Tuesday, March 1, 2016

THE RADIO PRESERVATION TASK FORCE: A REVIEW

Something of a milestone occurred on the weekend of February 26 and 27, 2016. A national conference with one agenda: to gather together some of the most important and influential people involved with radio preservation and discuss the direction of archival holdings. The Radio Preservation Task Force was created early in 2014 and grew out of the Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan (December 2012). According to the RPTF, and I am quoting them verbatim, the organization seeks to (1) support collaboration between faculty researchers and archivists toward the preservation of radio history, (2) develop an online inventory of extant American radio archival collections, focusing on recorded sound holdings, including research aids, (3) identify and save endangered collections, (4) develop pedagogical guides for utilizing radio and sound archives, and (5) act as a clearing house to encourage and expand academic study on the cultural history of radio through the location of grants, the creation of research caucuses, and development of metadata on extant materials. (To emphasize the importance: C-Span and CBS Sunday Morning covered the event.)

The conference was held at the Library of Congress and at the University of MD, and was open to the public. There was an estimated 200 to 250 people in attendance, all of whom were a virtual who’s who among the field. While sitting in the audience I discovered I was rubbing elbows with museum curators, archivists at university libraries, and well… the most influential people in the country who are involved with the management of audio preservation at vast archives.

During the opening keynote address of the RPTF in Washington, D.C.
Fans and collectors of old-time radio might wonder how this event relates to them. For the newcomer who feels this article reads like Greek stereo instructions, bear with me for a moment and you will see where this is going. (Apologies in advance for the lengthy essay but I promise by the end you will be rewarded.) 

They say the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that there is one. For both librarians and museum curators, handicapped with red tape, legal concerns, lack of necessary equipment, staffing issues and budgetary limitations, the two day-conference gave those individuals an opportunity to address those concerns and – with sincere intentions – explore potential solutions. The event could best be described as a “meeting of the minds.”

The Panels
            Among the 20 individual panels were such topics as “Radio Preservation: The State of the Nation,” “Surprising Archives/Archival Surprises,” “Material Practices in Archives,” “Metadata and Digital Archiving,” among the others. (For future reference, metadata is data that describes other data, an underlying definition or description, which summarizes basic information about data. In other words, a recording of a radio broadcast is data, the title of the program and broadcast date which is used to name that file is metadata.)

            Because multiple panels were held at the same time, no one person could possibly attend them all. Friends of mine worked out a scheme whereupon we would each attend a different panel and collaborate notes and exchange recordings made on our iPhones. While these panels were diverse in subject matter, with each of the panelists representing a different library/organization, the best of them were those that essentially involved (1) a brief five-to-ten minute summary or slide show sample of an archive housed at said library by each of the panelists and (2) a question posed by each panelist that would aid them in their research with the hopes that the “minds” in the room could propose solutions. This would be the equivalent of detectives from various metropolitans getting together, each briefly explaining a crime they have been unable to solve, and hoping another detective in the room could suggest a solution.

Among the slide show presentations was history of an obscure 1937-57 radio program.

Of the panels I attended, one librarian posed a question about intra-archival discovery. While researching Subject A for his project, he came across another collection in the same archive that contained what might be valuable information for another historian. But how does he make it known that Subject B is available for another researcher? (The solution involves reporting this discovery on the internet (almost any website would do) so a researcher, using google, will stumble upon the notation and thus the problem is resolved.) 

Another question posed at a panel: “We have no doubt that there are public citizens sitting on archival materials that need to be donated for preservation. How do we bring to their attention that our facility would gladly accept that collection for preservation?” One challenging question plaguing researchers: “If there are virtually little or no recordings in existence, should radio scripts be taken as the gospel? And if both exist, which is more reliable?” It was agreed by most in the room that reading a radio script can be different than listening, because emphasis on specific words and delivery can change the meaning of the words. Not to mention the time frame between rehearsal and broadcast can result in script revisions. (One could go into a lengthy essay about this but I will reserve this for a future blog post later this year, derived from experience.)

