Friday, 30 January 2015

Visit to the National Film and Sound Archive

Last month I travelled to Canberra to accompany South Korean colleagues, Hyunjoon Shin and Keewoong Lee from Sungkonghoe University, on their fact finding visit to the National Film and Sound Archive

I had been contacted earlier this year by Hyunjoon and Keewoong to act as a Project Advisor for the development of the Asian Popular Music Archive, part of the Asian Culture Complex being established in Gwangju, South Korea. The development team were looking at different examples of archival practice around the world and in addition to the NFSA their stint in Australia also involved visits to the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and the Victorian Jazz Archive (now Australian Jazz Museum) in Melbourne. This month another member of the development team will be visiting the UK to gain further perspectives on archiving music (see this blog post from Jez Collins about the UK component).

Some very interesting insights were to be gained at the NFSA:

  • The educational background of curators there tends to be museum/library studies but there are also people without formal qualifications but who have longstanding archival experience as well as people with limited experience who are employed in low level positions. Some curators have music industry experience and often come with technical skills for sound preservation and there are also some specialist conservators on the team.

  • Sound refers to 'recorded sound', published and unpublished. The NFSA's preference is to acquisition the 'highest quality' recordings but it will also accept lesser quality material. However, there are boundaries in that if the recording is preserved elsewhere in another collection that is accessible it is not a good use of NFSA resources to duplicate the recording in the NFSA collection. Acquisition is a careful process because as one of the curators said "disposal [as a result of deselection of artefacts later down the track] is a big task". Approximately 10,000 artefacts are added to the collection each year (physical and digital) and as another curator noted "collections aren't a get and forget thing. They require ongoing care and maintenance". Increasingly, they also require digitisation and one curator observed during the discussion that at present less than ten percent of the sound archive has been digitised.


Curators from the NFSA were participants in the earlier project "Popular Music and Cultural Memory". More information about the challenges of sound archiving based on those interviews will shortly be published in an article co-authored with Peter Doyle and Shane Homan which has been accepted for publication in the journal Popular Music and Society.