit substantial resources.

I have chosen to discuss a non-standard collection which is fairly straightforward in terms of purpose, make-up, description and exploitation. It consists entirely of audio tapes. Each tape is directly related to the work of the Centre, and in that sense, apart from any other value it has, is an integral part of the archives of the Centre. The provenance and history of each is known, and against MAD2 standards[3] is reasonably well documented. The audio cassette format is a standard one, the equipment used for recording and playback are standard and available for use in the Centre. Copy tapes and transcripts are routinely made. It is these copies which are used for transcription and reference and not the originals, and although in terms of the resources which are available a full index is not feasible, there is a list of interviewees and of the main subjects of discussion - of persons, organisations and/or institutions - which users can consult. In archiving terms, it is a good, relatively non-problematic collection on which to test out and to build procedures and policy.

More difficult and complex would have been a collection such as the archives of psychiatrist Maxwell Jones, a mixed conventional and non-standard group of materials which contains several films dating from as early as the 1940s and produced by or on behalf of government departments, the BBC, and a major pharmaceuticals firm; a number of videotapes in different English and North American formats made privately or by specific institutions apparently for private or in-house use; conventional audio cassettes recorded by Dr. Jones or colleagues by way of interviews; and a relatively large library of commercial audio tapes published by progressive and New Age publishing companies. The latter have little direct reference to the Centre's remit, but were important to Dr. Jones in his later years, are accompanied by his personal annotations, and could arguably be acquired and accessioned with his personal papers as one might a personal library which had similarly been annotated. Little paperwork accompanies any one of the films or videos, and their provenance must be taken for the most part from information on the films/videos themselves. One set of videos, without documentation and in an obsolete North American format, could not be copied onto VHS in this country and had to go to a specialist firm in North America; even copied it is not clear where the recordings were made, apart from, generically speaking, an American psychiatric hospital. At the same time, they contain a unique recording of Dr. Jones giving a consultation, and therefore repay to some degree the investment and trouble in having had them transferred to VHS format. But will the use made of them over the years in the end justify the investment, and, indeed, has one violated some unknown copyright in having had them copied? Will one transgress further in making these copies available to researchers? Or, by making them available in this way, will one manage to get them identified?

In terms of description and use the non-standard materials in the Maxwell Jones archives represent an extremely complex challenge, with a complex history, and with what I feel will prove a complex relationship with the conventional materials in the archive. Indeed, it is at the opposite pole from the Centre's own oral history collection, and were Dr. Jones’ paper archives to hand, in which some documentation and/or explanation might conceivably exist (his papers are still being sorted by his widow), it might well have proven the more interesting discussion.

 

Footnotes

1. It is Centre policy to immediately copy tapes or discs of whatever format onto conventional audio cassettes for easy access, and apart from audio cassette equipment the Centre, as a matter of policy, has audio cassette machines, reel-to-reel taperecorders and a conventional record player available. A DAT machine will be acquired when and if the need arises. Similarly, it is Centre policy to immediately copy all films and videos (whatever their format) onto PAL VHS format video for use/viewing. Films we generally send out for conversion. For VHS and BetaMax video we have a machine which can convert any international VHS format into PAL (or vice versa), and a conventional PAL VHS and a PAL BetaMax machine. We have not yet encountered the realm of CD or computer imaging.

2. See Coles et al (1988), p. 135, where many of these same benefits were found.

3. As reproduced in Ward (1990).

 

 

Bibliography

 

Coles, Laura M. (writer), Donald A. Baird (Chair), Lillian Bickerton, Leonard DeLozier, and Linda Johnston (Committee) (1988), A Manual for Small Archives, Association of British Columbia Archivists (Vancouver).

Ehrenberg, Ralph E. (1984), "Aural and Graphic Archives and Manuscripts" in Maygene F. Daniels and Timothy Walch, eds., A Modern Archives Reader, National Archives and Records Service, U.S. General Services Administration (Washington, D.C.), 187-200.

Leary, William H. (1988), "Managing Audio-Visual Archives", in James G. Bradsher, ed., Managing Archives and Archival Institutions. Mansell (London), 104-120.

Pickett, A.G. and M.M. Lemcoe (1959), Preservation and Storage of Sound Recordings. Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.); reprinted 1991 by the Associated Audio Archives Committee, Association of Recorded Sound Collections.

Roberts, David (1993), "Managing Records in Special Formats", in Judith Ellis, ed., Keeping Archives 2nd ed., D.W. Thorpe (Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 385-427.

Ward, Alan (1990), A Manual of Sound Archive Administration, Gower (Aldershot, Hants.)