One concern addressed was the subject of sensitive materials. A historian discovered that a specific producer of radio programs in the 1940s was deeply involved in homosexual relations. Would there be legal ramifications if she disclosed this in her published findings? Would the family of that radio producer approve? How exactly do you define the moral ground when history is history and facts are facts? Publish or not to publish, that was the question. If you ask any journalist who writes for a major metropolitan newspaper, you will more than likely be told that it is better to celebrate than expose. More importantly, if the purpose of your research is to document and preserve a radio program, would exposing this factoid distract the readers from the initial agenda or overall message your book or magazine article was meant for?

A librarian who confessed their holdings have not yet been digitized and explained the reason for the holdup is confusion. “We do not have proper information about the recordings. (Titles, broadcast dates, etc.) We need proper metadata first before we transfer the recordings, else we cannot title the audio files properly.” In defense, a second librarian pointed out that time was against them. The stability of the archival formats is breaking down. The transfer of at-risk audio-visual material is essential. Metadata, the second librarian rationalized, can be applied to the audio files after transfer. The first librarian, however, was a wet blanket: “Oh, no. Library policy is that we have to identify the recordings first.” The second librarian rationalized that at his facility they have so many recordings that they have four units running at the same time, eight hours a day. They admitted the con to their process: “We cannot have an intern listening to four recordings at once to identify what is on them and label the files accordingly. The transfer process is primary. We can then have all the time needed to listen and identify the recordings.”

One librarian questioned whether it was essential to transfer thousands of hours of Arthur Godfrey radio broadcasts, or would it be better to transfer one for each calendar month to best represent the progress of his radio delivery over the years. The library has 800 plus recordings from Godfrey’s 90-minute morning program and not enough interns to do the transfers before the wire recordings go bad. Many argued that all of those recordings were historic and all of them should be converted to digital. (Others disagreed simply because the host was Arthur Godfrey.) But wouldn’t recordings of Grandma Jones, a local radio host in Chicago, less known to radio historians, be just as important as a national figure? Who is to judge what recordings are more culturally significant than others? The answer to that last question is relative. As stated many times in this essay, there is no black and white, only grey.

These were among the challenges and concerns that librarians hoped solutions have been found at other institutions, so they can return home, report and either influence the powers-that-be to initiate revised policies, or at the very least be motivated to take the first steps in removing the barriers of red tape.

During the slide show seminars there were cool treasures revealed.

The Definition of a Collector
The fact that librarians and curators were gathered in one place to discuss and address their concerns, shared by mutual interest, is a public confession that the preservation, access and education of radio broadcasts of our past is endangered. For the most part, all of the libraries represented are suffering from the same problems. For most, the transfer of recordings needs to be done in-house and cannot be staffed by external volunteers – only interns. The reason for this is not just library policy but libraries have to maintain integrity and out-sourcing removes complete control of where the recordings go after they leave the library. Most volunteers are sincere but the hidden motives of a few have tarnished what potential possibilities there are with out-sourcing.

If I may inject personal commentary here: If policies are preventing or handicapping preservation methods, then policies need to be revised. But archivists are staff, not policy or lawmakers. No policy is constructive or advantageous if that very policy is the center of the problem. A few librarians confessed that they found ways to break past the barriers by establishing exceptions to library policy and most of those acknowledged their solutions, with pride, applying the adage: “the ends justified the means.” No policy is carved so deep in granite that an exception cannot be made.

             Most of the good folks reading this article need to understand three classifications: the collector, the historian (also known as the researcher), and the archivist. The collector seeks copies of recordings to hear, shelve, catalog, label and inventory what they own. The collector buys, copies, swaps and downloads. More serious collectors will buy transcription discs, wire recordings and cylinders from eBay and other collectors, and will transfer from these master recordings for personal use (often for trade purposes). Less serious collectors download. No fault to either collector; their taste and preference is all dependent on how much -- or little -- they appreciate old time radio.

