Friday, 8 February 2013

Andy Linehan on the DIY roots of the British Library Sound Archive

The fieldwork continued today with a visit to the British Library to interview Andy Linehan, the curator of the popular music collection in the library's sound archive. I met with Andy in order to learn more about the history of the archive and its DIY beginnings. The British Library Sound Archive is an excellent example of how a grassroots-style institution, in this case the British Institute of Recorded Sound founded by Patrick Saul, can become legitimised to the extent that it amalgamates with a national institution with the gravitas of the British Library.

The chat with Andy extended beyond the institution’s history, with our discussion ranging from the archive’s acquisition processes to its relationship with other archives of interest to my research, including the British Archive of Country Music and the National Jazz Archive.

In the interview, we also touched on what the difference might be between an ‘archive’ and a ‘collection’ --- this being a question that was raised at the POPID conference in Rotterdam (or, more accurately, over a few drinks post-conference with Jez Collins and Emilia Barna) after a screening of a short film called The Archive which documents Paul Mawhinney's dilemma of what to do with his extensive vinyl collection. On watching the film, my sense was that this was more accurately 'The Collection' rather than The Archive.
The distinction between a collection and an archive is, like many things, blurred, but in talking this over with Andy it was brought home that, broadly speaking, an archive is concerned with the systematic curation of records (not necessarily of the musical variety) that document a history of something and to which some degree of access is available to those interested in delving into that history (though access itself is tricky terrain, being made even more problematic with the tightening of copyright laws).

This is something that I will be seeking to unpack further as my research progresses because it seems to be an important issue in relation to DIY institutions --- at what point does an individual’s collection become an archive?

On the issue of terminology, after the interview, Andy forwarded on to me the Universal Declaration on Archives  that was adopted by the 36th Session of the General Conference on UNESCO on 10th November 2011. A useful starting point, perhaps, to begin teasing out the difference.