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Understanding and preserving audio collections

This Preservation Advisory Centre training day was held at the British Library Centre for Conservation on 7-9 November 2011.

The course is aimed at people with responsibility for creating, managing and using audio collections. Whilst no hands-on experience is necessary, it is useful to have identified a collection to which the theory and practical elements of this course will be applied in order to get the most from it. The training is provided by members of the British Library Sound & Vision department and is structured to allow for plenty of informal discussion and information-sharing.


Why did you attend this training day?

  • To identify audio formats in our collection and their storage needs. Find out what is involved in digitising audio and whether it is something we could set up in house, or whether outsourcing is preferable.
  • I have been put in charge of a small audio collection which consists of various formats. I do not have any technical experience so I wanted to gain practical knowledge of taking care of audio collections.
  • I have been asked to set up the transfer of a collection from Sound and Music (London) to the University which includes the expectation that the sound aspect of this collection will be digitised.
  • We hold different analogue formats that I have been waiting to transfer to avoid any loss of information during the process.
  • To improve my understanding of analogue and digital audio formats with the aim of raising the professional standards applied in the museum's sound collections.

What did you learn?

  • Lots. Didn't know that there are actually many types of audio carriers with different levels of risk of obsolescence.
  • Difference between Wav and MP3. Bit rates etc.
  • Binary/checksums. The need to create multiple digital backups.
  • Better ways to explain digital audio principles such as bit depth, sample rate etc. I can drill a hole in my Tascams for azimuth adjustment! I have a better understanding of error correction on compact discs/DVDs.
  • Terms and what they mean. How to handle and store and assess all types of audio. Will be able to understand the basics when speaking to engineers and music technologists. Good basic grounding in digital audio files. Size of storage needed to back up and store a sound archive.

What will you do differently as a result of attending this training day?

  • Archival principles and standards will be followed. Make use of free opensource software. Develop a filenaming system - which will aid all digitisation projects, not just audio.
  • Begin planning the what's and how's as it relates to my collection and figure out who I need to get involved.
  • Plan and probably execute audio preservation programme in a more informed manner.
  • Begin planning the what's and how's as it relates to my collection and figure out who I need to get involved.
  • Will be able to better explain to senior managers why things need to be the way they are. Will be able to assess the collections that come in to us in a more efficient way. Will be able to advise our music technologists about the standards of their master copies for CD manufacture and for web access. Hopefully put in a specific bid for funding to enable us to digitise some of the SAM collection that we recently acquired.


Monday 7 November 10.30 - 16.30

What do you have, what are the issues, what should you do?
Practical guide to analogue audio
  History of analogue carriers and technology
  Information on care and handling
  Hands-on demonstrations of correct replay techniques

Tuesday 8 November 10.00 - 16.30

Digital audio demystified
  Overview of digital audio theory
  Generic digital issues (including error correction and checksums)
  History of digital audio sources
  Practical information on extracting digital audio from different media
Collection level overviews
  Compiling an inventory
  Prioritization and selection
  Risk assessment
  Out-source, or in-house? Working with service providers
  Costs associated with managing digital collections

Wednesday 9 November 10.00 - 15.00

Working with audio files
  Procedures for creating, working with, and safely storing audio files (including file naming, verification and technical metadata)
  Introduction to Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)
Archival principles for audiovisual material
  An overview based on the core reference work
Safeguarding the audio heritage: ethics, principles and preservation strategy
Final round-up and Q&A