The historian is focused on gathering metadata from various archival sources, to help identify recordings, broadcast dates and the history behind the performers, writers, directors and of the program itself. They research (i.e. travel and do the legwork) and publish their findings. (And yes, historians have a collection of recordings in their possession but that does not make them solely classified as a collector.) And you might be surprised to know that a recent study discovered 55 percent of all extant sound recordings remain undated. Historians contribute to lowering that percentage. You can thank one historian for having reviewed all of the Popeye, the Sailor radio scripts during the past year. You know those four Popeye radio broadcasts that have circulated among collectors over the past few decades? We now have broadcast dates, cast list and official episode numbers! Collectors who forget the role researchers play can momentarily thank the historian for that task. It took him two weeks to read all those radio scripts just to identify those four broadcast dates.

The archivist is responsible for the preservation aspect. The archivist converts sound recordings to a digital medium, usually in broadcast wav format (BWF), from the original cylinders, wire recordings, transcription discs and other formats. The archivist catalogs and inventories, scans archival documents and photographs, and performs all of these tasks using the best equipment and software available. A collector generally maintains his or her collection from private residence using standard hardware and software. An archivist generally works from a library that is federal, county or state funded, working with industry standard hardware and software. An archivist would never consider working from compressed mp3 files circulating on the internet. An archivist is concerned with the state of the original source material and working directly from the original source material.

            As explained by the keynote speaker, Paddy Scannell, Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, “Collectors are generally not concerned about the historical aspect of radio broadcasts. They are not content driven.” A collector hears the radio and a historian listens to the radio. “Hearing and listening to radio is not the same,” Scannell explained. A historian listens to the content of speech and voice, how words are spoken, and will decipher the meaning and context. The collector hears Bob Hope tell a topical joke and chooses to laugh – or not laugh – with the audience. A historian listens to what Bob Hope said and laughs with full understanding of what the joke was referring to. The success of Kate Smith and Arthur Godfrey, as Scannell demonstrated, spoke not to an audience of millions but to one person – you, the radio listener. The plea to purchase a War Bond was scripted and anyone could have delivered the message... but it was how Kate Smith delivered that plea that helped her sell more than $40 million to aid the war cause.

            The RPTF conference was open to the public but I observed no collectors in attendance. I met Jeannette Berard of the Thousand Oaks Library in California, who I communicated with by e-mail and phone many times over the years. Now I can put a face to the e-mails. I was introduced to Gene Fowler of the Border Radio Research Institute. I shared lunch with Jack French, editor of Radio Recall for the Metro Washington Old-Time Radio Club and author of Private Eyelashes. I chatted briefly with Jason Loviglio of the University of Maryland, who is digging deeper into the history of Judy and Jane (1932-35). I since sent Jason some material pertaining to Judy and Jane that will aid in his search for more information, and a researcher friend of mine has also sent him material as well. I talked briefly with David Weinstein of the National Endowment for the Humanities about a book he is working on, focusing on the career of Eddie Cantor, and his efforts to unearth discoveries never before documented in prior publications. Others I exchanged brief conversations with: Frank Absher of the St. Louis Radio Society, Wendy Shay of the Smithsonian, David Hunter of the University of Texas, Mary Huelsbeck of the University of Wisconsin, Laurie Sather of the Hagley Museum and Library, and Jerry McBride of Stanford University. I chatted briefly with good friend Dr. Michael Biel, one of the most knowledgable historians in the field. Ruta Abolins from the University of Georgia answered a question that puzzled me for years. In short, while the event was open to the public, all of the attendees were scholars, historians and archivists. There were virtually no collectors.

Chuck Howell of the University of Maryland talks about Vox Pop.

Clearing Up Misconceptions
            Anyone who attends conventions (fan gatherings to be specific, the majority of attendance being collectors) is aware that collectors in the hobby of old-time radio exchange common misconceptions. Facebook has given people a social platform to speak from a soap box and sadly, many collectors have used this podium to spread those misconceptions to a broader audience. On Facebook, regardless of what accuracy is provided by historians to correct those myths, many of these collectors feed off each other until, twenty comments/responses later what was an assumption is now misconstrued as a fact. Dave Thompson wrote in the introduction of Sherlock Holmes FAQ (Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2013), "While chroniclers of modern pop culture insist the Internet has democratized the art of criticism, allowing every user to voice his or her own in a public forum, the truth of the matter is somewhat different. Rather than voice a personal opinion, many people regard the Internet as a place to insist that their opinion is hard fact, will not acknowledge any contrary viewpoint, and actively spend their time trolling other sites in order to harshly dismiss any they might find. And for many of these sad and lonely middle-aged men who still live with their mothers, the Internet is the center of their universe."

To set the record straight on one of these misconceptions, libraries housing archives of radio programs are in the service of patrons. Libraries are not hoarding recordings. With but one or two minor exceptions, there is no vast treasure trove of non-circulating radio broadcasts in private collector hands. There is no old man in California sitting on 4,000 "lost" radio broadcasts of Og, Son of Fire. Truth be known, libraries want to make their recordings and archives available to the public. That is the service they provide. If it was not for red tape or policies, and if budgets would allow, they would make their archives available for download from their websites. So the next time a collector wants to start accusing archives and libraries and other private collectors (of which they themselves don’t know the names of those they are accusing) of hoarding, they may want to be cautious: criticizing the very people and organizations that are making recordings available for free to the masses is not exercising good judgment.

            Evident from attending this weekend conference was the general consensus among the field that the archivist works for the benefit of the historian and researcher, deemed larger importance than that of the patron. This is because the historian and researcher provides a service in return. During a recent trip to a public library half way across the country, my secure relationship with the staff and reputation as a historian and author granted me permission to scan over 500 archival photographs pulled from storage. Normally the library charges a fee per photo. But since my project was archival and for research purposes, they granted the exception. At one time during my two days at the library I observed a woman who sought a newspaper article about her great-grandmother. The patron found what she was looking for and asked the librarian if she could have the photograph of her relative scanned because laptops and scanners were not permitted in the reading room. She was provided a form to fill out and told the fee would be $36, which helped cover the cost and labor, and the photo image would be e-mailed within 72 hours. The patron asked why she had to pay a fee to get a scanned copy of a photo of her great-grandmother (as if she was putting a dollar value on what was obviously a treasure) when “that young man” was scanning all those photos with his laptop and scanner and not filling out any forms or paying for it. That young man, she was referring to, was myself. The librarian made up the excuse that “he works here”… and so the patron paid the $36. If the patron had explained that she needed the photograph for genealogy and research purposes, and been polite about the matter, the librarian might have granted her an exception.

            While it may be discouraging to report that such diversity exists in the academic field, it should be noted that the gift of an archive has been taken for granted many times. Policies are placed into effect for a reason; the donor may have had stipulations regarding how the recordings and photographs are to be used. Collectors sometimes seek recordings for personal gain and take advantage of the libraries; thus causing revisions to the policies. Preservation is not illegal. Streaming, file swapping and downloading recordings, for profit, is illegal if the recording is still protected under copyright. And just because the recording is old does not mean it has fallen into the “public domain.” Dropbox and other on-line file swapping software provides an element of privacy that cannot be monitored by the copyright holders. True, file swapping is the modern-day equivalent to what collectors used to do in the 1980s and 1990s – copy audiocassettes and CDs and swap disc-for-disc. Many people have gotten away with modern-day accumulations for such a lengthy period of time, and know of others who do the same, that they forget that they are still liable for what they do on the Internet... downloading included. 

The rumors of large collections of historical papers and archival materials being tossed in the dumpster does have a basis of truth. When a new station manager walks through the door, their first decision is to chuck the history in the dumpster because they do not know how to monetize it. When the question comes up as to who is responsible for the discarding of radio preservation, the answer usually falls on corporate decisions. (Remember when David Letterman retired and CBS ordered the destruction of the studio props, which today would be considered museum pieces by tens of thousands of people? People were literally dumpster diving because they wanted to save a piece of television history.) Collectors, historians and archivists cringe when they hear such stories. But what happens with the archival materials that is saved from the dumpster is dependent not just with the individual who had the foresight to rescue the materials, but what they do with the materials. And collectors who store these archives in their basement, attic or garage with careless disregard for preserving them are just as guilty as the people they claim are “hoarding.”

Which brings me to the last aspect of clarification. A "hoarder" in this subject of conversation is defined as someone who acquires archival materials, including recordings, and does nothing with them except to serve as bragging rights. They are not saving or preserving history through this method. We are not discussing mp3 files downloaded off the Internet; those are considered “copies” and downgrades from archival maters. What we are discussing are transcription discs, photographs, radio scripts, scrapbooks, and other materials that are archival in nature and considered original source material. If permanent loss for all of time occurs as a result of flood or fire, the greed of the hoarder is solely responsible for that loss. If, however, someone rescues a transcription disc from the dumpster and arranges for the transfer to digital files, and off-site backups to ensure the recording will never vanish, then they are not – and should not – be classified as a hoarder. In fact, the defense should be made that they truly rescued the material and deserve respect and acknowledgment for taking the time to make sure such recordings are preserved. The pattern of behavior that stems from excessive acquisition and the unwillingness to preserve original archival materials will cause more than significant distress to the community. Among collectors, the words “hoarding” and “hoarders” is branded about too often and with little basis of knowledge.


Closing keynote speech of the first day by Sam Brylawski.    

Closing Observations
            At the close of the two-day seminar a number of questions remained unanswered. For some of these concerns, technological or theoretical, there is no black and white; only grey. Transferring recordings from archival masters offers archivists the opportunity to improve the sound quality better than the equipment used throughout the 1930s and 1940s. But is that an alteration or a restoration, and is that a good thing? If an archive has more recordings than they have both expense and staff at their disposal, what is considered historically and culturally important, and who determines which recordings to salvage first? Are local voices just as important as national voices?

            So what conclusions were formed after the weekend? There were multiple reminders that there is no one archive that houses a collection focusing on a particular subject. If you plan to research and perform an archeological dig and publish your findings about any given subject, there is more than one archive to visit. A scholarly committee agrees in general that radio broadcasts from the 1950s is widely underestimated. Half of the solutions proposed involved a uniform and one-stop source for metadata – including, I kid you not, the proposal of having every collector in the country log and document their entire holdings so everyone knows where every recording exists. (Anyone with an I.Q. higher than room temperature can think of half a dozen reasons why that proposal would never succeed.) At least four such proposals were mentioned along similar grounds: unifying databases that involve countless factors that would not make such a thing possible. There were three questions that have no black and white answers and anything that resembled an answer was acknowledged as subjective. Time could have been better spent avoiding those subjects.

There is “contested authority,” a growing divide between archivists. It was unanimously agreed that much of the subject matter involving radio broadcasts is hardly exciting, but historically significant and necessary for preservation and there were differences of opinion regarding methods of transfer, format and storage. What was unanimously agreed was using the best software and hardware available to make those transfers – which of course, requires the largest budgets. (Someone during the conference joked that maybe archivists could turn to collectors for assistance because collectors commonly use freeware downloaded off the Internet to improve those inferior mp3 files downloaded last week off the Internet. The response from another was, “Why not buy a used Ferrari and then go to Wal-Mart and buy the cheapest tires?”) As someone once described, collecting mp3 files is the equivalent to collecting pine needles. 

            Oral recorded history entertains the collector but for historians, while they fill in gaps, interviews and recollections are still suspect and unreliable. Also concluded was that every institution believes they are under-staffed and not well-funded. And these were decided unanimously, and are now considered uniformly standard.

            It was generally agreed that scholars and historians are needed for preservation and libraries should collaborate with historians and scholars. This is probably why libraries service historians before patrons/collectors. It was also pointed out that historians worked with both collectors and the archives, forming a working relationship, a conduit between the two. One woman, working on a biography about Jack Benny, having never written a book before, now questions the motives of half the collectors she talked to and the reliability and accuracy of information provided to her by the collecting community… and this she picked up from experience. She admitted that the Internet led her down the wrong road too many times, found hundreds of errors on multiple websites, and the only true accuracy stems from major discoveries found in archives across the country. This proves that if you go to the source, you can avoid third-hand unreliability scattered across the Internet. It was also agreed by the majority that the Internet was not self-correcting, but self-evolving.

Libraries agreed that it is a disservice to amass, shelve and store more material than they can catalog. For many libraries, polices dictate in-house transfers and a lack of staffing due to limited budgets. During one panel, I witnessed an archivist, representing the library she worked for, waving about a wet blanket – she confessed they did not have the staffing (interns) but when it was suggested by other librarians how they sought and acquired exceptions to library policies to get the job done, she insisted that the heads above her would not make an exception. Certainly not a proactive position.

Established more than once was the fact that research of old-time radio contributes to a genealogical resource. This includes someone seeking the exact date of broadcast when her grandmother was a contestant on a radio quiz program in the forties, or someone seeking the extant audio of their father who was a guest on a radio interview program such as Vox Pop.

There were three different archivists over the weekend providing brief ten-minute slide shows about subjects they were presently working on, pleased to have an audience that appreciated the subject matter. Each of them seeking sources of information and leads to further their investigations, but none of them were aware of the first four essentials all researchers of old-time radio use as a starting point when beginning any project. This came as a surprise to me until a colleague, over dinner that evening, mentioned his observation, “Archivists are not researchers.” This is not to downgrade archivists in any way… remember, they were there to ask for leads and take notes. If I can offer an observation of my own: the panelists did a good job keeping the panels and comments moving smoothly and ending on time. But resolutions to concerns and questions were conducted during an exchange of notes and e-mail addresses between panelists and members of the audience, following each panel, not during the caucus itself which could have benefited multiple people at the same time.

Historians and researchers during the weekend clarified the difference between a web search and an archival search, local newspapers vs. trade papers, and recording ownership vs. rights ownership. It was mentioned by one panelist that the average public citizen have little access to scholarly resources. Sadly, she was mistaken. What services are provided today by local libraries is not only staggering but beyond anyone’s expectations if they know what specifically to ask for and what to receive. (When a friend of mine said he was unable to find information on a given subject, I suggested he visit his local public library. “No, they don’t offer that service,” he told me. “Wanna wager a box of donuts on that?” I asked. He was dumbfounded when he discovered his public library gave him free magazine subscriptions, complimentary access to portals that used to be available only from university libraries, and access to free recordings that make Netflix and Redbox obsolete.) If anyone thinks having access to the Internet from their home computer is a vast countryside of websites, they have no conception of how many equivalents to the Internet are available at their disposal thanks to their local library.

Also clarified was the undisputed agreement that the Internet should never be used as reference, but rather as a tool for reference. No serious scholar, researcher or historian uses Wikipedia as an encyclopedia, but they will explore the links at the bottom to learn the whereabouts of archives, gather contact information and discover titles of published reference works they did not know existed. The Internet both compliments and challenges the scholar/historian. The Internet has added confusion and spread myths. This was agreed unanimously.

The Diogenes Syndrome
The Internet opened the door for what I term as “The Diogenes Syndrome” among collectors who download free radio programs by the tons, disrespecting quality for numbers, obsessed with the “more is better” mantra. They claim ownership of tens of thousands of audio files, not radio recordings (I had to clarify the difference). Statistically, these collectors have more programs than they have hours left in their life, and without proper education unjustly gripe on social media that hoarders are responsible for the reason why they do not have more. (If you ask them who these hoarders are, they can rarely name names.) They consider themselves among the hobby of old-time radio; nothing can be far from the truth. Many of these individuals do not buy or read books on the subject, are not members of old-time radio clubs, and do not subscribe to the club newsletters. Even fewer attend conventions (fan gatherings).

“That carried me back maybe 15 or 18 years to my first trip to the home of the aging founder of the KRA (Kentuckiana Radio Addicts) club in suburban Louisville,” author and historian Jim Cox told me. “I was absolutely appalled out of my wits not merely by the sophistication and range of his recording equipment but, far more, by the bookcases, closet shelving, tables, desks, boxes, drawers, and floor space appropriated for hundreds of thousands of shows. I had never seen anything like it in a private collection. So surprised was I that I inquired, ‘Have you listened to all these programs?’ He stunned me with his retort: ‘No, and I won’t live long enough to do that.’ I couldn’t let it pass. ‘Then why do you have so many?’ I asked. ‘So I’ll have them,’ came his instant reply. Here was the best example of the Diogenes Syndrome I ever saw. That man died three or four years hence. And his wife made a deal with a distributor in another state to clean out the house a short time afterward. It all seemed like such a waste of time and money.”

While the limits of collecting is relative, the first indication that someone is suffering from this syndrome is not compulsive, but the decline of living quarters. If a collection extends beyond book shelves and wall space, and starts taking up floor space, restraint is required. Sadly, there are many who sacrifice their living quarters (or a section thereof) in exchange of owning recordings they may never listen to in the first place. Burdened widows have thrown much in the dumpster after their spouse passed away. In the long run, children and grandchildren gain disrespect for "that old stuff" as a result of the inconvenience. 

Bill Kirkpatrick of Denison University delivers his slide show.

In Closing
For the most part everyone spoke with respect and proactively throughout the weekend. Though collectors in the hobby were practically non-existent, this may have been a blessing. The RPTF was neither the time or place to gripe about “hoarders” or brag about the size of their – ahem, collections. There were no egos here. Challenges and concerns were explained both clear and concise, and suggested resolutions were proposed from both experience and from a “meeting of the minds.” If I could be critical for a brief moment, I believe more could have been accomplished if the panels that featured five or six speakers were limited to three. The time allotted for discussion and proposals for resolving concerns were limited. Most of the resolutions, from what I observed, happened during break times.

One concept revisited during the weekend included the “Black Hole Factor,” where libraries (thankfully only a few of them) sit on vast collections for a lengthy period of time and do practically nothing but debate when and how they are going process the collection. One solution proposed by a library that boasts a successful track record was “a ten-year window policy” from the date of donation to the completion of archival and cataloging. It would seem private individuals who hoard collections should follow this advice.

I can name two other examples that occurred in the past two years where, everyone agreed a digitization process was essential for preservation, and volunteers donated both time and money to accomplish the task that decades-old policies and red tape prevented. From experience, obstacles are overcome when exceptions are made and volunteers – and out-sourcing – is embraced with open arms. And what better public relations could an institution ask for than a national magazine reports how decision makers formulated a plan to temporarily cut red tape and allow private donations and volunteers do the job that everyone agrees, “the ends will justify the means.” Would this not be inspirational, trend-setting and set precedence for others to follow their lead?

If the RPTF holds a second conference next year, my hope is that a seminar offers three historians and researchers the chance to demonstrate what obstacles and firewalls they have experienced from libraries and archives. 

If anything was accomplished through the seminar that weekend it was the general acceptance and acknowledgement that libraries housing archives need to do better. And they want to do better. And these archivists acknowledge the challenges they need to overcome to find immediate solutions. No one was pointing fingers; no one was blame-shifting. There was a positive outlook throughout the entire weekend. Challenges were defined: digitizing, inventory records, costs and funding, targeting and inclusion, metadata, and the suggestion of establishing intern programs to resolve staffing issues. And everyone was taking notes on notepads, iPads and laptops throughout the weekend, hoping to return with possible solutions to such challenges. But I guess the only way to judge whether the weekend was truly a success is whether progress reports are delivered at next year’s conference.

For more information about the Radio Preservation Task Force, visit: 

9 comments:

John Hardy said...

Very uplifting. As a library patron who frequents the community college library to take advantage of their fringe benefits I observed what I suspected were preservation efforts. Requesting certain files from off-site storage was not feasible at one time because the librarians were busy scanning the documents for digital preservation.

HitRecordsofNashville said...

I think most of it is a lack of interest on the part of the average librarian. Plus a lack of money at archives. I am a retired individual with a background in radio and could do archive dubbing as a volunteer. But archives don't want volunteers in their facility and no money for staff. It's a dead end.

Paul Elliot said...

There has been a blurring of the line between collector and librarian that seems to be mostly related to size and scope of one's collection. Visiting UCLA one day, during a routine visit to their film archives, I made the mistake of mentioning I had a 35mm copy of a 1930s mystery film. The librarian not only suggested I donate the film to the university for preservation but hounded me to a point where I stopped visiting the library. I had the film transferred to DVD since and the film was donated to a film archive but UCLA left a bad taste in my mouth because of the suggestions she was making about collectors like me.

Charles Reinsch, KRAB Archive said...

Thank you for writing this. I was unable to attend the conference, and was hoping, it being related to radio, that the audio might be streamed, but no..... In 2014 Brian Fauteux of Radio Survivor spoke with Kenneth Goldsmith about, among other things, being an "archive activist". This is someone, not necessarily an academic, that takes up the chore of preserving and publishing material that they feel has merit. I assumed that role some years ago for a defunct radio station formerly of Seattle, and have been waiting for the academics to develop some standards and tools that might enforce the standards and enable unified searching of collections. I am hoping for tools that will enhance the accessibility and increase awareness of archive collections of the type I am working on. I am not a "collector" - Once I have digitized the material I have no use for the tapes or ephemera, so I very much would like to see it placed in a protected environment. Oh well. Thank you again

Chuck said...

Terrific piece, Martin. So much came out of this amazing meeting, and you've managed to capture a real sense of the myriad of issues we face going forward. Just one correction - that's Sam Brylawski, not Chris Sterling, speaking in one of your pictures.

Carmela R said...

Excellent summary. Unable to attend I was hoping someone would provide a review of the conference. A meeting of the minds I agree. An acquaintance went and reported that the seminars were hit or miss depending on the panelists. Thank you for providing a positive outcome!!

Michael Keith said...

Exceptional overview and perspective on the topic.

Anonymous said...

While this conference is focused on OTR, has anyone considered the wonderful material produced from the 50s on to today. If not archived, it too will be lost to the future. Copyright will play into what can be done with the content currently, but should not discourage the effort to archive.
Henry Howard.

Joseph said...

Maybe you can advise me on something I've been wondering about. How do you go about finding an archive or library that might be interested in the material you've got? I've been collecting old radio shows since the mid 1970s and have accumulated around 300 transcription discs, some pressed discs and some instantaneous. While there's nothing of absolute earth-shaking rarity here, I can't help thinking that their must be an archive or library somewhere that might be interested in at least some of these. The four in my region that I've checked with, though, weren't interested. They, in fact, didn't even let me explain what these discs actually were. Just, "I'm sorry, we don't accept record collections." *click* No chance for me to explain that these weren't "records" in the sense that they're thinking of.

If there's nothing here of value to an archive, that's fine. I won't be offended. It's just frustrating not to be able to find someone who has any interest at all.

Oh, regarding the "Diogenes Syndrome," while those types have gotten much more common with the proliferation of mostly lousy audio files via the internet and the "buy a hard drive with 50,000 old time radio shows on it for just $199" gimmicks, they've always been around. Even years ago, back when old radio collecting was limited almost entirely to open reel, their were collectors who thought entirely in terms of numbers. They never asked what shows you collected or what genres interested you. The first question out of their mouths was always, "How many shows have you got?" Those types took great pride in being able to note with satisfaction that they had "won," and had more shows than you.

Enjoy your blog.

Best

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